As Brad noted yesterday, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, in August of 1945, the final and second-most significant major act of violence* in the Pacific theater of World War II. Anywhere from 60,000 to 80,000 were killed by this bomb.
Assessing the guilt/innocence of each of those killed for the sins of Imperial Japan is not something I’m prepared to do (much less canonize them), any more than I am prepared to assess the guilt/innocence of every American with regard to the sin of dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Further, I am not one to dwell on past sins and gash my own chest years down the road. Learn from past sins? Absolutely. Consider myself well-nigh irredeemably depraved? Not so much. It doesn’t strike me as a very Catholic way to live life.
I prefer to combat the present, ongoing sins, considered in light of past sins, and work to steer the body politic away from future sins.
For instance, the ongoing national scourge of legalized abortion. Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, abortion has claimed around 50 million unquestionably innocent lives. That equals anywhere from 625 to 833 times the death toll of the Nagasaki bomb. Like the Nagasaki bomb, it is sanctioned by the U.S. government, in some cases paid for by the U.S. government. But unlike the Nagasaki bomb, it is an ongoing sin rather than a single moment in an overall historical tableau. And with the latest developments in governmental intrusion into our personal health decisions it is a larger problem than Nagasaki and Hiroshima combined. Yes: larger. And ongoing.
Sins have happened. Nationally and personally. We do well to remember them and learn from them. Sins continue to happen. We do even better to stop them and root out the enabling disordered thinking.
Don’t cry over spilled milk; but if even more milk in the process of spilling, do what you can to stop it.
And this is the thing about living in the U.S.: we are not defined by our past. We are informed by it, but not defined by it. We are founded upon timeless principles, enshrined in a certain few documents, that enable us to re-assess and re-define our national identity and destiny with each generation.
This is a terribly frightening prospect if we do not form the next generation properly, but it is also our opportunity. We can hold on to a terrible policy like slavery, or we can fight a war to excise it. Likewise with other immoral policies of our past: we grow beyond them as we and the world grow older together. But growing older does not necessarily mean growing wiser: the danger is in adopting new immoral policies that may be worse than the former.
While the bombing of Nagasaki is troubling, to say the least, I find it difficult to offer absolute condemnation. An evil may never be done for the sake of good coming from it, but all-out war, which the Pacific theater of World War II was, if ever there was one, makes that line more difficult to define.
But even if the bombing of Nagasaki were entirely unjustifiable without question, I’m not entirely clear on the value of national chest-slashing over it. No one who had decision-making ability is still alive, and we pretty much agree that atomic weapons—which today are exponentially more powerful than they were then—are awful things that we wish no one had discovered. But that terror escaped from Pandora’s box. And in the grand ledger of things nuclear, it’s a good thing that a nation like the U.S. was the first to weaponize the technology and became the hyper-power—imagine if Nazi Germany had beaten us to that terrible day?
So we move forward in a nuclear world doing what we can to prevent such weapons from ever being used again, cognizant of the danger of such terrible weapons falling into the hands of lunatic regimes, all the time wishing that such weapons had never existed in the first place, but not using them ourselves simply assert our national will.
On the other hand, abortion, among other ills, faces us daily as an active, ongoing evil that involves individuals asserting their own will over that of another, with deadly consequences. And we daily have the chance to move this country in the direction of rejecting it. I find that the far more hopeful and useful conversation.
Preach life, love, and the joy of knowing God. The rest will take care of itself.
Our Lady of Nagasaki, pray for us, that we may see the present evils and work to excise them.
*The bomb dropped on Hiroshima days earlier killed many more.