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Preaching dangerous memories

 World memories of the atomic bombs that were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 just 66 years ago received a shot in the arm in the United States of America (US) with the discovery of previously suppressed photographs of the first days of the devastation.

A decision was made in 1945 by then-US president, Harry Truman, not to circulate them for fear of the negative reaction that may come from not only the Japanese, but his own people. He also feared they may cause a political backlash against attempts by his government to legitimise the bombings.

The photographs are currently on display at the International Centre of Photography in New York, under the provocative title, Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945. They are the work of the US Strategic Bombing Survey’s Physical Damage Division, which was dispatched to analyse the effects of the bombs.

The exhibition also comes at a time when the Vatican representative to the United Nations (UN), Archbishop Francis Chulikatt, is saying that nuclear states are ignoring the Non-Proliferation Treaty and are doggedly institutionalising the deterrence based on balance theory, which was never intended to be more than an interim compromise.

Archbishop Chulikatt says that the Vatican is joining the secretary general of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, in a call to eliminate nuclear weapons from the arsenals of every country, but the commanders of these stockpiles are turning deaf ears to their voices.

The testimony to the chilling absence of life portrayed in the photographs in New York could spark a new tension between nuclear governments and peace advocates, as they are surely provoking memories that powers intent on domination by force do not want resurrected.

Even Churches are under fire. A meeting of the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, sponsored by the World Council of Churches, is calling on all Christian denominations to jettison their just war theories and replace them with policies of just peace.

“The way of just peace is fundamentally different from the concept of just war and much more than criteria for protecting people from the unjust use of force; in addition to silencing weapons, it embraces social justice, the rule of law, respect for human rights and shared human security,” Reverend Olav Fykse Tveit, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, said.

His statement is particularly pertinent in the context of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, as the people experienced an abandonment that must be as close as a human being can get to that of the Christ on the cross, when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Yet, in this suffering, a faith is conceived and the hope of liberation born. It may be difficult to imagine the powerful nations of the world beating their swords into ploughshares, but the liberation of God spoken about in Christianity works in unexpected ways. Christian liberation is experienced as the future of suffering.

Memories become a lifeline to the oppressed. Uncontrolled memories become dangerous memories to political systems that seek to legitimate policies that result in suffering, but are an inspiration to opposition and resistance to injustice.

They are a key factor in building the kingdom of God on earth. They must be a key ingredient in the preaching of our Church. JiM