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Hiroshima and Nagasaki hold
lessons for war and peace

 NIIGATA (SE): The remembrance of the dropping of the two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 should have as much to teach us about times of peace as times of war.

On August 5, the evening prior to the anniversary of the first atomic attack, the Peace Cathedral in Hiroshima played host to what Bishop Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi described as one of the most significant prayer vigils for peace he has ever witnessed.

He added that it had as much significance for peaceful times as for times of war.

The bishop of Niigata and the president of Caritas Asia said, “The cathedral was full of people praying for peace. It was quite an important occasion to see people from different denominations united for one cause—real peace in this world.”

The vigil was attended by almost every Catholic and Anglican bishop in the country, as well as representatives from the World Council of Churches and three Tibetan Buddhist monks.

However, he believes that the bottom line lesson of the atomic tragedies is that human wisdom has severe limitations.

Bishop Kikuchi points to the more recent nuclear disaster that Japan has suffered, the meltdown at the power plant in Fukushima, which he says is just as important in the human learning curve as the wartime bombings.

“Through our experiences from the earthquake and tsunami disaster… from which uncertainty still prevails after more than four years, we found that we have been lulled into a false sense of confidence in our own human abilities and in human wisdom,” he reflected.

He said that in coming to believe that science is almost almighty and can solve any problem, the world is just in a dream.

“Many of us have also come to realise that we have lost the sense of the transcendent or the sense of God, who is far bigger than human beings. This is the result of the terrible secularisation in Japanese society,” he continued.

“We thought that human beings are able to control everything in this world with our technology and, consequently, God was not needed any more,” he reflected.

Bishop Kikuchi stressed that as human beings, we should know and understand that we have limitations and that science is not almighty.

“Peaceful use of nuclear energy is a complicated matter. You might think that what happened in Japan, in particular in Fukushima, is quite peculiar to an earthquake-prone country.” Bishop Kikuchi noted.

While he admitted that nuclear energy does not dirty the skies, he said we must remember that it produces nuclear waste, which up until now, human ingenuity has not found a solution capable of dealing with its management.

“We are leaving nuclear waste as a legacy for future generations, hoping that they may find a better solution. I think that is an unethical implication,” he said.

But the reopening of the first nuclear reactor by Kyushu Electric Power in Sendai on August 11 flew in the face of the bishop’s words.

Shunichi Tanaka, from the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said, “A disaster like that at Tokyo Electric Power Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant will not occur. We cannot speak of absolute security, but any crisis can be brought under control before approaching dangerous levels again.”

However, Naoto Kan, who was prime minister at the time of the Fukushima disaster, told people rallying against the reopening of the plant, “The Fukushima disaster has exposed the myth of safe and cheap nuclear power, which turned out to be dangerous and expensive.” 

While peaceful use of nuclear energy remains a slippery topic, Bishop Kikuchi says that nuclear war is an even bigger mystery to grasp.

He pointed out that as it is impossible to imagine the end of human existence, no one knows what will happen if nuclear weapons were used in belligerence again.

Nevertheless, he still doubts the wisdom of building up threats with the intention of avoiding violence, saying that the words Pope John XXIII spoke in 1963 have not sunk in yet.

“What Pope John wrote in Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) has not been taken seriously yet. Can’t we stop them? Can’t we stop thinking about our own countries alone and engage in a paradigm shift to think globally? We cannot maintain our lives without the support of others,” Bishop Kikuchi questioned.

The bishop pointed out that Pope John highlighted a text from the Book of Genesis (2:18), in which the Lord says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.”

Bishop Kikuchi points out that means we have been created to help others. Thus, if we do not support each other, we lose our very reason for existing.

The Japanese bishop believes that the frustrating factor in the remembrance of the atomic bombs is that no one really knows why the United States of America (US) decided to use them in the manner it did.

He said that it is widely believed that the bombings pushed the Japanese government into surrendering, adding that while that may be true, it was already a decimated nation with little military capability and had been left to fight on alone.

Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied Forces, was against using the bombs, but the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, favoured it, mostly to prevent Joseph Stalin from getting involved in the war against Japan and extending Russia’s influence into Asia.

A British observer on the mission that bombed Nagasaki (the original target was Kokura, but was too cloudy), Leonard Cheshire, said that the US seemed to be in a scramble to drop the bombs before Japan surrendered.

The bishop says, “But what I do know is that many lives were violently and inhumanly taken away and many people are still in agony, both physically and psychologically. Many sad stories of individuals, not only in Japan, but also in other countries, have been the result.”

Bishop Kikuchi concludes by asking, “Was justice done? I do not know and I am not in a position to judge history. All I can do is repeat what Pope John Paul II said in Hiroshima in 1981, ‘War is the work of man. War is destruction of human life. War is death’.”