Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Was DJT Right about “Both Sides”?

The President has been much criticized for his comments about “both sides” in his remarks about this month’s tragedy in Charlottesville. But let’s think a bit about his assertion that there were “some very fine people on both sides.” Was he perhaps right about that?
A Timely Quote
When I was still in college I remember hearing, and quoting, the following statement by American historian J.T. Adams (1878-1949), although it has also been attributed to various people, including Robert Louis Stevenson:  
I thought that statement was true in the 1950s—and I still do.
Adams’s pithy words are important for us especially in our relationships with the people closest to us—at home, school, church, and community.
But are they also applicable to all people, perhaps without exception.
A Time to Reflect
We are all beset by the tendency to condemn those we disagree with—and we often do that from a position of moral superiority or self-righteousness. Further, the stronger a fundamentalist (on the right or the left) one is, the stronger their certainty becomes.
Consider just one example from the far right. “The Wilkow Majority” is a regular program on the Patriot channel of Sirius XM satellite radio. It has been hosted by Andrew Wilkow since 2006.
At the end of each segment of his provocative program, Wilkow (b. 1972) proclaims, “We’re right! They’re wrong! End of story!”
What arrogance!
But, to be fair, there are some on the political/theological left who are similarly arrogant, even though they might not express that arrogance so blatantly.
Regardless of our theological or political position on issues, each of us needs to take time to reflect upon our own culpability. It is important to acknowledge the bad we find within ourselves as well as upon the good we see in others—even in those with whom we strongly disagree.
A Time to Resist
So DJT was probably right when he said that there were “some very fine people on both sides.” That was probably true in Charlottesville earlier this month as well as in the Civil War—and also in the Second World War.
General Robert E. Lee was a good and honorable man in many ways—but so were many of the men who fought for Germany or for Japan in WWII. Lee was not a demon, and neither were most of the Germans and Japanese who fought against the Allies.
There is good in the worst of us and bad in the best of us. But that certainly doesn’t mean that good people don’t sometimes do bad things, terribly bad things.
That was certainly the case with Lee, who was the leading general of the Confederate States Army that killed over 400,000 Union soldiers.
Those killed on both sides may have been Americans, but some were citizens of the United States of America and others had become citizens of the Confederate States of America—an alt-nation with its own constitution and president.
The CSA fought against and sought to defeat the USA as much as the Germans and Japanese did in the 1940s.
The basic problem is what people do, not whether or not they are “good people.” Whenever people, good or not, do bad things, they need to be opposed. Thus, there was ample reason for people, good and bad, to fight against Lee and his soldiers during the Civil War.
Accordingly, even if there were some “very fine people” among the alt-right white supremacists and KKK members who marched in Charlottesville, there was/is ample reason to resist them resolutely and to denounce them soundly for fanning the flames of racism.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Monumental Decisions

A 121-year-old Confederate monument came down. This Kentucky town put it back up.” That was the title of the top story on the front page of the Aug. 21 Washington Post. I read that article with great interest, for I used to live near that Kentucky town.
Controversy over Confederate Monuments
The violent incidents in Charlottesville, Vir., on Aug. 11-12 at the Unite the Right rally have greatly heightened the debate concerning Confederate monuments and statues in the U.S.
That rally, as most of you know, was held in opposition to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. It was erected in 1924 in a Charlottesville city park, which was subsequently named Lee Park.
In the first week of June this year, Lee Park’s name was changed to Emancipation Park. The rally in Charlottesville was in protest against the announced plan to remove the statue of Lee from the park.
The drama in that Virginia city is linked to the strong movement across the U.S. to remove Confederate flags, statues, and monuments from public places. That movement gained considerable strength following the tragic June 2015 shooting in the African-American church in Charleston, S.C.
Moving the Louisville Monument
The Confederate Monument in Louisville was a 70-foot-tall monument that was erected in 1895 on the campus of the University of Louisville. It was designed to commemorate the sacrifice of Confederate veterans who died in the Civil War.
During the last two months of 2016, the Louisville monument was moved to Brandenburg, Ky., an Ohio River town about 45 miles west of Louisville. Some 400 people attended the rededication ceremony, held on Memorial Day this year.
Brandenburg is the seat of Meade County, a small county of just over 28,000 people, predominantly white. Slightly over 4% were African-American according to the 2010 census. Meade Co. is also Trump country: nearly 71% voted for him in 2016.
The Monument at Brandenburg
From 1959 to 1963 June and I, along with our small children, lived in Ekron, a very small town less than seven miles from Brandenburg. We fairly often had picnics on the bank of the Ohio River, not far from where the Confederate monument is now located.
That was long before the bridge was built across the river, which you can see in the lower right corner of the following picture of the relocated monument. 
Debra Masterson, an assistant at the Meade County Chamber of Commerce, was one who worked to get the monument moved to Brandenburg. When her “boss” began to express misgivings, Masterson said. “You’re thinking, ‘What if people are talking about Brandenburg as KKK, as racists?’ Well, I don’t know any racists!”
Well, I don’t know much about Meade County now and have little remaining contact with the dear people we were so close to 55 years ago. But I know there were racists in Meade County, and in Ekron Baptist Church of which I was pastor, back then.
In another article (see here) I have given specific examples regarding the racism I experienced there. Suffice it to say here that while the schools were integrated then, there was strong de facto segregation in the local communities and sometimes expressions overt racism, perhaps especially in the churches.
States, cities, schools, etc. now have monumental decisions to make about what to do with existing Confederate monuments and memorials of all sorts. 
Moving such monuments/statues from cities with a sizeable percentage of African-Americans (such as Louisville) to predominantly white towns (such as Brandenburg) is probably not a helpful solution to the problem.
Maybe the time has come just to make decisions that will rid our nation of monuments honoring the racism of the past.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Can the Korean Peninsula be United Again?

Last Tuesday marked the 72nd anniversary of the end of the Pacific. That same day, August 15, 1945, has been celebrated ever since by both South Korea and North Korea as Liberation Day. The two Koreas, however, have long been divided. Can they ever be united again?
The Liberation of Korea
The Korean Peninsula was basically under Japanese rule from 1905 until the end of the Pacific War. The Russo-Japanese War (1904–05) was fought between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan over rival imperial ambitions in Manchuria and Korea. One spinoff of Japan’s victory in that war was the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905, which made Korea a protectorate of Imperial Japan.
Then with the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910, Japan formally annexed Korea and the latter was completely under Japan’s control until August 1945. With Japan’s defeat, Korea was finally freed from Japanese rule.
It is not surprising that August 15 is celebrated as Liberation Day in what soon became two Koreas.
The Division of Korea
Provisional military governments were set up in Korea after the peninsula’s liberation from Japan. Korea north of the 38th parallel fell under Russian control, the U.S. had command of Korea south of that line of demarcation.
Since no agreement could be reached on establishing a unified government, two nations emerged. After the May 1948 elections in the south, on August 15 the Republic of Korea formally took over power from the U.S. military, with Syngman Rhee as the first president.
In September 1948, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established in the north. Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current “supreme leader” of North Korea, became premier. 
The Reunification of Korea?
Kim Il-sung began the Korean War in 1950 in an attempt to reunify the entire peninsula—and we know how that turned out. An armistice was signed in July 1953 but no peace treaty was ever signed—so the two Koreas are technically still at war.
Among Koreans, perhaps especially among Korean Christians, there has long been a dream for the reunification of the two countries. This past Sunday (Aug. 13) the World Council of Churches was joined by the World Evangelical Alliance in a “Sunday of Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula.”
Fervent prayers for reunification were very prevalent twenty years ago. I remember being in Korea in 1997, at a time when there were strong prayers for, and the hope of, reunification in the “Jubilee Year,” the fiftieth year after the division of 1948.
Sadly, such unification seems less likely now than it did twenty years ago.
Kim Jong-un would doubtlessly agree to unification if he were allowed to be the head of the unified country. But there is no way South Korea would accept Kim’s remaining in power over all of Korea.
Similarly, there is no way Kim would give up power in order for there to be a unified Korea.
So, no, it doesn’t seem that the unification of Korea is possible short of a regime change in North Korea—but more than anything else the fear of such an attempt is fueling Kim’s frantic attempt to develop nuclear weapons.
Kim’s fear of being attacked is likely far greater than most fears in this country of being attacked by North Korea.
The U.S. strategy toward North Korea should focus on containment, on negotiation, as well on financial and technical aid for producing more food and services for the North Korean people—anything but “fire and fury.”

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

One War Ended 72 Years Ago; Is Another War about to Start?

It was 72 years ago today (on Aug. 15, 1945) that the Japanese Emperor made the announcement that brought World War II to an end. Two years ago (see this link) I wrote about that (and a few other matters) in an article titled “The Significance of August 15.” But now the looming question is this: is another war in East Asia about to begin?
The President’s Frightening Statement
Just a week ago (on Aug. 8) DJT publicly declared that if North Korea makes any more threats to the United States, “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
And then as if once wasn’t enough, he reiterated, “He [Kim Jong-un] has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
The next day, NoKo (as some people are now calling North Korea) announced that (non-nuclear) missiles may be fired to within 18 to 25 miles from Guam by this week (mid-August).
Then on Aug. 10 DJT told reporters, “If anything, maybe that statement [about "fire and fury"] wasn’t tough enough."
Frightening words from the head of the nation with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal!
The President’s fear-provoking statement was made two days after Hiroshima Day and the day before Nagasaki Day, the somber days on which the death and destruction caused by the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 is remembered.
So what does DJT possibly mean by threatening “fire and fury . . . the likes of which this world has never seen before”?
Even before DJT’s Aug. 8 statement, the Aug. 5-11 issue of The Economist had this provocative image on its cover: 
The Religious Support for War
On August 8, the same day DJT made his inflammatory statement, Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Dallas, made this supportive statement to the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).
Jeffress said (in part): “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un.”
This prominent pastor went on to assert, “When President Trump draws a red line, he will not erase it, move it, or back away from it. Thank God for a President who is serious about protecting our country.”
 (Click here for the full statement Jeffress made to CBN’s “The Brody File.”)
It can be safely assumed that a large percentage of the evangelical Christians who voted for DJT agree with Jeffress—although, thankfully, some do not (for example, see here).
The Religious Opposition to War
In stark contrast, the World Council of Churches (WCC; see the third paragraph of this 8/9 statement) along with many other moderate/liberal church groups and individual Christians came out in strong opposition to the President’s statement.
While Jeffress based his support of DJT’s bellicosity on Romans 13, the WCC (in another statement) stressed Romans 14:10: “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
Then two days ago Fox News published “North Korea nuclear acceleration prompts church intervention,” an article largely about the Catholic Church's opposition to war with North Korea.
Individual Christian leaders have also made strong statements in opposition to the Jeffress’s reckless rhetoric. Here is just one example, an Aug. 8 tweet by UCC minister and university chaplain Chuck Currie:
You promote a dangerous theology of war that goes against Prince of Peace who preached just peace. I see nothing Christian in your remarks.
Truly, on this commemorative day marking the end of WWII, let us staunchly oppose war and war talk, actively pursuing what makes for peace.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Weird Experience

Yesterday, August 9, was the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. I remember well being in Nagasaki and at the ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of that tragic event. That was just five days after I—and June and our two younger children—had been through a weird experience.
The Return Home to Japan
Our family’s third missionary furlough was in 1981-82. When we left Missouri to return to our home in Japan on July 17, we said goodbye to our two grown children and made the trip back to Fukuoka City with our daughter Karen (12) and son Ken (10).
Before having time to get settled back into our mission residence, we left for the annual meeting of the Japan Baptist Mission at the retreat center south of Mt. Fuji. We got back home on August 2 and were still trying to get our house back in order in the days following.
On August 4, I had a telephone call from a former student whom I knew fairly well. He had audited one of my classes at the seminary and had even been in our home for a Christmas party for students.
M.-san called because he wanted to come by for a visit. Even though we were not ready for visitors, he was rather insistent and I reluctantly agreed for him to come that evening.  
The Stabbing
When M.-san arrived, he was carrying a bag and a baseball bat. After just a few minutes, I realized that he was clearly mentally “off.” I soon told him I needed to end the visit and said I would drive him to the nearby train station so he could go home. Then I intended to contact his mother and urge her to get her son medical help.
M.-san then asked me to pray for him—as he had done the last time I had seen him. Just before we had left for the States in 1981, I happened to meet M.-san walking across the campus at Seinan Gakuin University, and he asked me to pray for him—which I did then and there.
This time, because of his mental state—and because of the baseball bat!—I prayed with my eyes open, focused on him.
After the prayer I went back to the bedroom to get some socks. When I came back, he was standing by the front door, but he didn’t have his bag or bat with him. I looked back and saw his bag in the room where we had talked. When I turned back toward him, he struck me on the chin with a long knife.
I quickly grabbed his wrist and took the knife from him—and he began to apologize repeatedly. I had felt little pain but the floor was sprinkled with blood, so I told M.-san to leave because I had to go to the emergency room. I didn’t know how badly I had been injured.
As it turned out, the knife blow, which had doubtlessly been intended for my throat, had glanced off the bottom of my chin and cut me there and on the top of my chest. A few stitches was all that was needed. June credited my beard with saving my life, as it largely concealed his target.  
The Aftermath
The next day, M.-san’s mother came to our home with a huge bouquet of flowers and apologized profusely for what her son had done. We felt so sorry for her.
Then on Aug. 7, as previously planned, we left for a short trip to Nagasaki, staying with missionary friends there. We went to the memorial ceremony on the morning of Aug. 9, mourning with the large crowd gathered in sadness because of the death and devastation caused by the atomic bombing of that city on that date in 1945.
In the meantime, M.-san had been found by the police and taken into custody. He was later incarcerated in a mental prison facility—and died there (probably at his own hand) the following year.
My experience is only one example of a huge problem: not being able to detect and to treat mental illness before weird, or truly tragic, events occur.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Once Again: Were the A-Bombs Necessary?

Largely because of the response received to my May article about Harry Truman (see here), I decided to consider once again the question repeatedly raised since the first atomic bombs were dropped: were they necessary for ending the war with Japan?
The Majority Opinion
Undoubtedly, most USAmericans since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, 1945, have firmly believed that they were justified.
Moreover, most people in the U.S. seem to think that the bombs were not only necessary but that they also were “good” because of the lives saved.
Thinking Friend Tom Lamkin in North Carolina wrote: “A member of one of my churches had a father on the troop ships on the way to Japan for the invasion when the bombs were dropped. They were called back when news came Japan had surrendered. That was one family glad to see the bombs fall.”
Similarly, local Thinking Friend Joe Barbour said, “I dislike war but we live in a world where anything goes it seems. So as I think of the loss of life that those bombings of the Japanese at home experienced, they saved far more lives than were lost. It had to be a hard decision but [Truman] made it and ended a terrible war.”
These views are in agreement with what ethicist Joseph Fletcher propounds in his book Situation Ethics (1966). He writes about the “agapeic calculus,” which seeks “the greatest amount of neighbor welfare for the largest number of neighbors possible.” (p. 95).
While it is only a “test case” with no solution explicitly given, Fletcher ends his book with a brief summary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—with the suggestion, I think, that the agapeic calculus means that the dropping of the atomic bombs should be considered right or “good.”
While making no reference to Fletcher, historian Michael Bess agrees with what I call the majority opinion. Chapter Ten in Bess’s excellent book Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II (2006) is “The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb.”
Bess asserts that “it is a fair conclusion that the bomb’s use probably saved an enormous number of lives—far more Japanese than Allied” (pp. 230-1). 
An Opposing View
One of many places where an opposing view can be found is in the television mini-series “The Untold History of the United States” (2012) and the accompanying book by that title written by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick.
The fourth chapter of Stone & Kuznick’s book is titled “The Bomb: The Tragedy of a Small Man.” They are probably much too critical of Truman, but they may be right in their clear implication that the bombs were most likely not necessary—especially if better decisions had been made earlier.
For example, in all probability the bombs would not have been necessary if Truman had taken Herbert Hoover’s advice. In Chapter 76 of Freedom Betrayed, the 2011 book that contains Hoover’s writings about WWII and afterward, Hoover tells how in May 1945 he advised Truman to drop the demand for unconditional surrender and to assure Japan that the Emperor could remain as the spiritual head of the nation.
If Truman had taken Hoover’s suggestion soon thereafter, Japan would most likely have surrendered much before August 6, 1945.
What about Now?
The historical events of 1945 cannot be changed, of course. But we humans should be able to learn from history.
One essential thing that we need to learn the most is that there is always a better alternative than war—and certainly there is always a better alternative than using nuclear weapons.