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.