Wednesday, 8 August 2018

** FATHER FRANK’S RANTS Rant Number 781 8 August 2018 ANOTHER HIROSHIMA?


A tree grows in Tavistock Square. The heart of London’s literary Bloomsbury.  A sombre shrub, remembering victims of man’s inhumanity to man. The Japanese civilians – over 200.000 – who perished in and after the 1945 nuclear massacre unleashed by mighty America on moribund Japan. Yes, there was a rationale for it. Shortening the war, saving lives…A consolation for the innocent men, women and children transformed into fiery shadows? And, could it happen again? I shall discuss this at King’s College, London, on Saturday 11, 6 PM.

‘Why don’t you mention the Allied POW’s in Jap hands? Their skeletal bodies, their atrocious sufferings inflicted by their cruel guards? The beatings, the tortures, the starvations… The bloody, sadistic children of the Samurai got paid back in their own coin. Don’t ask me to feel sorry for human fiends. Serves them right!’ emoted a certain chap. Perhaps channelling President Truman who, on 9^th of August 45, justified himself in similar fashion, implying that America had dropped the bomb in revenge for Pearl Harbour. Also on Japanese who ‘have starved, beaten and executed American prisoners of war’, Truman added. Understandable feelings - human, all too human. A Christian could never share them, however. (Besides, why should babes at arms and non-combatant women suffer for the crimes of their rulers and soldiers?)

‘Is it always a sin to engage in war?’ asks St Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae. Note how the question is phrased. The assumption is that war is generally evil. A grave sin. In a fallen world, to be permissible, for war three conditions are required, St Thomas spells them out: right authority, just cause and right intention. Concerning the latter, the Saint invokes another Saint, Augustine. He stated that: ‘The passion for causing harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance…the lust for power’ result in a wrong intention – i.e. evil. Hence America and Britain, nations which still back then claimed the title of ‘Christian’, stand condemned by the criterion of right intention. No war fought for revenge can be underwritten by the Church. Significantly, despite the horrible sufferings visited on the priests and lay martyrs of Japan crucified at Nagasaki in 1597, Christians never called for revenge. Rightly so. The name of Christ, the blood of the innocent should never be sullied by bloody,
vengeful reprisals.

In the light of Christian ethics, the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a great crime. Because non-combatant immunity – also sanctioned in international law – states that civilians should not be directly targeted. Natural Law theologians Francisco De Vitoria and Francisco Suarez completed Aquinas’ discussion by adding two conditions. They pertain to how a war should be fought to be termed ‘just’. Such are proportionality and non-combatant immunity. The latter is grounded on the moral category of innocence. Not a subjective concept but an objective one. Civilians do not bear arms so they are innocent – the etymology of the word is ‘pose no harm’. A critic might object: ‘What about women working in ammunition factories and the like? Aren’t they causing harm to the Allied cause?’ American Jesuit Father John Ford SJ in a celebrated article written during WWII about the Allied policy of obliteration bombing carried out on German cities, gave a whole list of people whose age and activ
ity could not be described as a contribution to war effort. Those folks were innocent and should not have been targeted. Their killing was a war crime.

All right, nuclear weapons today are much more varied and sophisticated than the ones used in 1945. Already in 1985 David Fisher observed the existence of ‘a bewildering multiplicity of types of NW whose destructive power can range from a fraction of a kiloton, a Hiroshima-size bomb – some 13 kilotons – up to weapons of  a multimegaton variety: a hundred and even a thousand times the size of the Hiroshima bomb.’ You can even conceive of uses of NW causing no non-combatants casualties, for example in anti-submarine strikes. (And don’t forget that the March 1945 non-nuclear fire-bombing of Tokyo killed 100.000 human beings. You don’t need nuclear weapons to do mass murder.) But could you really have confidence in rational restraints, once nuclear exchanges started?

Could Hiroshima be repeated? Years ago Michael Nazir-Ali, Anglican Bishop of Rochester, praised Trident, Britain’s nuclear arsenal, and lambasted a resolution of the General Synod of the C of E advocating nuclear disarmament. Nukes were needed, he claimed, to deter countries like…Iran! Iran threatened ‘the stability of the Middle East’. Tricky to see how Iran could be deterred from using weapons it doesn’t have – unlike another ‘Middle East’ country whose name you can guess… But what if Iran did have them? A major uranium conversion facility is located in beautiful Isfahan. (I know. I have been there.) A city of four and half million people. Overwhelmingly innocent civilians. To deter a putatively suicidal Iran, the Brits would have to target Isfahan – and really mean to fire off their lethal warheads. How many harmless Isfahanis would the Bishop have been willing to incinerate, I wonder?

Biblical terms like ‘Armageddon’ and ‘apocalypse’ are often blabbed out when discussing a possible nuclear war. All too handy words in this context but deeply misleading. Because the end-of-the-world battles prophesied in Scripture are not triggered off by petty human creatures but by divine agencies. St Michael and his angels are not synonymous with America’s or Russia’s big battalions, nuclear or not. It is the Almighty who decides when the final conflict will be fought, not man. Don’t blame God for the folly, the idiocy and irresponsibility of his creatures.

So, what is to be done? Working for peace, that’s it! A God-mandated task that shall be well rewarded. The Gospel promise of Christ, the Prince of Peace, is bold and bracing: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God’.

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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