August 6th in the Orthodox world is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. It celebrates several theological truths such as the goodness of creation, the incarnation, that the created world is both capable of and is supposed to be in union with God and that the separation between God and humanity caused by human sin was not permanent but was coming to an end. The event of the Transfiguration can be found in Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36.
August 6th in the rest of the world today commemorates the American dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II. That event is documented in many history books and online web pages.
There is a similarity in the events in that both of them involve an unusual light seen during the daytime. They both are signs of power – the Transfiguration of the power of God in relation to creation, and the nuclear explosion of the power that human ingenuity can unleash on the world. The differences are also profound, for one represents the love of God for His world and the goodness which He bestowed in the physical creation. The other represents a weapon of mass destruction and of indiscriminate killing for it targets not just the enemy’s military but civilians including children as well.
All day yesterday and even through the night, I could not get the images of these two events out of my mind. I read yesterday numerous eyewitness accounts of survivors of the atomic blast, and the sheer destruction that explosion represented. I felt that it was right that there be finally an American presence at the annual Hiroshima memorial, for we too have been victims of the madness that drove us to the development of such weaponry. The invention of weapons of mass destruction, and the amount of tax dollars America continues to invest (and feel compelled to invest) in developing them, is not something we should be celebrating. The invention and use of nuclear weapons represents terrorism on a mass scale.
I am not going to second guess the decision to use the atom bomb. I live after the fact and understand what the use of that weapon did to the world in terms of creating a nuclear arms race and Mutual Assured Destruction. I recently read Richard Bessel’s book, GERMANY 1945: FROM WAR TO PEACE, and see the absolute ideological madness which drove the Germans to continue fighting until they were absolutely destroyed as a militarist nation. Their fanaticism to the very last day of the war, cost both them and the allies millions of lives just in 1945 when the war was clearly lost by the Nazis. According to the book in fact more German soldiers died in 1945 than in any other years of the war. So there is no doubt that the American leadership in 1945 had plenty of reason to dread the Japanese carrying out such a mindless social suicide at the expense of many more American lives.
The atom bomb was a weapon of sheer terrorism. It was intended to terrorize the Japanese into submission: they may be totally suicidal, but they were going to be destroyed without massive loss to American lives. It worked. The Japanese government surrendered in the face of such genocidal weapons.
Many assume that the use of the atomic bomb was also meant to terrorize another people: the Soviets. Just in case the Soviets were tempted to carry on a war to spread communism in the world, they too were being warned that they would face weapons of mass terrorism and destruction as well. If that was the intent, it may have worked to avert yet another war immediately in 1945. Yet it also ignited an arms race that consumed the world powers for the next decades into our current age.
The atomic bomb transfigured the modern world. There is no doubt about that. I find it most appropriate that we finally were represented at the Hiroshima memorial to recognize with fear and sorrow what the development of nuclear weapons has meant to humankind, and what our role as Americans has been in the development of this terrorism. And we who now fear rogue nations and Islamic terrorists getting these weapons are now also victims of this terrorism, trapped into spending yet another fortune to defend ourselves from a power we released on the world. And as Americans I think we totally underestimate how the world sees us as a result of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: we are the one nation on earth willing to use nuclear weapons first – not just in response to a nuclear threat. We also are the only people on earth who have unleashed nuclear weapons on another people. Of course we are also the only nation on earth which bears the responsibility for using nuclear weapons on an enemy, a fact that should humble us who believe there will be a day of reckoning with the Creator.
August 6th is indeed a day of Transfiguration for the world, not just for Orthodox Christians. The global population recognizes there are powers at work in the universe which we do not control; some hold us in complete awe and some in sheer terror.
May the King of Peace help us to deal with these powers, and to unleash in the world His power of love. Nuclear power does not have only destructive purposes. Like free will itself it holds the potential for good or ruin.