I've never been able to learn whether or not the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 was intended to be on August 6th, the Feast of the Transfiguration.
The Atomic bomb, named "Little Boy" was created by Robert Oppenheimer under what was called The Manhattan Project.
The first test was known as "Trinity." It was conducted by the United States on July 16, 1945, at a location 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico on the White Sands Proving Ground, headquartered near Alamogordo.
The Manhattan Project (1942-1946), led by the US, included scientists from UK and Canada. For years, I thought that might have been the genesis of the term "Trinity".
The plane that carried "Little Boy" was named Enola Gay (named after Colonel Tibbets' mother) was accompanied by two other B29s. The Great Artiste, commanded by Major Charles W. Sweeney, carried instrumentation; and a then-nameless aircraft later called Necessary Evil (the photography aircraft) was commanded by Captain George Marquardt.
A trinity of air craft carried the bomb to Hiroshima, but that would not have explained the test named Trinity which happened several weeks before.
I have since learned that Robert Oppenheimer was a fan of the poetry of John Donne, who had been introduced to his writings by his former girlfriend, Jean Tatlock.
In 1962, General Groves wrote to Oppenheimer about the origin of the name, asking if he had chosen it because it was a name common to rivers and peaks in the West and would not attract attention, and elicited this reply:[
'I did suggest it, but not on that ground... Why I chose the name is not clear, but I know what thoughts were in my mind. There is a poem of John Donne, written just before his death, which I know and love. From it a quotation: "As West and East / In all flatt Maps—and I am one—are one, / So death doth touch the Resurrection."He continued, 'That still does not make a Trinity, but in another, better known devotional poem Donne opens, "Batter my heart, three person'd God;—
I don't know about you, but I get a chill that reaches deep into my soul when I think of Donne's poetry being applied to an Atomic Bomb test that would bring such death and destruction.
Clearly, the energy which fueled the project was propelled by the altruistic mission to stop the Great Evil perpetrated by Nazi Germany.
However, here is result of that intended altruism in Hiroshima and, four days later on August 9 in Nagasaki:
The bombs killed as many as 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki by the end of 1945, roughly half on the days of the bombings. Amongst these, 15–20% died from injuries or the combined effects of flash burns, trauma, and radiation burns, compounded by illness, malnutrition and radiation sickness. Since then, more have died from leukemia (231 observed) and solid cancers (334 observed) attributed to exposure to radiation released by the bombs. In both cities, the majority of the dead were civilians.
We've all seen the pictures, most of which are too graphic to be reproduced here.
I am quite certain, however, that Donne did not have these images in mind when he wrote, "Batter my heart, three-person'd God."
This is what the world looks like when Evil meets Evil - no matter how altruistic the motives are believed to be on either side.
This has nothing to do with the Transfiguration of Jesus.
Neither does it have anything to do with the transformation of the heart and mind and soul that results from a life following the Way of Jesus.
However, the transfiguration of the cities and people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki does have everything to do with the way the world has been transfigured in the ensuing 64 years.
We would do well to remember this image along with the images of the Concentration Camps of Nazi Germany as well as the "Relocation Centers" for Japanese Americans in this country after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which mirror the "Reservations" created for Native Americans, displaced by the Evil of arrogance and greed.
The image of the large smoke cloud that arose after the 9/11 bombing of the Twin Towers of World Trade Center recall another kind of Manhattan Project which we forget at our own peril.
Yes, boys and girls, there is Evil in the world. The human enterprise is flawed and faulted by our penchant to sin. It can be redeemed by the unconditional love of God and the gift of grace, freely given and undeserved.
The gospel story of Transfiguration of Jesus, as reported by Matthew (17:1-9), Mark (9:2-8), and Luke (9:28-36), gives us an image of what the world can look like when Good meets Evil.
We can, with him, become radiant with God's love.
It is a choice. Our choice. Mine and yours. The result of the gift of Free Will.
I am clearly not advocating that we forget or dismiss these images of Evil. They stand ever before us as a reminder of the potential of the Great Evil we can do, even for altruistic reasons, when we use the gift of Free Will to make choices that lead to destruction of the world which God created.
Indeed, I think these images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Nazi Germany, Concentration Camps, Relocation Centers, Reservations and the World Trade Center as very large reminders of all the many and varied ways in which we fall short and miss the mark.
We can use the image of the Transfiguration of Jesus as our guide for our own transformation and that of the world.
The choice is ours.
It seems fitting, then, to reclaim the words of John Donne, metaphysical poet and Anglican priest, from the day intertwined with images of transfiguration and transformation, and let them stand on their own.
BATTER my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due,
Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely'I love you,'and would be loved faine,
But am betroth'd unto your enemie: 1
Divorce mee,'untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.