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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Transfiguration of the World

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.

Ironies abound.

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.


J. Michael Povey said...

Our minfds work on similar tracks.

See my blog for today.



Марко Фризия said...

Thank you for discussing the significance of this day. I was in the Army. Of course, I am opposed to the use of weapons of mass destruction (I actually even hate guns now, too). I have a fear that if a nuclear device is used now it will be used by a terrorist (as opposed to a government -- hoping that modern governments would behave with more restraint than terrorists). In 1994 in Rwanda in the space of about a month 1 out of every 8 people in Rwanda was murdered (close to one million people). All of this killing was carried out in very low-tech ways with turncheons and machetes, no bombs. And the perpetrators weren't in the clouds in an airplane but were literally in the faces of their victims and had to exert themselves physically to conduct the killing. I am appalled by the use/effects of atomic devices on Japan. But as Rwanda shows us, violence/mass killing doesn't have to be implemented via high-tech methods to be a moral evil. I don't want our loathing of weapons of mass destruction (and our desire to ban them) to eclipse our abhorence of all violence. Without WMDs, mass murder can still occur. On Transfiguration, the humanity of Jesus was perceived as being glorified and transformed. Our human destiny (all humans including the Japanese, Rwandans, etc.), in God's plan, is radiance in the divine embrace and loving-growing theosis into the bosom of the Trinity. Mindful of that, I pray that humans are not seen as targets or enemies, but divinely-created siblings who are objects of God's love, mercy -- all to be caught up into God's glorious destiny and plan. No one excluded, No one left out. No one destroyed. All glorified.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the information on the origin of the name "Trinity" for the first test. I used to drive by the site on a regular basis.

It is interesting that before the test many of the scientists did not completely realize what they had created. There was even some skepticism that it would even work. If I remember the story right all the scientists guessed much too low in the pool they had as to the yield of the explosion. Enrico Fermi won, if my memory is correct, simply because he had the highest guess which was still much too low.

And of course the other famous story from the Trinity test is Oppenheimer's words at the explosion: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds" from the Bhagavad Gita.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lovely, Michael. Great minds, and all that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You are, of course, right, Марко Фризия. Well said, my friend.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I didn't know the quote, beingsynodical. Another chill just went through my body.

Athanasian said...

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.

FWIW- I wondered that once myself, on an August 6 several years ago. It bothered me so much that I had to find out.

Truman's order to Sec. of War Henry Stimson read, in part: "Release when ready, but not sooner than Aug 2."

The boring truth is that the choice of Aug 6 was 100% weather-related. It was merely the first day after Aug 2 that Hiroshima was not obscured by cloud cover.

Besides, I doubt that the Feast of the Transfiguration had much religious significance for President Truman, stout Southern Baptist from Missouri that he was. :)

Muthah+ said...

Listening to my folks talk about the 1945 Atomic attacks, I always got the impression that no one really understood what they had created with the atomic bomb. Growing up in years after it, there was a strange combination of both feeling that the Abomb was necessary to end the war and a feeling that they had unleashed something that could no longer be put back in the box.

I grew up in a Republican household (something very rare in TX at the time)but even in the late 40's and the early 50's there was this strange feeling that America had done something very wrong, but for all the right reasons. It was only much later that the polarization on the Atomic bomb became clear. And I would guess that it wasn't until the late 60's that there was even semblence of guilt widespread in America. But there WAS a sense that somehow we had let the genie out of the bottle and we couldn't put it back.

I think synodical is right.
I don't think even Oppenheimer understood the ramifications of the Little Boy

Bill said...

There are any number of issues concerning the dropping of the Bomb. One of the primary reasons to go forward with it was the estimated loss of American soldiers to storm the beaches of Japan and take the island. You must remember that at that time the Japanese looked upon the Emperor as divine. They would have fought to the end to protect him. The propaganda ministers had also inculcated in the minds of the citizens an abject fear of what would happen to them should the Americans come ashore. How fearful where they? Well in the first few days of occupation hundreds threw themselves off the cliffs to certain death. The US military experts put our losses at approx 50,000 to take the beaches. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7th 1941 with the loss of the Pacific Fleet, the loss of the Philippines, and the Bataan Death March (of 72,000 prisoners, only 54,000 reached their destination.), Truman was not going to throw away another 50,000 lives.
The Americans had already seen what would happen in a confrontation with the taking of Okinawa.
“Okinawa was the only inhabited part of Japan where ground fighting took place during World War II, claiming the lives of a quarter of its civilian population. More than 200,000 Japanese and Americans died in the bloody battle Many survivors say that as Japan neared the brink of defeat, Japanese soldiers told them to kill themselves, though some military-related people deny the claim. Although there are no specific figures, about 600 people are said to have died in mass suicides.”

The other thing is that no one knew, including the scientists, exactly what would happen when the bomb was dropped on a densely populated city. No one had an inkling of the long term effects of radiation poisoning on a population.

So, in looking at the statistics, it becomes clear that the US intent in using the bomb was to quickly end the war and save lives that would be unnecessarily lost in an invasion of the Japanese homeland.

“ U.S. Estimates for Invasion Deaths in First 30 Days

Both provide the estimates from various sources for the U.S. human toll to invade the Japanese Home Islands. It is important to note that these casualties are projected based on a June 1945 intelligence assessment of Japanese troop strength. By August the estimated number of troops to be encountered on Kyushu, the first Japanese Island to be invaded, had doubled. I could find no estimates of expected Japanese losses.

Any estimate of U.S. military deaths can easily be multiplied by 20 to 100 times to arrive at an estimate of Japanese who would have been killed based on the American to Japanese death ratios in the Philippines and Burma (Tables 14-15). The fact that the defenders would include civilian militia armed with the crudest of weapons and used in a suicidal role would have assured a civilian massacre. The massiveness of U.S. naval gun bombardment and wave after wave of destruction-laden B-29 bombers, along with the rest of the U.S. massive airpower fleets, would have pulverized military and civilians alike opposing the American landing. Assuming a hypothetical 50,000 American combat deaths, the Japanese share could easily have reached well over 1,000,000 killed.”

Some other statistics from WWII:
Total Deaths
China – 10,000,000 to 20,000,000
Japan – 2,700,000
French Indo-China – 1,000,000 to 1,500,000
Germany – 6,793,000 to 8,493,000
Poland – 5,000,000 to 6,000,000
Jewish Holocaust deaths 5,752,400
United States – 418,500
Total, all countries involved - 61,798,600 to 77,788,600

I think you can see from the over all death toll, that the sole concern of the U.S. was to end the bloodshed and loss of human life.

johnieb said...

Muthah et al.

To fight and kill takes a deliberate act of the will to suppress the ramifications of those actions; otherwise, no one could do it. The horrors of the Twentieth century (and beyond) are a direct result of all sides thinking of civilian populations as legitimate objects of combat.

Bill said...

johnieb said...
“To fight and kill takes a deliberate act of the will to suppress the ramifications of those actions; otherwise, no one could do it. The horrors of the Twentieth century (and beyond) are a direct result of all sides thinking of civilian populations as legitimate objects of combat.”

I disagree. It’s not that all sides “thought” of a civilian population as a legitimate target, civilians are a legitimate target. In war, there is no such thing as a civilian population. Commanders have always known that it is the “civilian population” that directly supports the war effort. They are the ones who grow the crops, raise the herds, bear children (future warriors), and build and maintain the weapons of war. Every attack on a civilian population is done with the intent to deplete, demoralize, and hinder the war effort. It’s not pretty, but it is the way it is.

As far as "suppressing the ramifications of those actions"; I don’t think so. After Pearl Harbor, there were lines of Americans waiting to enlist. They wanted to go and kill the people who killed thousands in that attack. There was no suppressing of the ramifications, There was a genuine blood lust. To think that people who go to war are worried about killing people is wrong. People who go to war are worried about one thing and only one thing and that is staying alive. People kill to survive. Ask anybody who has ever seen action. When soldiers face each other on the battlefield, there is no right and wrong; there is no morality; there is only death – either theirs or yours.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bill, I understand your perspective as one who was a Marine in 'Nam, but I respectfully disagree. Of course, as one who has never had to fight in a war, especially 'Nam, I have the luxury of saying that. Bill and Jim, I'm going to let the two of you work this out. I promise to listen carefully.

hadashinoray said...

The photograph of all the burned bodies is not from Hiroshima or Nagasaki. It is from the Asakusa area of Tokyo after a firebombing there.