I recalled reading about the significant change of heart and mind undertaken by the chaplain with the US Air Force - Father George Zabelka - who had earlier given his "holy" blessing over the American pilots and crew members who flew on the Enola Gay (on the Hiroshima mission) and the Boxcar (Nagasaki) just before they dropped the atomic bombs over those Japanese cities in August 1945, obliterating thousands of innocent inhabitants in an instant, and consigning the survivors to die of radiation poisoning.
Over the next twenty years, Fr. Zabelka gradually came to believe that he had been terribly wrong, that he had denied the very foundations of his faith by lending moral and religious support to the bombing. He died in 1992, but was most remembered for a speech he gave on the 40th anniversary of the bombings at a Pax Christi conference in August 1985 at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana -- not far from where I grew up. (A tape of his speech is archived there.)
Father George Zabelka's own powerful soul-searching words below need to be taken very deeply to the heart, because even today it is a great temptation for pastors and chaplains to bless the bombs and the bombers for "our side." (Economic security plays a big role in all of this since all chaplains in the various Australian Defence Forces get their paycheck from the government. So it takes great courage to exert a dissenting voice while in service, though I learned last evening that at least in the Navy the chaplain automatically takes on the same rank as to whomever he/she is talking with.) -Clair
As a Catholic chaplain I watched as the Boxcar, piloted by a good Irish Catholic pilot, dropped the bomb on Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, the center of Catholicism in Japan.
I never preached a single sermon against killing civilians to the men who were doing it. I was brainwashed! It never entered my mind to protest publicly the consequences of these massive air raids. I was told it was necessary – told openly by the military and told implicitly by my Church's leadership. (To the best of my knowledge no American cardinals or bishops were opposing these mass air raids. Silence in such matters is a stamp of approval.)
I worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Civil Rights struggle in Flint, Michigan. His example and his words of nonviolent action, choosing love instead of hate, truth instead of lies, and nonviolence instead of violence stirred me deeply. This brought me face to face with pacifism – active nonviolent resistance to evil. I recall his words after he was jailed in Montgomery, and this blew my mind. He said, "Blood may flow in the streets of Montgomery before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood that flows, and not that of the white man. We must not harm a single hair on the head of our white brothers."
I struggled. I argued. But yes, there it was in the Sermon on the Mount, very clear: "Love your enemies. Return good for evil." I went through a crisis of faith. Either accept what Christ said, as unpassable and silly as it may seem, or deny him completely.
For the last 1700 years the Church has not only been making war respectable: it has been inducing people to believe it is an honorable profession, an honorable Christian profession. This is not true. We have been brainwashed. This is a lie.
War is now, always has been, and always will be bad, bad news. I was there. I saw real war. Those who have seen real war will bear me out. I assure you, it is not of Christ. It is not Christ's way. There is no way to conduct real war in conformity with the teachings of Jesus. There is no way to train people for real war in conformity with the teachings of Jesus.
The morality of the balance of terrorism is a morality that Christ never taught. The ethics of mass butchery cannot be found in the teachings of Jesus. In Just War ethics, Jesus Christ, who is supposed to be all in the Christian life, is irrelevant. He might as well never have existed. In Just War ethics, no appeal is made to him or his teaching, because no appeal can be made to him or his teaching, for neither he nor his teaching gives standards for Christians to follow in order to determine what level of slaughter is acceptable.
So the world is watching today. Ethical hairsplitting over the morality of various types of instruments and structures of mass slaughter is not what the world needs from the Church, although it is what the world has come to expect from the followers of Christ. What the world needs is a grouping of Christians that will stand up and pay up with Jesus Christ. What the world needs is Christians who, in language that the simplest soul could understand, will proclaim: the follower of Christ cannot participate in mass slaughter. He or she must love as Christ loved, live as Christ lived, and, if necessary, die as Christ died, loving ones enemies.
I was there, and I was wrong. Yes, war is Hell, and Christ did not come to justify the creation of Hell on earth by his disciples. The justification of war may be compatible with some religions and philosophies, but it is not compatible with the nonviolent teaching of Jesus. I was wrong. And to those of whatever nationality or religion who have been hurt because I fell under the influence of the father of lies, I say with my whole heart and soul I am sorry. I beg forgiveness.
(For further reference -- the August 1980 issue of Sojourners Magazine also carries an extensive interview of Fr. George Zabelka)