Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. This is not simply an historical anniversary, but a continuing call to conversion. The reflections of St. John Paul II and Ven. Fulton Sheen will show how the use of atomic weapons is still a pressing moral issue, not only in terms of warfare, but in terms of broader cultural changes.
St. John Paul II on Hiroshima
St. John Paul II made the following remarks during his visit to Hiroshima on February 25, 1981:
Two cities will forever have their names linked together, two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as the only cities in the world that have had the ill fortune to be a reminder that man is capable of destruction beyond belief. Their names will forever stand out as the names of the only cities in our time that have been singled out as a warning to future generations that war can destroy human efforts to build a world of peace.
John Paul continued: “To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war.”
Going further, he stated to Japan’s ambassador to the Holy See on September 11, 1999: “The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a message to all our contemporaries, inviting all the earth’s peoples to learn the lessons of history and to work for peace with ever greater determination. Indeed, they remind our contemporaries of all the crimes committed during the Second World War against civilian populations, crimes and acts of true genocide.”
Reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, John Paul also spoke of
the haunting memory of the atomic explosions which struck first Hiroshima and then Nagasaki in August 1945. … Fifty years after that tragic conflict, which ended some months later also in the Pacific with the terrible events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and with the subsequent surrender of Japan, it appears ever more clearly as “a self-destruction of mankind” (Centessiumus Annus, 18). War is in fact, if we look at it clearly, as much a tragedy for the victors as for the vanquished.
John Paul makes clear that we have not yet dealt with all the effects of these bombs—bombs which have inflicted our country as well as Japan.
Ven. Fulton Sheen on the moral effects of the bomb
Ven. Fulton Sheen cuts right to the heart of these effects, ironically when talking to school students about sex. The talk, “Youth and Sex,” pinpoints the moral turning point of country to “8:15 in the morning, the 6th of August, 1945,” when, he says, the world changed. The dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima
blotted out boundaries. There was no longer a boundary between the military and the civilian, between the helper and the helped, between the wounded and the nurse and the doctor, and the living and the dead. For even the living who escaped the bomb were already half dead. So we broke down boundaries and limits and from that time on the world has said we want no one limiting me. … You want no restraint, no boundaries. I have to do what I want to do.
Sheen makes the connection between the bomb and the moral chaos, which would follow in America, especially in the sexual revolution, when we initiated a culture of death.
Why did the dropping of the bombs obliterate boundaries? The key moral question comes down to the principle that the end does not justify the means. A noble intention to end the war does not make immoral acts moral. The same is true in the moral life more generally. Chris Stefanick sums it up quite well in his piece, “The Fruit of the Bomb”:
It has been said that “the fruit of abortion is nuclear war.” The logic is that abortion creates a society where human life isn’t valued above all else, where the end justifies the means, and where moral absolutes can be obliterated by good intentions. All of that was engrained in our nation’s psyche 30 years before Roe v. Wade. I think it would be more accurate to say, “The fruit of nuclear war was abortion.”
The indiscriminate killing of the innocent in the war preceded and foreshadowed the holocaust we would initiate on our own shores, among our own innocent.
Our Lady of Fatima: The Bomb and conversion
How should Catholics respond to the continuing threat of nuclear arms? Returning to John Paul’s reflections at Hiroshima, he challenges us not to accept them as a necessity and to see them as a personal challenge: “There is no justification for not raising the question of the responsibility of each nation and each individual in the face of possible wars and of the nuclear threat. . . . Let us assume responsibility for each other and for the future.”
I think it is very significant that John Paul turned to all men and women to respond to the threat of nuclear war. His solution to the nuclear problem is conversion. As John Paul said at Fatima after the assassination attempt on his life: “The Message of Fatima is, in its basic nucleus, a call to conversion and repentance, as in the Gospel. This call was uttered at the beginning of the 20th century” as part of “the signs of our time.” During the consecration prayer he offered that day, he prayed: “From nuclear war, from incalculable self-destruction, from every kind of war, deliver us.”
The link between Hiroshima and Fatima is made clear by the Jesuit priests of Our Lady of the Assumption Church. Their rectory was just eight blocks from the center of the blast in Hiroshima, and they were preserved from death, not only immediately, but also from the long-term effects of radiation. One of them, Father Hubert Schiffer, attributed their survival specifically to Our Lady of Fatima: “We survived because we were living the message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the Rosary daily in that home.” (See also the following account, “The Catholic Holocaust of Nagasaki,” which links the end of the war on the feast of the Assumption to the suffering of Catholics in Nagasaki.)
Likewise, for us, listening to Our Lady of Fatima may be the best way to make reparation for the sins of war and to pray that they may not be repeated. The sins of the Second World War in particular, as indicated by Ven. Sheen, are not unrelated to the sins that now mar our country and the culture of death that we have created. Our Lady made clear that our prayer and penance can directly alter the course of history and can lead to conversion and peace. We are not by any means beyond the threat that we have unleashed by the creation of nuclear arms. In some ways, we are facing a greater nuclear threat than we ever have before, with a nuclear Pakistan and North Korea, Iran on the verge of the bomb, and serious terrorist threats.
Therefore, Our Lady’s message at Fatima is still very relevant for peace at this moment:
After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: “Penance, Penance, Penance!” And we saw in an immense light that is God. (Excerpt from the Third Secret)
May Our Lady preserve us from the flames that would set the world on fire! For our part, let us turn to Our Lady and consecrate ourselves, our country, and the world to her Immaculate Heart with renewed vigor, reciting the Rosary and making reparation for sin, and invoking the peace that will come with the triumph of her Immaculate Heart.