They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
“War is essentially the denial of everything Christ stood for.”
Harry Emerson Fosdick
This morning I am contemplating Hiroshima and meditating on a book by Harry Emerson Fosdick.
One of our summer traditions is going to the Fourth of July Parade in Bath, Maine. The parade, which is the largest in the State of Maine, is the centerpiece of “Bath Heritage Days,” a festive occasion of craft fares, displays and sales. We always go to the library book sale, and this year I found a wonderful little book of sermons by Harry Emerson Fosdick.
Fosdick looks better and better to me as the years go by. When I was in seminary, I thought he was a theological and intellectual lightweight. In my estimation, opposing Fundamentalism was obvious. And liberal theology was a captive of its culture. But now, when I re-read “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” I am struck by its relevance for our time. Fosdick’s liberal theology, which seemed so pale and lifeless when I was in seminary, now looks both profound and prophetic. Truthfully, I held those negative opinions based almost entirely on what other people had said or written. My opinion changed as I began to read Fosdick for myself.
Still, I was put off by the title of the book, “A Great Time to Be Alive.” I assumed that it would be a sugary recitation of happy insights from the 1950’s. Optimism pretending to be faith. I bought it because I have a small collection of Fosdick books, but I did not expect much.
In fact, it is a collection of sermons written and preached during the Second World War. He talks about the challenges facing the Christian Church in a time of war. The book was published in the summer of 1944, shortly after the Normandy invasion, when the outcome of the war was not yet certain. Fosdick had the courage, in that perilous time, to declare that war is always at odds with Christian teaching. It may be necessary, but it is never good. “Whether one thinks of what our enemies have done to us—of Warsaw, Lidice, Rotterdam, Coventry—or what we have done to them—‘We literally drop liquid fire on these cities,’ says one expert in air warfare, ‘and literally roast the populations do death.’”
He assumes that we will win the war. Hitler will be defeated and Imperial Japan will be vanquished, but the real challenge will be to win the peace, to create a world which is worthy of the human lives lost in war. “Many Americans,” he writes, “would love to save the world if only they could save it without changing their isolationism, without changing their ideas of absolute national sovereignty, without changing their racial prejudices and their economic ideas to fit the new interdependent world.” Sadly, those words are still relevant. We still want to save the world without giving up anything.
In many ways, we did “win the peace.” The Marshall Plan was an incredible effort to rebuild the nations we had defeated, and it led to decades of post-war prosperity. We have made great strides in race relations. And the United Nations, for all its shortcomings, is still at the center of maintaining peace in the world. In other ways, we are still struggling to recognize the ties that bind us together and embrace the interdependence of God’s world.
For a stark pictorial remembrance of Hiroshima, use the following link:
Tomorrow, August 6th, marks 64 years since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan by the United States at the end of World War II. Targeted for military reasons and for its terrain (flat for easier assessment of the aftermath), Hiroshima was home to approximately 250,000 people at the time of the bombing. The U.S. B-29 Superfortress bomber "Enola Gay" took off from Tinian Island very early on the morning of August 6th, carrying a single 4,000 kg (8,900 lb) uranium bomb codenamed "Little Boy". At 8:15 am, Little Boy was dropped from 9,400 m (31,000 ft) above the city, freefalling for 57 seconds while a complicated series of fuse triggers looked for a target height of 600 m (2,000 ft) above the ground. At the moment of detonation, a small explosive initiated a super-critical mass in 64 kg (141 lbs) of uranium. Of that 64 kg, only .7 kg (1.5 lbs) underwent fission, and of that mass, only 600 milligrams was converted into energy - an explosive energy that seared everything within a few miles, flattened the city below with a massive shockwave, set off a raging firestorm and bathed every living thing in deadly radiation. Nearly 70,000 people are believed to have been killed immediately, with possibly another 70,000 survivors dying of injuries and radiation exposure by 1950. Today, Hiroshima houses a Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum near ground zero, promoting a hope to end the existence of all nuclear weapons.
Boston Globe 8/5/09