Monday, July 27, 2009
Several participants in the Journey of Repentance were asked to share their perspectives on both the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the reconciliation and non-proliferation process. Fr. Bill Bichsel, a leader for our group, provides his insights below.
Do you remember when you first heard about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? How did you find out? What were your first thoughts? What was your reaction?
Dutch Schultz and I were hitch-hiking to Seattle to learn where and when he would be inducted into the Navy. The man who stopped to give us a ride had his car radio on. We introduced ourselves and talked about why we were heading for Seattle. Then music that was coming from the radio was interrupted by an announcer who blandly said that an army-air force plane had dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima and that, as a result, the war would soon be over. We asked one another what an atom bomb was. None of us knew. We didn’t know what to make of it and wondered whether Dutch would still be inducted. Dutch was 18 and was enlisting in the navy before being drafted by the army. I was 17 and not yet old enough for the draft.
What about the bombings most impacted you?
I was most impacted by the picture of the young girls in the playground wide eyed and questioning, looking up into the sky at the plane that within minutes would drop the bomb that vaporized them.
What has your past involvement with nuclear non-proliferation been?
Since 1974 I have joined in with groups here in Washington, to protest the use of the Bangor Station for the Trident Submarine Base. In 1976 I did my first civil-resistance action at Bangor by helping to carry a replica of the Trident Sub onto the base. I continued with other protest actions and received a short sentence to the King County jail. In 1980 I served 4 months at Lompoc Federal Prison for a trespass violation onto the base. During the later 70’s and early 80’s I worked with the Ground Zero Center for Non-Violence. After our effort to stop the Ohio, the first Trident to port at Bangor, we turned our efforts to block the White Train which was bringing nuclear weapons from Amarillo, Texas to the Bangor Base. This prolonged resistance to the white train deliveries brought about the government’s decision not to ship the weapons by rail.
Since 2004 I have tried to focus my attention again on the nuclear weapon issue by working through the Ground Zero Center for Non Violence. I have joined with GZ members in acts of civil resistance.
What is your opinion on nuclear proliferation? Is it at all influenced by your knowledge or understanding of the impact atomic bombs had in Japan?
My understanding of the contagious proliferation of nuclear weapons has been formed by the impact of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The events of unleashing the hellish blast which incinerated and destroyed thousands of people and their environment generated fear at its center that has spread throughout the world much as radioactive fallout does. Fear of this weapon and fear to be without this weapon spreads its illogical fallout to the body-politics of our world. Nations that fear and mistrust one another are the essential ingredients for nuclear weapon proliferation. However, the primary cause of proliferation is the United States Government which initiated the first atomic bombings and which failed to acknowledge the bloody deed and turned to developing nuclear weapon superiority. We continue today to threaten other nations with the use of nuclear weapons. It could have led the world community to nuclear disarmament but continued to produce and enhance nuclear weapons and their delivery system.
What inspires you to travel to Japan for the Journey of Repentance?
For some time I have felt that unless the U.S.A. is able to acknowledge and repent of the atomic bombing it would not turn from the path of using its nuclear weapon superiority to dominate and subdue other countries and cultures. Over the years I have learned that repentance for the devastating deeds and the commitment to abolish nuclear weapons must come from people at the grass-roots level. Our government is too embedded in its own power structure to be able to acknowledge its murderous deeds and to turn its energy toward a world free of nuclear weapons.
The fact that the plutonium that was used in the second atomic bomb which destroyed Nagasaki was produced at Hanford, right here in Washington State is added incentive to seek forgiveness.
While in Japan, what do you hope to accomplish?
I travel to Japan to have my heart and mind touched by the Hibakusha (survivors of atomic bombings) and hopefully be moved to a deeper commitment to abolish nuclear weapons. I also hope to form friendships and connections with Japanese people to work cooperatively on the abolishing of nuclear weapons.
Upon returning, what do you hope to do with your experience?
I hope to work with Japanese friends and all other interested people in preparing for the Non Proliferation Treaty Review which will take place at the United Nations in New York in May,
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself, your experience, or your intent for this journey?
The absence of compassion and moral judgment brought the decision to use the atomic bomb on two cities and their inhabitants. The deadly deeds inflicted on the people of Japan by our government must be acknowledged and repented by the American people. Repentance and compassion are essential first steps toward eliminating all nuclear weapons.
We and our human family in global villages and countries are held in the bondage of fear and terror by nuclear weapons. The possibility of the use of a nuclear weapon is always with us; however, even if a missile or nuclear weapon is not fired the poor and destitute of our country and in our global village are dying and robbed of a human life by the staggering amounts of money and resources going into the production, enhancement, and deployment of nuclear weapons. Large sections of people are dying for lack of human services that could otherwise save lives. Often the mentally ill on our streets live in makeshift lean-tos or abandoned autos, and our lack of response often leads to them taking their lives.
In our country of nuclear weapon superiority, violence and greed are ever rising. As Fr. Richard McSorley, S.J., a prisoner of WWII for 3 years has said: “The taproot of violence in our society today is our intent to use nuclear weapons. Once we have agreed to that, all other evil is minor in comparison. Until we squarely face the question of our consent to use nuclear weapons, any hope of large scale improvement of public morality is doomed to failure.”
Some years ago who would have thought that the American people would allow torture as a practice to be officially approved. As world tension increases we are becoming more numb to respond as human beings to each other and care for each other and the world that God has given to us.
- Fr. Bill Bichsel