Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Tom's Call to Conscience
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. Tom Karlin, 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?
When I first heard about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I was only 9 years old. I do remember clearly the comments my parents made when the news came over our battery-operated radio. "They should have dropped one on Stalin right away." Like most Catholics and Americans, they believed in the "just war" doctrine.
What about the bombings most impacted you?
What impacted me the most about the bombings was what I saw 11 years later, visiting Nagasaki while in the Navy. At the epicenter of the bombing was a multi-story museum displaying thousands of relics, documents, and photographs. The whole display was poignant and ponderous... men, women and children trying to flee the inferno, terrorized.
What has your past involvement with nuclear non-proliferation been?
My past involvement with nuclear non-proliferation has been lobbying our representatives, letterwriting, attending rallies and marches, speaking at forums, and enacting civil resistance at the Trident Submarine Base at Bangor, Washington from the early 1970's, on. I have been arrested 6 or 7 times, and have done 4 months in federal prison once.
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 opinion on nuclear proliferation is that not only is reliance on nuclear weapons bad and violent policy, it is unlawful. The use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons and the indefinite maintenance of a nuclear arsenal are contrary to established, universally recognized rules of international law.
Nuclear weapons and the threat of their use, is, in my opinion, terrorism. I believe the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the fire-bombings of 60 Japanese cities was a crime against humanity and also was a war crime, even if one embraces the "just war" doctrine.
What inspires you to travel to Japan for the Journey of Repentance?
What inspires me to travel to Japan with our delegation is the call of the Gospel to be peacemakers. I am inspired by the example of peace prophets like Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr., Bix, and many others. Last but not least, the Japanese people, especially the Hibakusha, inspire me. ("Hibakusha": the people who suffered and are still suffering the effects of the atomic bombings.)
While in Japan, what do you hope to accomplish?
Along with my fellow travelers, I hope to accomplish the following:
^ Do a great deal of compassionate listening to the people we meet.
^ Express our deep sorrow for the suffering that our nation inflicted on them and ask their forgiveness, while also forgiving their nation for the suffering they inflicted on our people in the war.
^ Deepen mutual respect between our peoples.
Upon returning, what do you hope to do with your experience?
I hope that, upon returning, we can all in our unique ways and perhaps as a group share what we have seen and heard. I hope we thereby can contribute to healing, reconciliation and help peace break out, even in some small way, in our world.
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself, your experience, or your intent for this journey?
After my discharge from the Navy in 1960, I entered the Trappist Monastery in Oregon. My novice master had been an aviator on a B-29 bomber that was involved in the fire-bombing of some of the 60 Japanese cities. While sharing my concerns, he encouraged me to become a conscientious objector to all war.
My "call to conscience" became so clear, I could no longer accept the Church's "just war" teaching. I became a conscientious objector to all war, and try to be a conscientious objector also to the things and activities that contribute to war. "Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good." -- Gandhi
In Luke's gospel, chapter 9, verse 54, when James and John wished to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus remonstrated with them: "You know not of what spirit you are. The son of man came not to destroy souls but to save them..." He also said, "Whatever you do to the least of my sisters and brothers, you do to me..." Matthew 25:40