Steve Heronemus

70 Years On, We Must Remember

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the first atomic bomb detonated by one country on another in hostility. Little Boy was dropped by the B-29 Enola Gay over Hiroshima killing somewhere around 100,000 civilians and leaving a legacy of radiation that still kills today. Japan is not yet done counting its World War 2 casualties. I have no idea how much media attention or public conversation this anniversary will get, but we must remember.

I will not present any opinion regarding the necessity of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We have no way of knowing if other alternatives would have saved lives. But I will use this anniversary to decry the atrocity that is war. We in America are so fortunate that the vast majority have personally seen so little of war, but that fortune comes with a responsibility to learn the totality of its horror so that we do not tread lightly into it.

We are all rightly aware of the atrocity of the Holocaust, 6 million Jews killed for their religion and ethnicity. Most of us know of the 10-15 million Soviet civilians killed by Hitler’s army and we know about the 250,000 civilians killed by our atomic bombs.

What few of us learn, though, is the staggering loss of innocent life across the globe during WW IIF. More than 2 million in India. 1 million in French Indochina and 4 million in the East Indies. 5 million in Poland and 1 million in Romania. And then there is China. China lost at least 20 million innocents, and the real number may be 50 million. The Rape of Nanking is the only atrocity in China many of us have heard of.

The Axis powers were not alone in intentionally targeting civilian lives. Please do not misconstrue me, the United States was militarily and morally coerced into joining WW2. I don’t believe we had much choice in joining the war in either Asia or the Pacific. However, the propaganda at the time and the pervasive view we have of our history is that we didn’t target civilians. I will never forget my father’s words, choked out through tears as he viewed pictures of the devastation of Munich that included churches and hospitals, “They told us we avoided churches and civilians.” Unfortunately we, too, intentionally carpet- and fire-bombed scores of cities in Germany and Japan with the purpose of degrading morale. We even bombed dams to flood cities. The United States was on the right side of history, but the blood of innocent lives on our hands number in the several million, too.

Given this, I ask that we remember the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this week not as triumphs of our technological and military might, but as reminders of the horrors of war, horrors in which we are complicit. Let us always remember that security does not equal peace and that seeking peace involves working to avoid war. And if we seek to be people blessed by God, let us remember Jesus’ words, “Blessed be the peacekeepers.”