Monthly Archives: August 2011

Christians in War

This past week marked the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  Here is an interview with WWII Catholic chaplain,  Rev. George B. Zabelka who repents that he did not counsel against the dropping of the two atomic bombs.  At times, it feels like a punch in a gut.

I’m not really sure where to start, myself.  This is a stark subject for me.  It makes me question the greatness of my country, and the greatness of the Church who did not oppose something so horrendous.  As I write, I feel halted, as if I’m channeling Hemingway.

First of all, I don’t oppose war itself.  Like many parts of life, I consider it unfortunate and horrible, but inevitable and often necessary.   There are, however, just wars and unjust wars, and the line between the two are often blurred.  And even if one side has a just cause, does not mean that all the men behind it are entirely just themselves, nor the methods they use just.

Perhaps I was just naive about this for a long time, but I spent most of my life believing that, whatever you said about Vietnam or the Iraq War,  one war we could all get behind was World War II.   The Japanese brought us into it with an unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor,  and Hitler needed to be stopped.  If there was a line between Good and Evil,  the sides upon which the Allies and the Axis stood were clear.  We were The Good Guys, they were The Bad Guys.

The evidence was there:  the Axis was undeniably evil and committed horrible crimes against humanity. On one side of the world, they were murdering millions of Jews, Catholics and other minorities and were bulldozing Europe in the process.   On the other side of the world,  Japan had a raging case of The Little Guy Who Snapped,  wanted to be treated as one of the World Powers, and they needed the United States out of the way.    It was truly a noble war, proving to all the goodness of America, as well as its greatness.  The only reason to blush, for our part, being that now we get to take a collective look in the mirror and see ourselves wearing a t-shirt reading, “My grandfather went to Midway and all I got was The Baby Boomer generation.” (The Baby Boomers alone make me like grenades a little more.)

But does The Bad Guys being bad make the opposition The Good Guys?   World War II,  even if it was a just cause, was not won without making extremely amoral, and anti-Christian compromises.   We may have stopped Hitler, but only by aligning ourselves with Stalin, who was responsible for anywhere from three to six times the genocide that Hitler was.

And we ended the Pacific War with the murder of 250,000 civilians, and somehow, this slips under the genocide radar.

For the first three centuries, the three centuries closest to Christ, the Church was a pacifist Church. With Constantine the church accepted the pagan Roman ethic of a just war and slowly began to involve its membership in mass slaughter, first for the state and later for the faith.

Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, whatever other differences they may have had on theological esoterica, all agreed that Jesus’ clear and unambiguous teaching on the rejection of violence and on love of enemies was not to be taken seriously. And so each of the major branches of Christianity by different theological methods modified our Lord’s teaching in these matters until all three were able to do what Jesus rejected, that is, take an eye for an eye, slaughter, maim, torture.

It seems a “sign” to me that seventeen hundred years of Christian terror and slaughter should arrive at August 9, 1945 when Catholics dropped the A-Bomb on top of the largest and first Catholic city in Japan. One would have thought that I, as a Catholic priest, would have spoken out against the atomic bombing of nuns. (Three orders of Catholic sisters were destroyed in Nagasaki that day.) One would have thought that I would have suggested that as a minimal standard of Catholic morality, Catholics shouldn’t bomb Catholic children. I didn’t.

I, like that Catholic pilot of the Nagasaki plane, was heir to a Christianity that had for seventeen hundred years engaged in revenge, murder, torture, the pursuit of power and prerogative and violence, all in the name of our Lord.

I walked through the ruins of Nagasaki right after the war and visited the place where once stood the Urakami Cathedral. I picked up a piece of a censer from the rubble. When I look at it today I pray God forgives us for how we have distorted Christ’s teaching and destroyed His world by the distortion of that teaching. I was the Catholic chaplain who was there when this grotesque process, which began with Constantine, reached its lowest point – so far.

My thoughts on this are still evolving, and will probably continue to evolve for a long time.  But please read the rest of the interview.  For me, it was a turning point.  I used to be able to say I was not at all opposed to war and still, some of Rev. Zabelka’s anti-war and anti- military sentiments don’t sit well with me.   But it was an upheaval of all I thought I believed.  I now must question whether war is something I truly believe in, or something I have been conditioned to believe in.  Some things are worth dying for, yes, but is anything worth killing for? (excluding direct, immediate danger, in cases of self defense)

But were the Crusaders and the popes who commissioned them wrong?   Where does this leave soldiers who became saints?  St. Martin of Tours?  St. Joan of Arc? (it’s important to note, however, that in the latter’s case, God never directed her to kill anyone, and she never did.)   I can fortunately fall back on something  C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters,

[T]ens of thousands […] will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self.  I believe that The Enemy [Screwtape, a demon, refers to God as ‘The Enemy”] disapproves many of these causes.  But that is where He is so unfair.  He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophisticated ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.

This merciful quality of God is certainly a blessing, because as I read about Nagasaki and Hiroshima, I find myself less and less convinced that we have as many just reasons for war as we think we do.



Struggling a bit with writer’s block… Just not feelin’ it lately, I guess.  I’ve watched a steady decline on my stats page with a slump and a “Meh.”   I’ve started topics that seem interesting for a whole five seconds before I get distracted by a Gizmodo article and the post trails off on its own.  Bear with me.

Gosh, even finishing this post was a struggle.  I need a coffee and a massage.  Blergh.


Cowboys, Aliens and Dad

I’ve been looking forward to “Cowboys and Aliens” for months.   I’ve never seen the trailer and prior to its release on Friday, I didn’t even know the plot.   All I knew was that it was a Western with aliens, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, so really, what else is there to know?

After seeing it, I was happy to find that it wasn’t much more than that.  It was sincere, yet silly– just an entertaining summer movie that didn’t try to be more than that.   It’s not satire or cynical; it knows its pulling out all the cliches of both genres and it’s okay with that.  As Roger Ebert says, “Humanity is in danger, and it’s up to the rough-hewn cowboys of the Old West to save us.” It’s a movie with the security of predictability, which is almost refreshing.  It has a cheesy twist like those from movies that came from times when corny twists weren’t questioned or scoffed at.  While everyone else is trying to be The Newest Thing, revamping a couple old schticks requires more creativity and daring to be successful than coming up with something completely original, I think.   I loved it because it was a movie that was willing to just be a movie.

The mashup of genres reminded me of a game my dad used to play with my siblings and me.  I only have one brother, but he had more Hot Wheels, action figures, and toy soldiers than any one boy really needed.  So some nights, after dinner, while mom did dishes in the kitchen,  he’d drag up a bucket of them along with two or three of those toy castles with the trap doors and working drawbridges.  Action figures– a conglomeration of aliens, cowboys, superheros and spacemen– were divided,  alliances were formed (and as frequently betrayed), rules were written (merely to be broken), stakes were claimed, and plots took turns that would put M. Night Shyamalan movies to shame.  Watching Cowboys and Aliens was like watching my childhood imagination in movie form.

Then, of course, was the fact that it felt like an off-shoot of Indiana Jones.  I was a Disney girl from birth, but if there is one movie that I feel defined my childhood, “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” would be it. 

Daniel Craig was marvelous as a rugged bad guy gone good, and the role of steely-eyed cowboy fits him like a glove.  But it was Harrison Ford who really made me nostalgic for classic popcorn action movies. I felt like I was watching a true descendent of the Indiana Jones franchise, just with better CGI than they had 30 years ago.   No, it won’t have the staying power or legacy of the franchise itself,  and it didn’t have a John Williams score that people will be humming decades from now,  but it could stand next to the real thing, if not by itself.   I couldn’t help but think that maybe this meant that we could all put “Indiana Jones and the Guy from Transformers” behind us and pretend it didn’t happen.

I still remember the day, when I was about 9, that my dad popped in an old VHS with the title scribed on a handwritten label.  My mom was out of the house with my aunt and mom’s friend, Mary.  That left me and my siblings (which I believed totaled 4 at that time), Mary’s kids, (5 of them?) and my three cousins in my dad and uncle’s care for most of the day.   Some of the details are fuzzy, but I remember that it was soon after lunch, and my dad put the movie in the tape player saying that it was a movie he liked when he was a kid.   [This led to years of living in the belief that my dad grew up during the same time that the Nazis occupied North Africa, but I digress.] That tape played on loop long after, as did its sequels when we got our hands on them.

Perhaps it would seem strange to some if I said that the moment-long memory of my dad with that VHS is one of my fondest of him.  Some, I’m sure, would think that this implied that my dad gave me no better memories than popping in a movie to get a dozen kids under 10 to sit still for 90 minutes.  My dad himself might be insulted that rather than big memories like family vacations and Disney Land and the time he took teaching me how to shoot or ride a bike,  it’s a memory that took place in our living room–one that he may not even remember– that evokes the warmest feelings.   I can think of 19 years worth of good memories with my dad, but that one sticks out.  I don’t know why, but it does.

Dad was also the one who introduced me to Star Wars, and I’d join ranks with the other girls with crushes on Han Solo.  My dad gave me Harrison Ford in his glory days, so to watch him kicking ass again (in an aging John Wayne kind of way) at however-old-Ford-is-now-I-don’t-really-want-to-think-about-it, made me reminiscent. 

I sat in the theater on Friday, thrilled that the movie was everything I hoped it would be, but wishing I was watching it with my dad.