Hiroshima: An Anti-Transfiguration


Hiroshima: An Anti-Transfiguration
Brian Zahnd

“And Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became whiter than light.” –Matthew 17:2

Seventy years ago today an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Those who experienced it and lived to tell about it, all described it in similar fashion: It began with a flash brighter than the sun. It was August 6, 1945. According to the church calendar it was also the Feast of the Transfiguration.

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima was the world’s first use of a weapon of mass destruction. In this seaport city of 250,000 people, 100,000 were either killed instantly or doomed to die within a few hours. Another 100,000 were injured. Of this city’s 150 doctors, 65 had been killed and most of the rest were injured. Of the 1,780 nurses, 1,654 were either dead or too badly injured to work. Hiroshima had become the house of the dead and dying. It was Transfiguration Day.

When Jesus was transfigured on Mount Tabor his face shone like the sun, and when he came down the mountain a little boy was healed — a boy who had been thrown into fire and water by a demon.

When “Little Boy” (the name given the bomb) shone like the sun over Hiroshima, thousands of little boys and girls were burned in atomic fire and poisoned by radioactive rain. The bombing of Hiroshima is the anti-Transfiguration.

The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Hiroshima was a turning point in human history.

When I was thirteen I read John Hersey’s Hiroshima — a 30,000 word essay originally published in The New Yorker magazine. In May of 1946 The New Yorker sent Hersey, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, to Hiroshima to find out what had really happened. Hersey tells the story of the Hiroshima bombing through the eyes of six survivors. A Catholic priest, a Methodist pastor, a Red Cross doctor, a private practice doctor, an office girl, and a tailor’s widow.

Originally Hersey’s essay was to be published in monthly installments. But on August 31, 1946 the entire issue of The New Yorker consisted solely of the Hiroshima essay. It sold out in two hours. Albert Einstein ordered a thousand copies. A few months later it was published as a book. John Hersey’s reporting was instrumental in changing the way Americans viewed the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

When I read Hiroshima in 1972 I knew I was reading of an unspeakable evil. I knew that Auschwitz and Hiroshima were to be spoken of in the same breath. How could I not know this? I read of people with charred skin and eyes melted in their sockets. I read of fires burning with such fury that they created windstorms. I read of black radioactive rain and how those who in desperation drank it doomed themselves to an agonizing death. I read of hell on earth — for there is no other way to describe it. Dante could not have dreamt greater horrors.  At thirteen I knew there was no justification for inflicting this kind of suffering and death upon anyone…much less upon hundreds of thousands of civilian men, women, and children. Yes, I knew this.

But by the time I was thirty I had learned how to justify the unjustifiable. I was now a pastor. A preacher. A zealous Christian. A spiritual leader. And I had learned how to justify inflicting hell on other humans in the name of war. They were the enemy and the bomb was pragmatic. Sadly, my thirteen-year-old moral instincts were more Christlike than my thirty-year-old callous nationalism. Though I knew the Bible far better at thirty than thirteen, this had not prevented a moral regression. I knew how to use the Bible to silence my thirteen-year-old instincts and endorse my thirty-year-old rationalization. But “using” the Bible like that is a trick we play on ourselves. If we know how to do it just right, we can make the Bible endorse anything…even Hiroshima.

Eventually, though, in my forties, I began to encounter Jesus all over again. I discovered the “unvarnished Jesus” and gained new eyes. I was born again…again. The Bible had not changed, but I had changed. I was beginning to  read the Bible in a new way. Ironically, it was closer to the way I read the Bible when I was teenager. I now knew again what I had once known long ago — that dropping atomic bombs on cities is incompatible with loving your enemy! I now knew that no matter how you spin it, the Jesus of the Gospels would never bless the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Never!

The face shining brighter than the sun that saves the world is not “Little Boy” over Hiroshima or “Fat Man” over Nagasaki, but the Son of Man shining over Tabor. When Jesus was transfigured, God spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” Jesus is what God has to say.

Harry Truman can justify as due vengeance the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima…
But Jesus is what God has to say.

Militarists can concoct arguments to rationalize killing 200,000 civilians with two bombs…
But Jesus is what God has to say.

Biblicists can point to God-sanctioned killing in the Old Testament…
But Jesus is what God has to say.

And what does Jesus say? He says this…

Love your enemies!
Do good to those who hate you.
Bless those who curse you.
Pray for those who hurt you.
Love your enemies!
Do good to them.
Then your reward from heaven will be very great.
You will be acting like children of the Most High.
For he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

-Luke 6:27–28; 35–36

Hiroshima Day and Transfiguration Day.

They are the same day.

Transfiguration and anti-Transfiguration.

Which one will we bless?

I have repented for ever justifying the anti-Transfiguration.

I have returned to listening to the truly Transfigured Christ.


Jesus is what God has to say.


P.S. I will have a post on Nagasaki on Sunday.

(The artwork is Mushroom-Shaped Cloud by Susumu Horikoshi, age 6, August 1945.)


Teacher and Child, Hiroshima Peace Park

  • Excellent again Brian!

  • You inspired me to write this poem:

    And his face shone like the sun
    as he was transfigured before them,
    around him the windswept landscape
    glowed red and white like the Judaean desert.
    With a flash brighter than a thousand suns
    the Little Boy became a man and
    rained his blessings of fire and light
    upon a little girl’s white origami crane
    released to fly into the rising sun.
    “God is speaking from heaven,” they say.
    “a sacred light from beyond has dawned and
    I have other towns I must also visit with
    this good news of my rain of peace.”

    Did not his words melt our hearts?
    Did not our skin and eyes
    burn in holy adoration?
    Did we not bow down
    at his feet and weep?

    more at: http://steverobertz.tumblr.com/

  • Beautiful, Steve! Really, it’s very good. I love the way you worked in the origami cranes.

  • This is brilliant Brian Zahnd. I remember reading stories written by survivors when I was 12 years old. I distinctly remember thinking that grown ups have no imagination, unless it’s an imagination to inflict pain. Then I’d go to mass and see Jesus hanging on the cross. At that point I realised that there is no such thing as a “Christian nation”.

  • Right on, Daniel.

  • Joe Toscano

    No coincidence, of the Hiroshima being on the anniversary of the Transfiguration. God is outside of time. I only pray Gods mercy was able to give the people who went through the bombings some peace. I’m not sure of the answer to the war at that time. I do know we were responding to the attack on pearl harbor. Very well said Brian!

  • Jesse Ireland

    Okay, I would love to hear anyone try to justify killing 200,000 people. What’s that? Oh right you can’t because Jesus said to love your enemies, which means killing them is off the table. I pray that people will have their eyes open to the true and only image of God and that image is Jesus

  • Thanks for these powerful reflections, Brian.

  • Bill H

    Wonderful reflection. Thanks. Part of my heritage runs through Sendai – well north of Hiroshima – but I have heard the stories of the fire bombing raids on Sendai. Add to this the Manzanar and other camps. The take away is absolute and utter humility before the God whose light brings out who we are and the distance to what we will become.

  • I’m not trying to justify the unjustifiable, but it has been estimated that from 1937-1945, 5-10 million Chinese were killed by the invading Imperial Japanese.

    But if killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese aggressors in their home islands is “off the table,” what becomes of millions more Chinese if the war goes on after 1945?

    In the lesser of two evils, I don’t know if the evil of the A-bomb can ever justify ending the slaughter of Chinese nationals, but at least I can do the math.

  • MERCY > math

  • Unfortunately, when it came to ethnic Chinese, Imperial Japan wasn’t very merciful.

    “Iris Chang was a young child when her parents first told her stories about a slaughter of the Chinese people so horrible as to be almost beyond belief. She recalls their voices quivering in outrage, as the two university scientists talked of Japanese soldiers slicing Chinese babies into thirds and fourths. Of Chinese men used for bayonet practice. Of pregnant women disemboweled, their fetuses killed.

    “What Ying-Ying and Shau-Jin Chang were describing for their young daughter was a bloodbath that has come to be known as ‘The Rape of Nanking’–an eight-week orgy of torture and killing that began in December 1937 and left an estimated 300,000 Chinese men, women, and children dead….”

    300,000 plus is still greater than 200,000.

  • Remember that time Jesus said, “Repay evil with evil”? Me neither.

    (By your logic Native Americans would have been justified in dropping atomic bombs on New York and Washington DC.)

  • What part of “I’m not trying to justify the unjustifiable….” didn’t you remember, Pastor Zahnd?

    I’m not advocating payback, but ending a greater evil with a lesser one without justifying either evil, period.

  • Jesse Ireland

    Here in lies the ultimate problem: Violence only begets more violence, it never stops the cycle. The kingdoms of this world have always run on violence, and the problem is it always lead to more violence. Jesus came and died to show us a better way, to bring in a new Kingdom that is run on self-sacrificial love. We aren’t going to stop the violence of the world by trying to one up it with more violence, the only way to stop it is to counter it with a better and higher force, and that force is agape love. It works, it really does, the problem is we refuse to believe it will. Will it take creative solutions? Yes. Will it be easy? No. Is it the only and true way? Yes, the cross and resurrection proves it is.

  • Tom Paine

    What is interesting to me is that we somehow see the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as fundamentally different than the bombings that occurred during the rest of the war. Historically, Dresden, Germany and other parts of Japan suffered far worse devastation from consistent smaller bombs that were dropped with the purpose of not just blowing things up but starting fires. War is ugly. War is cruel. War is not the way of Jesus Christ. Atomic and now nuclear weapons are more efficient. They kill and destroy faster, quicker, and with more toxicity than the bombs that came before. But we somehow get disjointed in our thoughts if we think that those two atomic bombs were somehow fundamentally different in their effect than what we doing cumulatively during the previous 12 months. We also miss out if we try to nationalize the sin of war just by who used the most efficient form. Do we really think that the Nazis or Imperial Japan wouldn’t have used the same if they could have? The issue is the human heart and the inhumanity we are willing to dish out to each other as our knowledge increases. Is it really worse what happened in Hiroshima than the barrel bombs getting dropped in Syria? Death from the skies is death from the skies. Or is it just the numbers who died quickly in a certain time period? Is it more significant that we killed X numbers in a minute versus in a month? The question is when and how we can bring human beings to a better form of reconciliation rather than overly focusing on a singular type of technology.

  • Terry Firma

    Brian Zahnd, 2015: “Of this city’s 150 doctors, 65 had been killed and most of the rest were injured. Of the 1,780 nurses, 1,654 were either dead or too badly injured to work. ”

    John Hersey in the New Yorker, 1945: “Of a hundred and fifty doctors in the city, sixty-five were already dead and most of the rest were wounded. Of 1,780 nurses, 1,654 were dead or too badly hurt to work.”

    I know Zahnd mentions Hersey’s piece, but that doesn’t give him license to plagiarize it.

  • sketchesbyboze

    So good.

  • Oh, for crying out loud. It’s the source for the STATISTICS. Statistics pretty much have to be “plagiarized,” if that’s what you want to call it. Sheesh. Would you rather I just made up my own stats?

  • Terry Firma

    I’m not talking about the numbers, as I’m sure you understood perfectly well. You took Hersey’s actual sentences, changed a few tiny things to obfuscate what you were doing, and then passed them off as your own. Not cool. At all.

  • Yes, yes I did. I completely lifted Hersey’s stats.

  • According to the book of Daniel, all the kingdoms of this fallen world are violent beasts. And as such, the Manhattan Project proved to be a “creative solution” that till today has tamed Japan, which may only deploy Self-Defense Forces outside of its national territory for U.N. peacekeeping missions.

    It’s not peace on earth, but for a baby boomer like me, it will have to do until Christ’s second coming.

  • Bill H

    “not trying to justify the unjustifiable” – sorry you are doing precisely that. From the stories I have heard my ancestors were not among those “hundreds of thousands of Japanese aggressors” and actually suffered during the war. The thousands at Manzanar and other camps weren’t the aggressors yet they paid the price. At what point do we, as believers, stand up and say this has got to stop. Use of your math, another form of secular reason as God is never a solution. Read MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality? to see the futility of arguing a justification based on these premises.

  • Terry Firma
  • Sorry, but playing the victim card does not entitle you to question my sincerity.

    And as for my use of math, Einstein once said: “When the solution is simple, God is answering.”
    Maybe you’re just not prepared to listen.

  • Bill H

    Wasn’t questioning your sincerity – and I’m not a victim. Rather trying to suggest your use of the bomb to stop the “hundreds of thousands of Japanese aggressors” was unduly broad and struck me as a poor justification for the mass killings of innocents. In other words I don’t see the compelling nature of your math argument. If your point is well we had to do it – the creative solution – then how do you draw the line on people like Milosovic – and saying well he was a bad guy seems a bit weak (course that’s just my opinion). The point of the post was to point out we are to live a different way – resident aliens for a time. I’m not sure what was the basis for the slam about listening so I won’t honor it with a response.

  • There’s a theme in your comments that I’ve been trying to get my head. The idea that “it will have to do” as if the way Christ has called us to live doesn’t actually work. Like it’s a nice idea to love our enemies and what not but ultimately doesn’t work and cannot be followed until he comes. Is that what your getting at?

    Is this what your getting at: Of course no one wants to be violent but since the world is broken and Christ hasn’t’ returned we need to be violent to tame and control more violent people. We don’t have the luxury of being peacefully.

    You’ve said a few times that your not justifying the bombing, but then as best as I can interpret note the numbers and what would have happened, so it seems you are justifying it. So I’m guessing your saying its not right (as in what Christ would do) BUT needed to be done because in practice as it stands Christ’s way doesn’t work yet? The bomb is evil but it’s the lesser of two evils type tying and the only options that existed were evil ones because a non-violent/ peaceful/ merciful way (the one Christ teaches) wouldn’t work.

    Did I get my head around it?

  • Jesse Ireland

    I’m trying to get my head around how killing 200,000 people is a creative solution? Violence is never the creative solution, it’s the easy one.

  • Jesse Ireland

    If the god you are hearing says that wiping out two cities with bombs is okay, then that god is not Jesus and that god certainly doesn’t deserve our worship

  • A J MacDonald Jr

    The US killed more Japanese civilians via firebombs before Hiroshima. The A-bomb was simply more efficient.

  • Terry Firma

    That’s not at all what bothers me, as I’d already stated. You’re absolutely entitled to using his numbers, as long as you don’t rip off his actual sentences and present them as your own. Does the wrongness of such an unethical act really need to be explained? And do you enjoy playing dumb with every new comment?

  • The Manhattan Project solved how to split an atom — perhaps your head is just in the wrong place?

  • Jordan

    12/7/1941: The day Japanese soldiers targeted US soldiers at a military base.
    8/6/1945: The day US soldiers targeted Japanese civilians at a non military location.

    I’m against soldiers killing soldiers, but it seems Japan has the moral high ground on this. That so many American assume moral high ground in warfare is disgusting.

  • Jordan

    The ends justify the means = Marxist logic. Since I infer you’re not a Marxist and do not want to be associated with him, you should probably reexamine your first principles by which you reach moral conclusions.

  • You played the victim card when you brought up Manzanar and your ancestors, even if you weren’t there.

    As for your reference to Milosevic, he was already indicted when I was peacekeeping in the Balkans.

  • I’m not hearing voices and you’re obviously not reading me.

  • How does “not trying to justify the unjustifiable” justify any means?

  • Jesse Ireland

    I’m reading you fine, you are claiming that’s is acceptable to kill 200,000 and I’m saying if you claim to follow Jesus then it is no way acceptable. That’s not who Jesus is.

  • Jesse Ireland

    My head is with Jesus, if that is the wrong place I’m totally cool with that.

  • Marc A. Cattapan

    I agree. War is hell on earth. Jesus doesn’t condone any of it. This article has merit but also has a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking going on.
    Millions were saved at the expense of the people Hiroshima. Nagasaki could have been saved if the emperor would have surrendered after Hiroshima.

  • loriedwa

    Dude. Chill.

  • Frankly, anyone who makes repeated references to the Lord’s name in lieu of of thinking doesn’t have the mind of Christ.

  • Jesse Ireland

    It is exactly what you are saying, you just don’t want to admit it. You are saying that killing those people was the lesser of two evils, but the problem with that is Jesus never operated by choosing the lesser of two evils. He operated by love. Period. Do you claim to follow Christ? If so there is no way in any way that dropping bombs would be an option

  • “It is exactly what you are saying, you just don’t want to admit it. You are saying that killing those people was the lesser of two evils….”

    … and that neither evil was justified.
    That’s what I said, and that’s what you left out, so you are not reading me “fine”.

  • Ned McNair

    Brother, I agree that Jesus would never bless any bombing and I agree that the scripture you quoted is the heart of Jesus. The beef I have with your view is it seems to say someone has asked Jesus to bless the bombing. I don’t think anyone has asked Jesus to bless atomic bombs or the bombing of Hiroshima. It feels like you are tilting at windmills in that sentence. Secondly, Truman did not authorize the use of the bomb for vengeance as you assert. That false assertion weakens your otherwise wonderful profile of the heart of our Lord. Truman and indeed all of America wanted to stop the Japanese from killing hundreds of thousands of people themselves and many scholars agree that those two bombs probably saved Japanese lives and American lives by avoiding an invasion of Japan. Hersey tells in the piece you reference of Japanese soldiers digging bunkers to fight hill by hill and life for life. The battle of Okinawa was a horrible bloody portent of things to come if we had to fight our way into Japan to stop the fanatic way the Japanese army and civilian population viewed killing anyone that was not Japanese, Chinese, American, Koreans, British, whoever. I hope my response helps us all remain true to the actual events and the attitude of our leaders at the time while keeping the Lord of Life and Peace in our hearts and minds as you so clearly do.

  • No.

    And why would you have to guess at what I plainly posted, i.e., “… ending a greater evil with a lesser one without justifying either evil, period”?

  • I think we are forever destine to miss each other Joe.

    I know you say your not justifying anything, but with everything you say to follow that it reads like someone who says “no offense but…” and then gets frustrated when people noted how offensive what they just said was.

    Like i said we are forever destined to miss each other on this stuff. The bombing was wholly evil and should be condemned as a horrible choice. Not the lesser of two evils, not the best of a bad situation but simply and purely wrong. It should never have happened, full stop. Anything short of that begins to justify the unjustifiable, your assertion to the contrary or not.

  • I never said the A-bomb was the “best of a bad situation” — that’s yet another of your paraphrases.
    And if the A-bomb never should have happened, then WW II ends after Imperial Japan fights to its last starving man, woman and child.

    Or do we go on with this until the moderator drops a “bomb” on us?

  • Though it is irrelevant to the point of this post, your assertion that Japan would have fought to “its last starving, man, woman and child” is simply a myth.

    Here is a substantive article:


  • Okinawa — the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War — was no myth, pastor. Re the History Channel, it was “a mass bloodletting both on land and at sea, and among both the island’s civilian population and the military.”
    It was also a foreshadow of what was to come if the Japanese home islands were invaded.

    “Had Olympic come about, the Japanese civilian population, inflamed by a national slogan – ‘One Hundred Million Will Die for the Emperor and Nation’ – were prepared to fight to the death.

    “Twenty Eight Million Japanese had become a part of the National Volunteer Combat Force … The civilian units were to be used in nighttime attacks, hit and run maneuvers, delaying actions and massive suicide charges at the weaker American positions…

    “One can only guess at how many civilians would have committed suicide in their homes or in futile mass military attacks …

    “Intelligence studies and military estimates made 50 years ago, and not latter-day speculation, clearly indicate that the battle for Japan might well have resulted in the biggest blood-bath in the history of modern warfare….”


  • Let’s allow Jesus to weigh in on this…

    Love your enemies!

    Do good to those who hate you.

    Bless those who curse you.

    Pray for those who hurt you.

    Love your enemies!

    Do good to them.

    Then your reward from heaven will be very great.

    You will be acting like children of the Most High.

    For he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

    Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

  • Jordan

    Reread your comment. After the first sentence. You attempted to justify the unjustifiable with ends-justify-the-means logic.

  • I made no such claim, so I have no idea what you think you’re reading.

  • Why would I attempt to justify something I already said was unjustifiable?

    “I’m not trying to justify the unjustifiable, but it has been estimated that from 1937-1945, 5-10 million Chinese were killed by the invading Imperial Japanese.

    “But if killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese aggressors in their home islands is ‘off the table,’ what becomes of millions more Chinese if the war goes on after 1945?…”

    Why don’t you tell us what happens to them?

  • The War Was Won Before Hiroshima—And the Generals Who Dropped the Bomb Knew It


  • physics guy

    Hiroshima was NOT the first weapon of mass destruction. The fire-bombings of Tokyo, Dresden, etc., etc. killed tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. In the film ‘Fog of War’, Robert McNamara, who was a strategist under the FDR/Truman administration, admits that if the US had lost the war, even without Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all of the chiefs of staff would have been hanged for crimes against humanity. He did not argue against that conclusion.

  • Yes. (But by WMD we mean a single devise.)

  • physics guy

    I suppose… but just how BIG does a weapon have to be to be labeled a WMD? How many have to be (potentially) killed? 100? 1000? 10 000? If you ask Cheney, Iraq was LOADED with them (and the ones they found had the potential of killing ZERO people 🙂 ). But seriously, I think the types of incendiary devices the US dropped in Germany and Japan were capable of, individually, engulfing a whole city block. If ISIS had a weapon capable of that, I’m sure they’d be classified as WMDs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to split hairs here (or accuse you of plagiarizing!), but I don’t think many people realize just how many innocent people died in the fire-bombings – many more than on August 6 and 9. They were meant to be cruel; and cruel they were.

  • Amen.

  • physics guy

    By the way, Brian, I want to tell you how much I admire your conviction on peace issues. As a Canadian, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to be a pacifist in a nation such as yours (though our domestic and foreign policies over the last decade have become much more ‘Americanized’). My prayers are with you and others like you as you try to be that light on a hill.
    BTW, I am hoping to see you when you come to my neck of the woods in October. Looking forward to it.

  • Jordan

    > “Why would I attempt to justify something I already said was unjustifiable?”

    I don’t know. It seems like you were. So I commented.

    > “Why don’t you tell us what happens to them?”

    The USA didn’t enter WWII to prevent Chinese deaths. The USA didn’t care at all about the Chinese, only its own power, influence, and self-preservation. FDR knew about Pearl Harbor before it happened. He did nothing, because he wanted an excuse to go to war. When states go to war it has never been about liberating the oppressed or protecting the vulnerable. It has and will always be about the accumulation and preservation of power, i.e. national interest/security. There is no such thing as “the good guys”.

    If nuclear weapons are off the table, vulnerability increases. Millions could die. Jesus doesn’t command individuals to not be vulnerable. He commands us to love our enemies and not resist evildoers. He commands us to BE vulnerable. That’s a tough pill to swallow, I know.

  • It “seems” simply means you can’t point to anything I posted about justifying anything.

    And you still managed to avoid answering what happens to millions of Chinese under a brutal Japanese occupation if the war goes after ’45.

    Further, many Americans did care about China, notably those who followed the writings of Pearl S. Buck, e.g., “Oil for the Lamps of China,” which was made into a major motion picture in 1935 that starred Pat O’Brien.
    Even in 1928, China was the Sisters of Charity first foreign mission. The sisters remained through the Japanese invasion, occupation and the Chinese civil war, only to leave in 1949 after the Communist takeover of mainland China.

    And did I forget to mention the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force (1941–42) aka the Flying Tigers, was composed of pilots from the United States?

  • Jordan

    By asking “But if killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese aggressors in their
    home islands is ‘off the table,’ what becomes of millions more Chinese
    if the war goes on after 1945?”, you are implying the bombs were “unjustifiable” but necessary for the “greater good”. Perhaps you weren’t implying anything and I was inferring it.

    Here’s what happens: Christians pray and speak truth to power. If more Chinese die, saints mourn, pray, forgive, speak truth to power. Jesus is Lord. Now, I’m not a complete pacifist. So if a person from Japan attacked a person in China, the victim or a third person, in my view, would be justified in defending against the attack in progress. However, once aggression is collectivized, it ceases to be so black and white.

    Yes, many (nearly all I would assume) Americans cared about the Chinese people. That is the kind of empathy the ‘powers that be’ exploit to garner public support for war.

  • You have just contradicted yourself after formerly posting that “The USA didn’t care at all about the Chinese”.

  • Jordan

    The USA and the American people are not the same. I do not conflate states and the people over whom states assert control. People are people. States are artificial social constructs.

  • The USA is made of American people who, in turn, are represented by “the republic for which it stands,” or don’t you pledge allegiance to artificial social constructs either?

    In any case, the fact the USA sent the AVG before Pearl Harbor demonstrates that it did indeed give a damn about China and the Chinese.

  • Jordan

    Correct, I do not swear oaths of allegiance to states or their symbols (flags, golden statues, etc.), only to Jesus.

    If you conflate the USA with the American people, then yes. I absolutely agree.

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t swear allegiances to states, or their symbols either.

    And according to their Watchtower NWT translation of John 1:1, the JW “Jesus” is “a god,” or perhaps Michael the Archangel, depending on whom you ask.

  • Jordan

    I guess I agree with them on at least one thing. I identify more with 17th century Quakers.

  • Thanks Brian for posting this. Well spoken and a clarion call I think

  • As horrific as it was, there were two alternatives – one of which was definitely worse. The worse alternative was to keep on trying to get Japan to surrender by conventional means – bombing the hell out of their country. The losses by the two A bombs were the same as what they, and us, were losing every month. Let another month go by without surrender and just as much death, injury, and destruction would have happened. Let it go two months, double the trouble. Who wants to condone that? These are the facts that never get mentioned in these articles. The other option, which might have caused less harm, or could have caused a lot more harm, was to allow Hitler and Hirohito to do whatever they wanted to do with the world. I would be more inclined to say that is the way of Christ, though I don’t have the strength of conviction on that one to promote it. I’m not sure the outcome wouldn’t have been just as grievous to our Lord.

  • Brian, what about context? What exactly was Jesus addressing? Was he issuing a policy statement for future governments or thinking about ISIS fighters or was he issuing a general maxim that he applied to something far less epic but far more relevant to his audience, such as a fist fight. From his statement, “Turn the other cheek,” it sounds like he’s talking about fist fights, not national blood baths. So did Jesus really weigh in on the issues raised during WW2?

  • What’s your creative solution?

  • That is an American myth that has been discredited over and over again; yet still it persists. http://www.thenation.com/article/why-the-us-really-bombed-hiroshima/

  • Jesse Ireland

    I’m not naive to think that I alone could come up with one, but if a group of people who all decide ahead of time that dropping two A-bombs was off the table, then I think one could be reached. Solutions to problems differ depending on the various factors involved in the situation. But in order to even start to come up with a creative solution, dropping the bombs has to be off the table in the first place.

  • Jesse Ireland

    Here is the issue: if the only solutions proposed include killing, then violence will only continue to grow in our world. We have to think outside the box and say that killing masses amount of people is off the table and be committed not to do it. I think then and only then will people actually try to come up with solutions that do not involve killing. It’s hard to do, and it will take time, but it can work and can be done, the problem is if we believe it.

  • I would imagine dropping any kind of bombs would have to be off the table. In the absence of bombs of any kind, I don’t think anyone was going to come up with a “solution” other than capitulate to the evil powers in Tokyo and Berlin and just let them have what they wanted. That is really the only non-violent solution to the whole problem, which of course doesn’t keep them from doing violence against their subjects (which would have been us). Not sure that can be justified biblically with “love your enemy and turn the other cheek”. IOW, Jesus wasn’t a pacifist.

  • How do we know Jesse, Jesus never really addressed the issue of national defense, or at least the Gospel writers didn’t record it if he did.

  • Jesse Ireland

    How do I know what?

  • “you are claiming that’s is acceptable to kill 200,000 and I’m saying if you claim to follow Jesus then it is no way acceptable. That’s not who Jesus is.” How do you know?

  • Jesse Ireland

    Jesus didn’t kill anyone and when others around Him tried He rebuked them over and over again telling them that was not His way. It is pretty clear from His life and teaching that He would in no way endorse war or killing. I’m not sure how you can get any message from Him that would lead to any other conclusion

  • Jesse, it’s not that I think Jesus specifically endorsed killing anywhere in the 4 Gospels, it’s just that you are arguing from silence. He did not specifically address the issues raised by WW2, but rather addressed much less severe and much more every day happenings, the types of things his audience were sure to deal with many times in their lives: getting into a fist fight (hot-headed Jews that they were LOL). He did, however, say to love people, and he didn’t say to love ISIS fighters and do no harm to them at the expense of our loved ones and not do the only thing that would prevent harm to them: use of a gun to protect. Jesus did teach us to love others as ourselves, and you aren’t doing that (or wouldn’t in this case).

  • Jordan, we all believe the ends justifies the means. You’re no different.

  • Brian I appreciate the article as it once again shows how the motives of our political leaders aren’t always what we assume, but the article doesn’t really address what I am saying, UNLESS, it was a known fact that Japan would have surrendured in less than one month. As it was, the author figures 3 months. According to my calculations that’s 3 times the death and destruction of the 2 A bombs. That’s not myth, that’s just the way it was. I appreciate your zeal to promote a Jesus ethic, but I think a Jesus ethic must also calculate losses for any alternative paths other than the violent one in question, as much as we are able. I for one have been speaking loud and clear about all the alternatives we could have employed other than invading Iraq after 9/11. As it is, our war-mongering has made the Mid East a wasteland, caused us to be the most hated nation on earth, killed and starved over a million, and generally being way more of a disaster than simply doing nothing after 9/11. We should have listened to Jesus and the Libertarians and stayed out.

  • Jesse Ireland

    So it goes back to do we really believe Jesus when He said to love your enemies. Loving your enemies would rule out killing them no matter how you spin it. I’m not saying it’s easy and I’m not saying I have all the answers, but when it comes to following Jesus we should at least be honest and say that if we end up killing someone that it is not something Jesus would endorse. And just a side note, Jesus didn’t outright say slavery is wrong either, should we continue to be okay with that?

  • Tell that to the Japs and Yanks still losing their lives up until the surrender.

  • Jesse you’re ignoring “love your family” which is a subset of “love everyone.” Jesus also taught us to love others and what you are doing is pitting love for enemies against love for non-enemies and siding with love for enemies at the EXPENSE of love for non-enemies. There is no way on God’s green earth that Jesus would support such injustice. He simply wasn’t saying “love your enemies” in the context of an enemy that was about to annihilate your family and neighbors. He wasn’t addressing that issue. You (and Brian Zahn) are employing some rather poor interpretation methods in order to not protect others from harm. Think about it.

  • As I mentioned before, it’s not clear at all considering Jesus never addressed the issues we are discussing. He never issued a blanket, no exceptions policy statement regarding national defense or defending our loved ones. Again, you are arguing from silence.

  • Jesse Ireland

    Not im not, I’m arguing from actions. Did Jesus ever use violence against anyone? Did He ever kill anyone? No. That speaks volumes. Look, if someone was trying to hurt loved ones I’m not sure how I would react, but if killing occurred i would at least admit it was following short of the Jesus way. You can spin it however you want, but saying you love your enemies and then killing them doesn’t add up. Again, Jesus is silent on slavery, so I suppose that is okay to do right?

  • Jesse Ireland

    I can tell we are not going to agree on this and it is cool. We can just agree to disagree

  • Jesse do you understand the logical fallacy of arguing from silence? It’s making a prohibition against something simply because it’s not specifically allowed (or addressed). Church of Christ churches not using musical instruments because they aren’t mentioned in the NT is a good example. If they were consistent they wouldn’t use church pews but rather sit on a dirt floor because neither pews nor flooring are mentioned in the NT. Do you ever see Jesus singing a Psalm in a church service? Have you done that? Goodness! Jesus never did that. You said you are arguing from his actions but you are not arguing from his actions, you are arguing from what he didn’t do, as if you actually know all the things he didn’t do from the rather limited record of what we have of what he did do. That’s arguing from silence, and it’s only convincing if you don’t realize what you are doing. Furthermore, you are also saying Jesus would condone violence against your loved ones, because he never used violence in the rather limited record we have of what he did do. Crazy hermeneutics my friend.

  • I’ll tell you what’s crazy. Imagining a way were where Jesus is okay with nuclear weapons. That’s crazy!

  • No, not cool. You’re promoting evil. A Jesus ethic does not ignore the consequences or our action or inaction. A Jesus ethic does not obey “love your enemies” while at the same time we “hate our loved ones and our neighbors.”

  • Jesse Ireland

    What’s crazy is that you think enemy love somehow includes being okay to kill people. Newsflash: killing people does not show them love. If Jesus actually killed someone or promoted violence it would have been told, but it isn’t. You are making God in your own image by having Him follow the same retributive justice that we would. That is why Jesus was such a shock to the Jews because they, like you, want retribution but Jesus says no I want restoration and you can’t restore people if they are dead. I like how you keep ignoring my mention on slavery. According to your logic, you could not tell them it is not okay to own slaves since Jesus was silent on it. Now that’s crazy. If actually believing Jesus and wanting to try to follow his commands is crazy, then count me in.

  • Jesse Ireland

    I didn’t know trying to show love was evil. That’s s new one for me. I’ll add it to my list. Again if your version of love your enemies includes it being okay to kill them, then it’s not following Jesus. You may not like it or agree but that’s the narrow road.

  • But you could imagine a way in which Jesus endorses either one of these alternatives: A) continued death and destruction (on both sides) through “conventional” bombing in order to get Hitler and Hirohito to surrender, or B) allowing the death and destruction that would come from allowing Hitler and Hirohito to have their way in the world. A Jesus ethic can not ignore the consequences of inaction, or say that such consequences are acceptable to a God of love, or that we must love our enemies and hate our family and neighbors at the same time. That’s inconceivable, but that’s what you are promoting.

  • Jesse I’ve never promoted retribution. I teach against it. THAT’S what Jesus opposed (among other things). The problem is you don’t see or want to admit that you are not loving your family and neighbors by allowing them to be killed. THAT is contrary to Jesus’ commands to love your neighbors. Which one are you going to choose if they contradict each other? Love your enemy or love your neighbor? If you love your enemy you end up hating your neighbor. Are you really willing to go down that road? Jesus may or may not have promoted protection of others. We simply don’t know and can’t assume that he didn’t based on a cryptic record. As I said before, he simply didn’t address the issues raised by WW2. I’m not ignoring your mention of slavery. I don’t need Jesus to tell me it’s wrong to know it’s wrong. Even atheists know it’s wrong. You (and Mr. Zahn) are treating the bible like the Evangelicals who see it as the manual for life with all of the answers. I submit it’s the Holy Spirit working today who leads people to protect others from evil. Unfortunately, our nation hasn’t done that since WW2. What we have done since then is expand the American Empire.

  • When you understand you are promoting hatred for your neighbors we might be able to continue with a rational discourse. Until then, we will be speaking past each other.

  • Jesse Ireland

    We don’t actually view the Bible that way, we view it through Jesus. I just find it ironic that when Jesus said nothing about slavery you are so quick to say it is not okay, but when He taught over and over again about enemy love you just ignore it. You can’t have it both ways. You are fixed on only two options: kill or do nothing. I say there are more options in between those but you seem to be unwilling to think of them or admit they exist. And when you promote the type of thing you are it indeed is retributive you just don’t want to call an apple an apple. And talk about a road we don’t want to go down, how about the never ending road of violence? Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God

  • Your view of the bible through Jesus employs the fallacy of arguing from silence. It is saying, “Because Jesus didn’t say it (silence) or do it, we don’t have permission to do it.” Your hermeneutic says that Jesus must specifically approve of national defense in order for it to be right, while all along he has approved of it when he said to love your neighbor. I’m all for alternatives to violence to stem the cycle of violence. I teach that with regard to ISIS. Our retributive stance toward terrorism is anti-Christ and counterproductive. It only exacerbates the cycle of violence by creating more terrorists. But that’s now. This was then. Our A bombs stopped the war, stopped the killing, stopped the cycle of violence, months before the Japs would have surrendered at the advance of the Russians. If you know of a way to have ended the War in the Pacific as soon as it did and not let another 200,000 people die per month please inform us. I don’t think you have any solutions. BTW, retribution involves repayment, reward, or punishment. I am against that. What I am promoting is ending a war as early as possible to save lives. You, on the other hand, would rather prolong the war or not resist at all, allowing all manor of evil, not loving your neighbors, and call it the way of Christ.

  • Jesse Ireland

    If dropping bombs that killed 200,00 people that had nothing to do with the war is your version of the way of Christ, then count me out. I’m sorry you don’t actually believe when Jesus told/taught/showed enemy love that he meant it but I do. And by the way Jesus was bringing in a new kingdom, one of which he is king and last time I checked he didn’t use national defense to defend it but rather used self-sacrificial love. Think about that one for a bit. You can keep selling this nonsense that somehow enemy love leaves room for killing, but I’m not buying. It’s hard and not easy but it is a The Way, but I can tell you don’t want to hear that. Also there is a lot in between doing nothing and killing, as I said before. Resisting evil does not mean you do nothing but it should be restorative, which is kind of hard to do if the person is dead, FYI

  • Jesse I’m all for enemy love. I preach it and practice it myself. I just don’t believe in doing it at the expense of neighbor love. That’s not the way of Christ. The way of Christ is to do that which does the least harm, or the greatest good. You have yet to acknowledge that we are having to pit two principles against each other and pick one or the other. You have chosen enemy love/neighbor hate, and are promoting the answer with the greatest harm to humanity, but don’t want to admit it, yet you pronounce loudly that that is God’s way. You believe God wants a solution that does the most harm to mankind. You simply do not want to look at everything Jesus taught and all of the consequences of your choices whereas I acknowledge the reality of the situation. Jesus is always in favor of reality. Please don’t kid yourself into thinking you have chosen the way of Christ. I’ve demonstrated adequately that you haven’t. You simply are unwilling to admit that your analysis must include the harm done to innocent (odd term, are soldiers any less innocent?) men, women, and children due to Pacifism. Jesus came to preach a message of forgive one another, love one another, even love our enemies, stop scapegoating, die to self, forget about your human kingdoms, enter His kingdom, be a part of his family which abhors violence and harm to others, seeks the greatest good for all, but he NEVER condoned sacrificing our loved ones, our neighbors, or anyone else for the sake of loving the guy about to kill all of them. NEVER! You are taking one statement out of all that Jesus said and ignoring the rest. I suggest you take a look at Just War Theory for a more balanced approach that does not ignore anything that Jesus taught. And please, I am not ignoring “love your enemies.” I am simply coming to a position that takes into consideration all that Jesus taught, including “love your enemies”. I don’t think you (and Mr. Zahn) have done that yet, and as such you condone the 200,000 deaths per month that were already occurring in the War in the Pacific and are perfectly willing to let it go on for 2 or 3 more months until the Japs would have surrendered anyway to the advancing Russians.

  • Jesse Ireland

    I can tell we are not at the point where we can reach an agreement, so we’ll just agree to disagree and move on. I will say this though: you seem to think that there is only two options when it comes to defending loved ones and that is do nothing or to kill. I’m saying there is a lot in between those two options. The just war theory is a joke, there has never been a just war. Again you can say you are for loving your enemies, but in the end if you are okay with killing them then you are just giving it lip service. If anyone had the right to kill it was Jesus, and yet what did he do? Self sacrificial love. It does work. Again you seem to think there is s contradiction because you boil my position down to doing nothing, but no where have I said that I would do nothing you just assume it. If you can’t think that between doing nothing and killing there are more options then the cycle of violence will just keep going. Your view just keeps feeding the cycle, Jesus actually died to stop it. Peace

  • I’ve asked you for those options and you didn’t have any. Has anyone come up with options for WW2? I can come up with a ton of non-violent options for ISIS, as I’ve blogged about at http://www.kirbyhopper.com, but ISIS is not a nation with a standing army that can or would surrender and stop their mayhem. Our best approach is to stop doing what enrages Arabs, including our invasions, and actually do things to help the people out of their situation, which would probably involve some use of force to defend the work being done to help them since ISIS wouldn’t just let us walk in and do it. Hitler and Hirohito were a whole different ball game, and we saved countless lives by ending the war when we did and in the way we did. Jesus WOULD sanction that. But I guess you can’t bring yourself to believe Jesus would approve of saving lives through killing killers because you believe his one statement to love our enemies was said with the intent of there being no exceptions, or that he was even THINKING about these issues of national defense when he said them. You haven’t provided any evidence to that effect, but you’re satisfied with the ramifications of letting Hitler and Hirohito do whatever they wanted to the rest of the world. Maybe Mr. Zahn has some creative solution that would have spared the lives of hundreds of thousands but I haven’t heard any from him either. I’d sure like to hear what they are. Yes, Jesus didn’t use force against Rome or the Pharisees, but passive resistance has proven to work against that type of oppression. It does nothing to stop the Hitlers of this world. If Jesus were here today he would tell you so. Jesus also didn’t use force for self-defense, but the issues raised by WW2 go way beyond self-defense to defending others, a whole nation of others, to loving neighbors enough to protect them from evil. Jesus never asked us to sacrifice others at the altar of non-violent resistance. That is, in fact, quite the irony when you think about it. Jesus taught us the greatest command is to love God and love our neighbor, and your position fails on both accounts because you willingly want to sacrifice your neighbor so you can feel good about following one isolated statement, “taking him seriously,” as you say. That is not loving God. That’s loving your own theology.

  • BTW Brian, I really appreciate your allowing me to air my views that are contrary to your own. That is refreshing coming from a “successful” pastor. Kudos to you Bro.

  • Jesse Ireland

    You are absolutely crazy if you think Jesus would be okay dropping bombs to kill 200,00 people. Crazy. Each and every time one of Jesus’ followers tried to or used violence he rebuked them. That’s not being silent. The evidence is there you just choose to ignore it. When his disciples wanted to drop fire (bombs) from heaven to wipe out people, Jesus said they did not know which spirit they were of. You are creating God in your own image if you think he would approve wiping out two cities. Why not let Jesus define who God is instead of you? And please do your homework because enemy love is a common thread, not one isolated statement.

  • And you’re not crazy for thinking Jesus would condone genocide in which far more than 200,000 would get killed? Here’s the deal – if it’s in your power as an elected representative of the people to stop a genocide of those people and you don’t do it then God is going to hold you accountable for that decision and those deaths. He’ll forgive you for sure, but I wouldn’t want to have him show me what I had just done and then proceed to show me some very simple errors in exegesis I had made and could have avoided if I had just listened, but chose to take the way of greater death and destruction. In NONE of the instances where Jesus stopped violence was it done to love anyone else. He came against a war-mongering spirit. He came against retribution and retaliation. He came against thinking loving just your neighbor was enough but upped the bar to loving our enemies. In your legalistic hermeneutic you have failed to distinguish the issues he addressed and have applied his maxim where he would never approve. Can you show me one place where Jesus addressed killing in order to save lives? Just one? You can’t because he never did.

  • Jesse Ireland

    Hmmm…. When he stopped his disciples from calling down fire would be the obvious one and he told them plain as day that they did not know what spirit they were of. That’s seems pretty clear that he was against killing. Look we disagree it’s fine. I’m just amazed that you have gotten to the point where Jesus would choose the lesser of two evils. Humans do that not God. Jesus never did that, he always chose love, period. Not sure why you think God would act the same way humans would, that’s creating God in your own image. That’s why the cycle of violence continues. Let God be God. Have a good one and thanks for the conversation

  • Just read the entire question thread. Is your point that Jesus would say love you family and neighbours by violence against another person if necessary?

    This creates a weird dynamic where people on both sides of a military conflict are acting as Jesus has commanded because they are defending their family and neighoburs against an aggressor. Essentially this interpretation creates a cycle of violence rather than ends it.

    Rather if the Christians on all sides, from every nation, had fought to save their enemies, even at their own expense, we may have had a different outcome.

  • Yes, Jesus would say love your neighbor – protect them – with violence, if necessary. He never spoke against it that we know of. As for war, no war I’m aware of has both sides being defenders. One is always the aggressor. I think we can take your point a bit further and say that if the leaders on both sides of a conflict were brothers in the Lord and acted like it there wouldn’t be an aggressor to begin with and there wouldn’t be a war. Until then, this “weird dynamic” is a reality of life.

  • I agree this weird dynamic is a reality of life. I think that it is perpetuated by a violent approach. I think the argument could be well made that many times the aggressor is, in their mind, acting to defend themselves, their interests, their way of life, etc.

    I think the call of Christ is a third way where we love our neighbour and our enemy equally. Which means that since responding to our neighbour in violence wouldn’t be loving responding to our enemy in violence is also unloving. We need a third option. And that option is the self sacrificial love Christ showed.

    A scenario if I may. You
    leave your home to see your child being violently assaulted in the front yard.
    How do you respond? Many would say with violence, especially in the defense of their child.

    Now consider that the assaulter is not a stranger, or
    enemy, but you older child who suffers from severe mental health concerns. Does
    your approach change? When we are able to see our enemy through the eyes of
    love we can often find the desire and creativity to act in a non-violent way.

    I’ll leave the last word to you.