Nagasaki: The Sufferings of Christ


This is the third in a series of blog posts on the seventieth anniversary of the creation and use of the atomic bomb. The first two are Los Alamos: We Have Become Death and Hiroshima: An Anti-Transfiguration. I have asked Peri to write the final one on Nagasaki.

Nagasaki: The Sufferings of Christ
Peri Zahnd

1945. What a year it was. What it must have been like to have lived in that time — the last days of WWII, watching the evil Third Reich disintegrate, the fall of the Nazi regime, dancing in the streets of America when it was announced the war in Europe was finally over.

I can’t imagine what it was like to hear in the days and weeks to follow the stories of the concentration camps being liberated, the piles of bodies, the skeletal survivors. Had such horror ever been seen on the earth? I absolutely agree, the world must “never forget” what awful things were done in an attempt to utterly wipe out a people group, the Jews.

But the war wasn’t really over. America was also at war with Japan, and the Japanese had not yet surrendered. We were still at war, for a few more months, until August, when two atomic bombs were dropped in the space of four days on two major cities in Japan. I think it is safe to say again that such horror had never been seen on the earth.

I came across the book A Song for Nagasaki by Paul Glynn a few years ago, and it was one of the most unforgettable books I have ever read. It tells of the beauty of the Japanese culture, the story of Christianity coming to Japan, and the devotion of many who became martyrs rather than give up their faith. Nagasaki was the birthplace of Christianity in Japan, and had a thriving Christian community, the centerpiece of which was the Urakami Cathedral, Ground Zero for the bomb. But A Song for Nagasaki is really the story of Takashi Nagai, a medical doctor in Nagasaki who had become a devoted Christian after a long search for truth — disappointing his beloved father by abandoning the Shinto religion he’d been raised in.

Nagai was at work at the hospital on the beautiful morning in August when the bomb was dropped. He survived because he happened to be in an inner room of the hospital which provided some degree of protection. Nagai was trapped and injured; he was eventually dug out of the rubble by a co-worker. He finally made it outside and into a nightmare, literally a living hell.

I read the story of what he encountered that day with a sense of horror — the descriptions of the suffering of the people reminded me of the most ghastly descriptions of hell I’d ever imagined. To perish immediately was a great mercy. Despite his own serious injuries, the doctor immediately threw himself into doing all he could do to help the dying who were all around him — somewhere in the vicinity of one hundred thousand, half of which died that day, and half of which lingered a bit longer before succumbing to death.

It was several days before Takashi was able to leave the ghastly scene and make it to his home. He found what remained of his beloved wife in the kitchen — a few bone fragments and her rosary beads. His two young children had been spared — they had gone on a hike to the mountains with their grandmother that day.

The story grows even more remarkable in the months to follow, as Takashi refuses to give in to bitterness and instead forgives and becomes a great preacher of peace. He preached to the survivors of the church there and told them that the reason the bomb had fallen on Nagasaki was so that the body of Christ there could absorb the wounds, bear the sins of the world, end the cycle of violence, and not return evil for evil, but instead forgive. He became a great spiritual leader of the Christian community in Japan.

Very soon, his radiation sickness made him an invalid forced to lie on a mat in a one-room hut that his friends constructed for him. He became famous in Japan — a prophet, a revered holy man who spent his days in prayer, writing books, and receiving the many guests who came from around the world to meet him, even Helen Keller! A popular movie was made of his life — The Bells of Nagasaki, telling the story of how he helped organize the salvage of the cathedral bell found buried in the rubble and worked quickly to get it hung so that it could ring once again on Christmas Day — a symbol of hope and endurance for the believers there. He published several books, some of which are available in English. He lived much longer than anyone expected, but finally died of the radiation sickness in 1951.

As I finished this book, I marveled that Takashi Nagai and his story are mostly unknown here in America. I believe it is just as important that we not forget Hiroshima and Nagasaki as it is that we not forget Auschwitz and Dachau. Jesus would never endorse the torture and suffering and killing and destruction the atomic bomb caused. Why do we so readily agree that the Holocaust was a sin, but defend the atomic bombings?

There were plenty of highly placed people who were against the bomb being dropped — General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, who later became the 34th President of the United States, as well as Admiral William Leahy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Albert Einstein, who initially supported the creation of the atomic bomb, opposed its use. Yet, an American Christian today who voices their opposition to these bombings can be sure they will be soundly criticized. Why, in the name of God?!

No rational human contests the horror of the Holocaust. It is universally decried, except by a few marginalized “Holocaust deniers.” Why is it so controversial to question or criticize dropping atomic bombs on a city filled with children and families and teachers and doctors just living their lives?

Learning the truth about what happened is uncomfortable. The book was certainly not entertainment, not a feel-good read, but in the end very uplifting and inspiring. We need to read this book and others like it so that we can say, and continue to remind ourselves — “Never Again.”

I would like to leave you with a question. On August 9, 1945 where do we find Jesus? In a B-29 flying over Nagasaki? Or with the worshipers, soon to be sufferers, praying in the Urakami Cathedral?

“We suffer with him so that we may be glorified with him.” –Romans 8:17

Peri Zahnd

Urakami Cathedral, August 1945

Urakami Cathedral today

  • Nate

    Thank you for writing this.

  • “On August 9, 1945 where do we find Jesus?”
    Wherever two or more are gathered in His name, i.e., in a cathedral, in a bomber …
    Even some saints have been known to bilocate.

  • Charles Vanderford

    A few things should come to light. A few days before the bombings, American forces dropped a million or so flyers in dozens of Japanese cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, urging the civilian population to evacuate because all or some of those cities were going to be bombed. The flyer can be found and viewed online.

    Secondly, Japanese military manufacturers were spread among the cities, among civilians, creating the unfortunate reality that American forces had to attack them where they were – which in fact they were doing before AND AFTER the atomic bombs were dropped. Conventional bombing runs were obliterating portions of Japanese cities, because the Japanese refused to surrender, even for a short time after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    The intention of the Emperor and his military was that Japan would arm their men, women, and children with bamboo spears if necessary and fight to the last one. They were fanatically devoted to the Emperor, and were willing to lose both their nation and their lives in his defense. The Americans saw no alternative to invasion, which would have surely caused incalculable losses on both sides, far more lives even than the atomic bombs took.

    What the bombs accomplished was the final spectacular display of terrifying power that caused the Emperor to change his mind, and accept terms of surrender. Consider the alternative – invasion. The losses to Japan would have been even worse. And we would have lost American lives that otherwise were saved.

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

    “The use of this barbarous weapon…was of no material assistance in our
    war against Japan.” —Adm. William Leahy, Truman’s Chief of Staff

    “It was a mistake…. [the scientists] had this toy and they wanted to
    try it out, so they dropped it.” —Adm. William “Bull” Halsey

    “…it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” —Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

  • Steve Hofstede

    so, your explanation is that American military lives at the time were worth more than the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians destroyed at Nagasaki and Hiroshima?

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

    Seventy years after the bombing, will Americans face the brutal truth?

  • Steve Tiger King

    Another possible place to look for Jesus on August 9, 1945 would be in the hull of the USS Arizona? Would Jesus condone any action of war? Luke 13:
    3″I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4″Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5″I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

  • Victoria Kazarian

    Thank you for this beautiful post. My grandmother was born in Nagasaki, daughter of missionaries. I need to find this book.

  • Brian and Peri, thank you so much for continuing to push for awareness of our national sin of the glorification of violence and the horrific us vs. them justification of killing for our national god’s (Mars) purposes. I appreciate your work to undermine this foundation much of the American church has built itself upon. While I am so grateful you are asking so many to look back at the actions of our WWII generation parents and grandparents and decry this leap into atomic war, I want to point out we have our own “principalities and powers” to confront in this generation.

    As a missionary in Uganda the last five years, I have learned much about the role of our government and the role of the American church in promoting and propagating violence and war on the continent. We have lost 6,000,000 Congolese brothers and sisters to a war over minerals in the Eastern Kivu of The Democratic Republic of Congo since 1996 – coincidentally the same number of of Jews who were killed in WWII. This is the Holocaust of our generation. It is hard to imagine how in this day and age of 24/7 news very few people are aware of this travesty.

    One well known American “purpose driven” church, through misguided and belligerent missions efforts, has exacerbated and even indirectly supplied arms to the perpetrators of this war. Unfortunately, I can’t say more here, the situation is very dangerous and I risk much even writing this. Please contact me if you would like more information about the issue and what a few Christians are trying to do to bring it to light and to an end. Your help bringing attention to this would be a major leap forward.

    Thanks again for being a reflection of the non-violent Kingdom of God.

  • Yet that same General Eisenhower ordered the “strategic” firebombing of Dresden which, at that time, was overcrowded with up to 500,000 German refugees from the east!

    During the war, newspapers quoted Admiral Halsey concerning the Japanese: “We are drowning and burning them all over the Pacific, and it is just as much pleasure to burn them as to drown them.”

    I guess they had second thoughts when the war was over.

  • Mark McLane

    You’ve clearly missed the point. The question is not, “Is this justifiable, from a war-maker’s perspective?” The question is not even, “Is this justifiable, in that it prevented greater suffering?” The question is simply, “Would Jesus have condoned this?” There is no setting of the “right” perspective on this, and any attempt to do so merely betrays the fact that worldly interests outweigh Jesus’.

  • Bruce Hanna

    It’s clear from this that Charles hasn’t read “A Song for Nagasaki” nor other information on Japanese politics leading up to the war and up to the surrender – a surrender insisted on by the emperor even though he was, by then, supposed to be a constitutional monarch. It isn’t “one nation good, the other bad.” It’s a matter of which of several competing forces in each country wins out over various issues.

  • “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

    “Japan was nowhere close to surrender prior to the use of the atomic bomb and barely managed to pull it off even AFTER both bombs and the Soviet intervention. Had it not been for these things it is likely that no one in the Japanese government would have ever been able to muster the political will and political capital to force the army to lay down its arms….”–The-Lessons-of-Hiroshima#

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    about a hundred years ago King Leopold the second of Belgium
    was responsible for policies of exploiting the resources of the
    Congo. 10 million estimated died in that Holocaust. the novel The Heart of Darkness
    by Conrad came from that time.
    Mark Twain also wrote about it.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    Nagasaki & hiroshoma
    first examples of experimental
    nuclear population control?
    I wonder…

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    that was then this is now… shall we be seeing nukes being used again?
    nothing changes if nothing changes.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    …under some rubble in a city thats been hit by a nuclear holocaust.
    ‘even if I make my bed in hell thou art there’

  • Joseph Conrad and Mark Twain were part of a movement that a few brave missionaries in the Congo started. They traveled the West with slide shows (the latest image technology) of handless Congolese who had been punished with amputation for missing King Leopold II’s rubber quotas. His control of the Congo ended because a few Christians were willing to oppose their colleagues and king to bring the images of Leopold’s abuses to light. Today we are faced with the same choice, either to ignore or do something about the ongoing slaughter over minerals to manufacture our cell phones and laptops. Meanwhile some missions efforts by the afore mentioned church exacerbate the problem. The parallel with the events of WWII is striking, moral courage is difficult to muster in a nation that would prefer not to have to choose. Each individual Christian is faced with the choice, just as our parents and grandparents were faced with the challenge of Japan and Germany.

  • “… nuclear population control?”
    Or are they biblical examples of sowing and reaping?
    I wonder …

    “But you have planted wickedness,
    you have reaped evil,
    you have eaten the fruit of deception.
    Because you have depended on your own strength
    and on your many warriors,
    the roar of battle will rise against your people,
    so that all your fortresses will be devastated….”

  • Kevin Osborne

    A-bomb war crimes? Sure, in retrospect. It depends on perspective IMO. Truman had served in WW1 as an artillery officer. He had seen men blown to bits, injured, suffering. He was also aware of Nanking, where the Japanese had slaughtered, tortured and raped their way through an estmated quarter million Chinese. Why would he put their lives ahead of the United States solders who were dying every day and would continue to die till the war was over? Patton said it: “Your job is not to die for your country. Your job is to make the other poor son of a bitch die for his country”. No matter what is written now, no one knew for certain what the Japanese were going to do. Estimates of the casualties of invasion were into the millions, and the majority would be Japanese. Even after the bombs were dropped it took five days and several suicides by Japanese military to bring about the peace. Maybe the US could have dragged a treaty out of the Japanese at some point. Would that have included a complete surrender and occupation, a reason there has been peace with Japan for the past seventy years? How many on both sides would die in the interim? Hiroshima and Nagasaki would certainly have become the subjects of fire bombings, which to that point they were spared as potential targets for the A-Bomb. Anyone who has read about the fire bombings of Tokyo knows they were no picnic.
    Were they war crimes? Sure. Anything in that line must be if we are to have peace. The justice behind it should be accurate, too, and realistic. If we take leaders to task then like HItler they’ll fight to the last man. If not what use is it? The world of man is not so simple as the world of God. My opinion.

  • Kevin Osborne

    The outcome was known just as the outcome of the war in Europe was known after Stalingrad. How that European outcome would play out was not known and in the interim over a million casualties occured.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    just saw a documentary on
    how Stanley Kubrick made dr. Strangelove.
    BTW dr. Strangelove is up on YouTube for free.
    IMO a work of art can break barriers for discussion of underlying festering prejudices and rancid assumptions.
    black comedy!
    Dr Strangelove:
    ‘how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb’!

  • Kevin Osborne

    Have you seen Room 237 or is that the documentary you mean?

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    no I haven’t seen that one.
    thank you I wasn’t aware of that 1 I’ll look it I’ll look at it!
    Mine was called
    ‘inside the making of dr.strangelove’
    BTW have you ever seen ‘the producers’?
    it’s up on YouTube for free right now!

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    what are we in for yikes!

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    I feel like a lot of us are getting prepared and ready to put our lives on the line.
    we’ve done it before and we can do it again as ‘way opens’ like the Quakers say!

  • Kevin Osborne

    Thank you I will look at that documentary. Yes, I assume you mean the original Producers which was up and down but far better than the recent remake, IMO.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    yes the original producers made in the 19 sixties! I loved dick Shawn in that movie.

  • Nations, like people, can also reap what they sow, e.g., rape Nanking, reap a radioactive Hiroshima.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    I would not go so far to say that.
    you shouldn’t be so judgmental Joe it’s one of your worst character flaws as far as
    I can see. you are ’12 stepping’ us.
    one of my worst character flaws is
    taking other people’s inventory. (=

  • Kevin Osborne

    Shawn was great, he died young as I recall. Do you remember him in Mad Mad World? I watched the Strangelove doc, thanks for recommending.

  • Reaping what you sow is a biblical principle, or was Hosea judgmental as well?

  • “I didn’t do anything.” -Last words of Tanaka, a Nagasaki boy as he lay dying,
    his face charred black and his eyes burned out of his head, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, p. 83

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    mad mad world is up on YouTube for free now.
    shawn was just great in that movie!

  • Travis

    I would also recommend the following article. It’s very true that life in general is very complex, including modern day warfare. There were so many moving parts that played into the decision to drop the bomb. One of these parts is the historical progression of warfare, which of what I’ve read so far hasn’t been addressed.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    FYI Citizen Kane is up on YouTube now for free!

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    Inherit the Wind with Spencer Tracy is up right now.

  • physics guy

    WWJB? (who would Jesus bomb?)

    I cannot, in any way shape or form, imagine Jesus walking through the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then saying to those responsible, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

    Supporters of the bombing of innocent men, women, and children are reading from a different psalter. Here are some excerpts:

    “The heavens declare the glory of the Bomb, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.”
    “Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.”
    “May the Blessings of the Bomb Almighty, and the Fellowship of the Holy Fallout, descend upon us all. This day and forever more.”
    “Planet of the Apes” is sounding more and more prophetic all the time. Lord, help us all.

  • Amen. Good job!

  • Herm

    Joe, Matthew 7:12 and Matthew 22:37-40 is ALL the biblical principle we need when in Jesus and our Father. If you doubt enroll in our Rabbi’s school and learn from Him directly, Luke 14:26 and 27. Love you!

  • Herb, Matthew quotes the Old Testament more than any other gospel.

    In all, there are 343 Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament and 2, 309 allusions, mostly taken from Psalms (79 quotations, 333 allusions) and Isaiah (66 quotations, 348 allusions).

  • Herm

    Joe, apparently you got the all the math, thanks. Note: that of all those numbers of quotations and allusions no other is Jesus directly saying that ALL the Law and Prophets either hang or are summed up by those two very complimentary teachings in Matthew. You dazzle me with your Bible expertise.

    ““I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:36-40

    “He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”” Luke 24:44

    “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:28-30

    Joe, all your statistics are finished. Study the Scriptures if you will but you will not find Jesus there for the word of God is only found inside the Holy Spirit. Jesus is now Lord, Rabbi and High Priest over all heaven and earth. His disciples live today though not of this world. Church is held in our hearts and minds where He resides as we are one with God as Their beloved little children.

    I have share this before with you and you have clearly not taken what it says to heart. Go to Luke 14:26 and 27 to know how to learn for real the math of our Lord and Instructor, directly. If you can’t humbly ask, seek and knock to know the Truth I share and it will be given you.

    Blessing be upon you!!!

  • Thanks Herb, but all those numbers mean that the newer covenant borrows heavily from the older; in fact, entire passages from Isaiah and Zechariah were the New Testament for early Christians.

    And speaking of Jesus as Lord and Rabbi, don’t ever quote Rabbi Jonathan Cahn to Pastor Zahnd.
    Just trust me on this.

  • All the generals knew the war was over with the exception of the only generals that really mattered — the military leaders of the Imperial Japanese High Command.

  • Herm

    For disciples only:

    ““But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:8-12

  • At his “Hope Of The World Ministry” in Wayne, N.J. — an end-time ministry of Jews and Gentiles — Cahn also answers to “Pastor”.

  • “End-time ministry.”

    Everything after Pentecost is an “end-time ministry.”

  • Warren Petoskey

    We, as a people, suffered our own holocaust on this continent in the name of “Christianity.” One hundred million of us were exposed to genocide, genocidal wars, germ warfare, sterilization and forced removal to remote areas on the continent where we would suffer in a foreign environment or be put on reservations and subjected to inhumane conditions designed to end our lives….and then, the 524 boarding schools in the U.S. and Canada where the main objective was to “to kill the Indian in the man, but save the man.” Of the 238,000 of us left in the year 1900 100,000 of our children were forcibly removed from their homes and taken by boxcars or wagons to a distant place. Most did not see their parents or home again. Some returned home and did not recognize their parents or their home and could no longer speak their language. Carlisle Indian School became the effective model for all the boarding schools and Hitler used the model to create his Brown Youth Corpe. If it were not for the Creator we would all be distant memories with dusty pictures on museum walls and a sad, false story about how a human species just gone extinct. Two hundred tribes are now considered extinct with no record of their lives, language, or residence. We, as a people, know “holocaust.”

  • Warren Petoskey

    It was well known that Japan could no longer resist an invasion. The bombs were an experiment conducted by the U.S. U.S. scientists and physicians were quick to gather at the sites and evaluate the effectiveness of the bombs.