Posted by: beattieblog | May 19, 2008

Violence in Defense of Justice

I’ve decided to write on the issue of “Just War” for my final paper in ethics this quarter. Given the current war in Iraq and the church’s history of participating in war and other violent acts, I thought it would be good to look more deeply at an issue I haven’t yet studied closely. We had an interesting discussion on the Iraq war in class after hearing the lecture on the theory of Just War. There were differing opinions on what were the just and unjust aspects of the conflict, but I don’t think any group felt it fit all the criteria of a ‘just war’ – which historically needed to be the case for a war to be called just. It caused me to think about the effect of war on church leaders and theologians. That’s a larger discussion – though one interesting contemporary example is Stanley Hauerwas. One of my sources is Richard B. Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament and his chapter “Violence in Defense of Justice”. In it Hays’ puts this sobering quote from Father George Zabelka, the chaplain for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb squadrons – he administered mass to the Catholic pilot who dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945:

To fail to speak to the utter moral corruption of the mass destruction of civilians was to fail as a Christian and as a priest as I see it…I was there, and I’ll tell you that the operational and moral atmosphere in the church in relation to mass bombing of enemy civilians was totally indifferent, silent, and corrupt at best–at worst it was religiously supportive of these activities by blessing those who did them… 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 as a minimal standard of Catholic morality, Catholics shouldn’t bomb Catholic children. I didn’t. I, like the Catholic pilot of the Nagasaki plane, “The Great Artiste,” was heir to a Christianity that had for seventeen hundred years engaged in revenge, murder, torture, the pursuit of power, and prerogative 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 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 that began with Constantine reached its lowest point–so far.”


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