Hearts & Minds BookNotes

annotations, blurbs and ruminations

to enlarge the heart & stimulate the mind

and to happily generate mail order business for Hearts & Minds bookstore

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Location: Dallastown, PA

My lovely wife Beth and I own and operate--proprietors makes us sound more classy than we really are--a cluttered, diverse and independent bookstore in Central Pennsylvania. After well over 20 years, we are still not sure what to say when people ask if our shop is a "Christian bookstore." I do a monthly book review column over at our website; we hope that these new blogged bits will afford friends and customers the chance to see other books I happen to be reading, wishing to read, pretending that I read or at least believe that others should, if not read, know about. We have three children, attend a Presbyterian church in York, PA and have no hobbies.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Letter to the Editor

I mentioned on August 6th that I had written an op-ed piece in our local paper. It was a response, as you will see, to a guy who wrote that if there is ever another terrorist bombing, we should nuke every city that has ever harbored a terrorist.

Likewise, a U.S. Senator has recently stated that if there is another attack, we should nuke Mecca. This is so outrageously provacative and unethical that even hawkish, conservative blogs and talk radio are condemning it.

Here is a link to the Viewpoint blog of my friend Dick Cleary-an avid supporter of the war--who has weighed in on the limits to war and the appropriate consideration of the death of civilans. He kindly suggests that we not judge too harshly the leaders in Truman's circles who made the hard call to destroy Hiromshima; he offers a good bit of perspective, even if I think his concern about the innocent ought to be sounded with more outrage. Still, it is a thoughtful piece, and an indication of strong ethical thinking on the political right.

My piece, below, was featured in our local paper as a Hiroshima reflection, but do recall it was crafted in reply to one particular letter to the editor, so it bears that specificity. I hope it at least is enough to cause us to pause today, the 60th anniversary of Nagasaki. There, you may know, the steeple of the only cathedral in that country was the target. Nagasaki was the most Christianized city in Japan, the home of a large convent. Peaceful, missionary-minded nuns were the first to be incinerated.

Op-Ed Column
York Sunday News

With the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima upon us, we should hope to see renewed conversations about the ethics of nuclear weapons.

One such letter, by Mr. H. Darius Gray, however, left me annoyed, offended, and horrified.

I was annoyed that Mr. Gray simply gets his facts wrong. He says with great assurance that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved U.S. lives. This may be so, but we do not know. The Japanese had already agreed to surrender (if they could keep their Emperor) but we insisted upon unconditional surrender (a demand considered unethical by classic “ just war” teaching, by the way.) Some of those involved suggested we unleash the atomic horror over the ocean to see if that, too, might lead to greater clarity in negotiations. My own father was poised in the South Pacific used to say that some guys then even thought that. There is no doubt that the Japanese were brutal; it simply is not a matter of historical fact how things might have played out differently without the incineration of those two cities. Helpful conversations about this need to admit that.

I was offended that Mr. Gray writes with such self-righteous passion—he is “sickened”, he says, by what he calls anti-Americanism. He has no right to judge the patriotism of those of us who, out of a desire to honor the best instincts of our country, and, for some, our deepest religious convictions, oppose bombing civilians. To tar those of us who argue for a moratorium on nuclear weapons with such a brush is rude and inaccurate. He may think that all peacemakers hate our beloved land, but he is wrong.

One of the first, clear voices against nuclear war that I ever heard was from an impeccably patriotic civil servant who was somewhat of a mentor to me—a Republican Senator, a military man who was on the first boatload of troops to go into Hiroshima days after the bombing. Mr. Gray’s glib talk about being sickened by peaceniks would most likely not be so nasty if he had to look Senator Mark Hatfield in the eyes as he recalls being literally sickened by the horror of walking through that rubble. Few who have actually seen or touched the dead children of warfare are so eager to lightly advocate such things…

I was truly horrified, though, by seeing one of the vilest things I have read in this paper in recent memory. Mr. Gray says he works in the health care profession, and says he has three children. Surely in his medical work he offers kindness to decent folks---the frail elderly, handicapped kids, heroic young adults with chronic illness; would he wish them harm? I am sure that he would not. With his own children, I am sure he is tender. And yet, he says that if there is another terrorist attack we should nuke every town that harbored terrorists. Towns that are made up of kids, kids not that much different than our own.

Just wipe out the sick, the elderly, the decent, the children? That is called genocide, Mr. Gray, and is profoundly evil. To wipe out innocent civilians even if it can be known that their town leaders are in cahoots with terrorists is so illogical and uncaring, I wonder what kind of soul would say such a thing.

Imagine, if you will, that somebody in York “harbored” terrorists. Suppose, worse, that even the town fathers had something to do with it. Hard to imagine, here, I know, but in some town, somewhere in the world, just such a scenario is reality. And now look carefully at your dear children, Mr. Gray. Do you think your children deserve to die a horrible death because somebody you don’t even know harbors terrorists that you don’t believe in? Look at your wife, your children, your patients, your home, your history. Destroy it all because of something somebody else did, even if you are not responsible? Those of you who cheered his letter, are you willing to incinerate the innocent for the sake of revenge?

When things like this are spoken in public it is time to search our hearts. The years to come will be no doubt hard and foreign policy questions are admittedly complex. I pray that this bellicose attitude—kill the children, and be “thrilled” of it---is not held by many in our good land. I pray that those who have spoken such wickedness would re-consider their attitudes and ask why we would ever, ever, justify intentionally, massively killing unarmed civilians, the sick, the frail, the elderly, the children. That is what has been proposed. It is on the table. It is what we did twice already. In the name of God, we must say, “Never again.” It is never right to mass-murder children. Never. Never. Never. Never