Written by: Lynn-Holly Wielenga
Two Oklahoma Wesleyan University’s professors, Dr. Jarmola and Dr. Turner, were a part of a select group invited this August to travel to Japan with The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities* (CCCU) for the 68th Anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s WWII bombing. Only twenty professors were invited to travel to the event titled Nuclear Weapons and Our Globalizing Century: A Multidisciplinary Challenge for the Christian Academy. This ten-day event addressed the question, “How should Christians contend with the continuing questions surrounding the Nuclear Age in which we live?” Participants had the opportunity to meet with Japan’s public officials, church leaders, educators, and Japanese citizens at the events held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This trip gave Dr. Turner and Dr. Jarmola the opportunity to view this issue not only through the lens of their different academic disciplines- science and philosophy- but also through the lens of their faith. While at the event with CCCU, the professors had the chance to tour the radiation research center, and visit with 12 hibakusha—the survivors of the bombs—and hear their stories.
Many of the hibakusha are strongly committed to telling their stories and promoting peace. As the only country that has ever experienced an atomic bomb, the survivors feel like it is their duty to show the world the detriment of nuclear warfare. For those who have not had the chance to visit Japan, it is hard to imagine what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that day. Perhaps survivors’ stories are the best way to describe what humans are capable of creating and also destroying.
The stories are horrific, but they are necessary. They put faces to the horror of war, and show the horror of the atomic bombs. It has been debated for years, and will be argued for years to come, as to whether or not dropping the atomic bombs was necessary and ethical. But regardless of the debate of necessity, the aftermath cannot be debated. It must be recognized.
During their trip, Dr. Turner and Dr. Jarmola met Seiko Ikeda, a woman who lived through the horror. She described the flash, the heat, the rubble, and the bodies. She was less than one mile from the bomb in Hiroshima. She remembered fleeing the city with her friends, and when she paused to look at them, she could not recognize their faces, which were bloated like pumpkins from the burns.
Her own face melted, too. Her parents, desperate to help her, hid all the mirrors in their house. When she finally found a mirror and saw her reflection, she didn’t recognize the face staring back at her.
Young Seiko planned to commit suicide, until she overheard the words of her father: “I know her face is terrible, but I am so glad she lived. I love Seiko no matter what she looks like.” Hearing her father profess his love for her changed her mind.
In Hiroshima, the group of professors listened closely to Seiko recount her story. Dr. Turner described the experience as “gazing into a beautiful church window, and forgetting that it was made from broken glass. I’m sure the scars were still there, both inside and out, but I failed to notice them.”
68TH ANNIVERSARY PEACE CEREMONY
The story of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s bombing did not end after the atomic bombs were dropped, or even after Japan surrendered. Burnt and scarred skin, tumors, birth defects, leukemia, and other effects of radiation ensure that the Japanese do not forget.
Every year, during the bombings anniversary, Japan holds an anniversary ceremony. The anniversary of the bombing is both a solemn and joyful cultural event. People of all ages from all over Japan journey to the site. A children’s orchestra sang and a high school band played. The stories of the horrors of the atomic bombs are passed on to each generation, and each generation has taken up the banner of peace.
This year, for the 68th Anniversary, 50,000 people gathered in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park near the epicenter of the 1945 blast that killed up to 140,000 people. Those attending the ceremony write prayers or messages on paper lanterns for a lantern ceremony on the pond, in commemoration of the people who rushed to the Motoyasu river the night of the bombing. The hibakusha who saw victims rush towards the water say the sight was an ongoing horror. Day after day after the bombing, the tide would wash more dead bodies onto the shore. The Japanese people have taken that horrific memory and turned it into something beautiful with the lantern ceremony.
Children from all over Japan send in paper cranes, honoring Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was two years old at the time of Hiroshima’s bombing. Because of radiation exposure, she eventually developed leukemia. According to Japanese legend, she, like an ancient Japanese story, tried to fold 1,000 paper cranes in order to be granted a wish from the gods. The legend goes that she was only able to fold 644 before her death, but her friends completed the 1,000 and buried them with her.
Japan is now described as having a “peace culture.” Dr. Jarmola was interested in studying the implications of Japan’s concept of peace during his trip. “One thing that struck me about Japan is that they do talk about peace, but it is a generic reference to peace,” he said. “It is not political, or spiritual. It is not personal or attached to any person.”
As a Christian born and raised in Soviet-occupied Poland, Dr. Jarmola was interested in the sustainability of such peace. The Japanese use religious language, but the phrase or idea of peace is not attached to their own spirituality. They strongly believe that peace cannot be obtained by war, weapons or political power, but do not give an explanation of the origin of this peace. According to Dr. Jarmola, “There is some truth to it, but there is no God in the so called “peace culture” of Japan. It is unsustainable, because if there is not a true biblical understanding of peace, just effort after effort, and it will not last. There will just be peace treaty after peace treaty. Essentially the term ‘peace’ means do not repeat what happened in the past. For Japan then, peace means the absence of war.”
A strong sentiment of anti-war anti-nuclear weapons permeates the country. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan said that as the only country to face nuclear attack, Japan has the duty to seek to wipe out nuclear weapons.
UNDERSTANDING THE AFTER MATH OF ATOMIC BOMBS
The only atomic bombs ever dropped has irrevocably changed not only Japan’s view of war and weapons, but the rest of the world’s view as well. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is one of the most important events of the 20th century. Dr. Turner said that the story held particular significance to him because it represents “the best of science and the worst of science in one package.”
The event must be examined from several angles— political, historical, economical, religious, and scientific— which meant that the professors from many different academic disciplines were each able to take away something significant from the CCCU trip.
Dr. Jarmola intends to incorporate books of the hibakusha’s stories into his course on human suffering. Dr. Turner is looking forward to discussing the event in his science classes. “I am a physicist, so nuclear energy is something I am interested in. Really, I have been drawn to this story as long as I have studied physics,” he said. “I use it in every class. It’s a tremendous science story because of the discoveries, but also because of the human suffering. It’s a moral issue too. This is a coin that has the best and the worst on both sides of it.”
One of the purposes of this trip was to equip the professors to be able to teach about suffering, worldwide issues, the meaning of peace, nuclear disarmament, and also to prepare them to be able to potentially take students on the same journey to Japan. Dr. Jarmola is already working on putting together a trip to Japan in 2015.
“It was a life changing trip for me,” says Dr. Turner. “I think everyone should visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s the mirror you must pick up and look at. We have to look at ourselves and realize that we are capable of doing horrific things to each other as humans.” Both professors are looking forward to sharing their experience with their students.
Learning about Hiroshima and Nagasaki will give the students a chance to examine history and its implications, and to analyze the possibilities for the future. When students graduate, they will be entering a world where conflict and suffering is still very present. Through their studies, students will be able to discuss how to help those in need, and also ideas of how to prevent such tragedies from reoccurring.
* The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), founded in 1976, is an international association of intentionally Christ-centered colleges and universities. The original 38 members have grown to 119 members in North America and 55 affiliate institutions in 20 countries. CCCU was created to promote Christ-centered education and provide over 100 programs and services for the administration, faculty, and students of their members.