Br. Dan over at Dating God, posted this interview from 1984 with a former military chaplain priest. His words speak volumes about the need for Catholics to speak out against war. A larger question might be should Catholics be more like the Quakers and refuse military service all together?
Read this exerpt from Dating God:
Zabelka: As a chaplain I often had to enter the world of the boys who were losing their minds because of something they did in war. I remember one young man who was engaged in the bombings of the cities of Japan. He was in the hospital on Tinian Island on the verge of a complete mental collapse. He told me that he had been on a low-level bombing mission, flying right down one of the main streets of the city, when straight ahead of him appeared a little boy, in the middle of the street, looking up at the plane in a childlike wonder. The man knew that in a few seconds the child would be burned to death by napalm which had already been released.
Yes, I knew civilians were being destroyed, and knew it perhaps in a way others didn’t. Yet I never preached a single sermon against killing civilians to men who were doing it.
Q: Again, why not?
Zabelka: Because I was “brainwashed”! It never entered my mind to publicly protest the consequences of these massive air raids. I was told the raids were necessary; told openly by the military and told implicitly by my Church’s leadership. To the best of my knowledge no American cardinals or bishops were opposing these mass air raids. Silence in such matters, especially by a public body like the American bishops, is a stamp of approval.
The whole structure of the secular, religious, and military society told me clearly that it was all right to “let the Japs have it.” God was on the side of my country. The Japanese were the enemy, and I was absolutely certain of my country’s and Church’s teaching about enemies; no erudite theological text was necessary to tell me. The day-in-day-out operation of the state and the Church between 1940 and 1945 spoke more clearly about Christian attitudes towards enemies and war than St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas ever could.
I was certain that this mass destruction was right, certain to the point that the question of its morality never seriously entered my mind. I was “brain- washed” not by force or torture but by my Church’s silence and wholehearted cooperation in thousands of little ways with the country’s war machine. Why, after I finished chaplaincy school at Harvard I had my military chalice officially blessed by the then Bishop Cushing of Boston. How much more clearly could the message be given? Indeed, I was “brainwashed”!
Q: So you feel that because you did not protest the morality of the bombing of other cities with their civilian populations, that somehow you are morally responsible for the dropping of the atomic bomb?
Zabelka: The facts are that seventy-five thousand people were burned to death in one evening of fire bombing over Tokyo. Hundreds of thousands were destroyed in Dresden, Hamburg, and Coventry by aerial bombing. The fact that forty-five thousand human beings were killed by one bomb over Nagasaki was new only to the extent that it was one bomb that did it.
To fail to speak to the utter moral corruption of the mass destruction of civilians was to fail as a Christian and a priest as I see it. Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened in and to a world and a Christian Church that had asked for it—that had prepared the moral consciousness of humanity to do and to justify the unthinkable. I am sure there are Church documents around someplace bemoaning civilian deaths in modern war, and I am sure those in power in the church will drag them out to show that it was giving moral leadership during World War II to its membership.
I hope that Fr. Zebelka died with some peace after venting all of this and visiting Japan for a pilgrimage late in his life. After spending a day with the Archdiocese for Military Services, I too wonder if I have been remiss in not calling for them to talk more about peace and about the escalation of military weaponry that puts thousands of innocent people in harm’s way. The part of the interview where he said “Let the Japs have it” spoke deeply to me as many of my father’s peers would probably have said the same words.
Dropping the bomb ended WWII and may have saved more American soldiers, but what of all those innocent Japanese people? War today should always, at minimum, be a last resort. I think we don’t state that enough. And when we are at war, as we are now, do we ever do two things:
1) Speak openly about how we should conduct attacks, so that innocents are looked on as more than mere collateral damage. To not do so is to reduce people’s human dignity, regarding them as objects or an insignificant consequence of war.
2) Pray for our enemies: I’ve spoken about this time and time again. Might the power of prayer be able to turn the hearts of those who hate us? Some might say that’s doubtful, but I do think we need to give prayer a chance.