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For Peace in Japan

Drifting toward catastrophe

Ex-missionary says A-bomb memorials reinforce grim lesson world still has not learned

by the Rev. James E. Atwood
Retired PC(USA) missionary to Japan

Distributed by Presbyterian News Service, August 22, 2005

Read the PNS version, with photos >>

In June we posted a note from James Atwood, seeking signatures for the petition he was going to present as part of a Fellowship of Reconciliation delegation marking the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The petition called on the government of Japan to maintain the rejection of war which is part of their constitution.

He writes now reporting and reflecting on the visit:

SPRINGFIELD, VA — Sixty years ago, in the blink of an eye, an estimated 147,000 people were killed when atom bombs exploded over the Japanese
cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Two beautiful cities were instantly turned into radioactive wastelands.

As is true in all wars, most of the victims were women, children and old people.

Those near the epicenter were the lucky ones. They were vaporized.

Tens of thousands of people at a distance from ground zero were burned alive, dying more slowly, in excruciating pain, begging for water.

Survivors of the blasts, now in their 70s and 80s, still carry grotesque physical and psychological scars.

I spent nine years as a missionary in Japan (1965-1974). This month I returned, on a peace pilgrimage, attending 60th-anniversary memorials of the two bombs that, in the words of Albert Einstein, "Changed everything except the way we think." In their wake, Einstein added, "We drift toward unparalleled catastrophes."

I love the Japanese people. I salute the courage of the United Church of Christ in Japan as it continues to repent its complicity with Japanese militarism in World War II. I grieve over the use of atomic weapons on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I am impressed that the Japanese people love their "Peace Constitution."

I had to add my voice for peace in a day when the whole world is threatened with nuclear extinction — yet few really want to talk about it.

I was privileged to represent the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in an eight-member delegation from the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a group formed to support those in Japan and the United States who resist calls for the repeal of Article IX of the Japanese constitution.

That provision, written by representatives of American Occupation Forces in the early days of Japan’s post-war reconstruction, reads:

1. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

2. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

The board of directors of FOR in the United States responded to a Japanese request for support by organizing a quick petition drive calling for the retention of that principled statement. We delivered 5,200 signatures to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s office and gave copies to the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

We made solemn visits to peace museums in both cities, the only ones in the world that have experienced nuclear annihilation, and attended gripping 60th-anniversary ceremonies.

Our own country is still deeply divided over the use of these horrible weapons.

I had always accepted the U.S. rationale — that the bombs saved thousands, perhaps millions, of young American and Japanese lives by bringing the war to an end and making an invasion of the empire unnecessary.

However, revelations made public recently through the Freedom of Information Act have persuaded me that the first use of the bomb was a colossal mistake. On July 18 — nearly three weeks before the Hiroshima bombing — Japan had asked, through "the Soviet and Swiss governments, for peace negotiations. I believe the A statue in front of the Hiroshima Peace Museum depicts a Japanese woman protecting an infant at her breast while lifting her son onto her back. use of a second bomb on Nagasaki was positively demonic.

Not even God can undo the past. But how are we to walk together into the future?

If the planet is to survive, the world must accept the fact that using nuclear weapons on human beings is unconscionable.

Every nation must understand that modern warfare involves the possible use of even more powerful nuclear weapons than those used in Japan. The average U.S. nuclear warhead in our program of "stockpile stewardship" has a destructive power 20 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. Even now, 10 years after the end of the Cold War, we maintain thousands of such weapons — on a hair trigger.

As former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara wrote in July: "The United States must no longer rely on nuclear weapons as a foreign-policy tool. To do so is immoral, illegal, and dreadfully dangerous."

Several times during our recent peace pilgrimage, we heard distress in the voices of Japanese church and political leaders as they recited the nuclear powers’ promises to engage in "an unequivocal undertaking for the elimination of their nuclear arsenals." Yet, in May, these same nations, parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, met at the United Nations but could make no concrete progress toward this essential goal.

In his Peace Declaration, Nagasaki Mayor Iccho Itoh called nuclear nations to account: "The nuclear weapons states, and the United States of America in particular, have ignored their international commitments and have made no change in their unyielding stance on nuclear deterrence," Itoh said. "We strongly resent the trampling of the hopes of the world’s peoples."

Itoh then addressed the people of the United States, saying: "We understand your anger and anxiety over the memories of the horror of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet, is your security actually enhanced by your government’s policies of maintaining over 10,000 nuclear weapons, of carrying out repeated sub-critical nuclear tests, and of pursuing the development of new ‘mini-’nuclear weapons?

"We are confident that the vast majority of you desire in your hearts the elimination of nuclear arms. May you join hands with the people of the world who share that same desire, and work together for a peaceful planet free from nuclear weapons."

As doves circled over the assemblies, I was glad to be standing with thousands of others and making the vow: "No more Hiroshimas. No More Nagasakis. No more nuclear weapons. No more war."

Dear Lord, let it be so.


We didn’t need to use the Bomb on Japan

Gordon Shull, who taught US foreign policy throughout the cold war, and paid close attention to the Hiroshima issue, sent this comment a few days ago, in response to the note from Earl Tilford.

[We received this note a week ago, and are just getting it posted, with apologies to Dr. Shull!  Posted 8-19-05]

It is surprising that so much of the discussion about our use of the atomic bomb overlooks the proposal made by our experts on Japan, including Under Secretary of State Joseph Grew, that we assure Japan that we would allow her to keep her emperor if she surrendered. As Robert Butow writes so convincingly in his "Japan's Decision to Surrender," the Japanese cabinet was severely divided over whether to offer to surrender on the one condition that the imperial institution be preserved. The emperor himself came down in favor of such an offer. We had intercepted Japanese cables asking Stalin to tell us that "unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace" – and we knew that "unconditional surrender" was a euphemism for destruction of the emperor's office and status.

Grew made his plea to Truman to make such an offer; Truman wanted him to clear it with the Secretary of State. But Stettinius was in San Francisco on UN business; he was very shortly succeeded by Byrnes, who took off for Potsdam before Grew could give him a serious briefing. Byrnes called up his friend Cordell Hull, the non-expert on Japan who simply said that as far as he was concerned, the emperor was just part of that militaristic system that had to go. Besides, Byrnes wanted the A-Bomb to make a big impression on the Russians.

So, without making a serious offer, we went ahead and used the bomb twice – and then accepted the Japanese offer to surrender with the very proviso – still insisted upon by Japan – that they keep their emperor!

The 60-year-old elephant in this room, therefore, is not whether the A-Bomb was worse than others, or saved American lives - but whether our leaders failed to exercise the empathic imagination that might well have ended the war without the A-bomb OR an invasion.

We do not know for sure that such an act would have ended the war. Even after the two bombs, and the Japanese surrender, some Japanese pilots plotted to bomb the battleship Missouri as it lay in Tokyo Bay, and others tried to storm the palace and steal the imperial announcement of the end of the war before the tape could be played. Both efforts were frustrated by Japanese generals. Did it take two atomic bombs to undergird the loyalty of these generals? Alas, we will never know. But we could and should have made the offer. There was more than one way to save Earl Tilford's father.

-Gordon Shull, elder, Wooster, Ohio

"We know the bomb worked"

Dr. Earl Tilford responds to Dr. Shull, saying that the war ended, so the bomb worked.    [8-20-05]

With highest respect to Gordon Shull, as one who taught military history throughout the Cold War and who was a nuclear targeting officer at Headquarters, Strategic Air Command  (paying a good deal of attention to the effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki)  after a year of "hands on" experience fighting the Cold War in Indochina, while there might have been other ways to keep my father, my uncle, my future father-in-law and as many as half-a-million other young American men from becoming casualties of the an invasion of Japan, we know the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki worked.  We also know the Japanese had definitive plans to resist the invasion, including the use of suicide squads of civilians intent on self-detonation amid US and Allied Troops.  The Japanese also had a demonstrated track record of fighting desperately throughout the Pacific War.  Given the information at hand, I think President Truman made the best decision he could with the information at hand.  In any event he made it and the war ended. Why was it the right decision?  Because the war ended quickly thereafter and whatever else might have happened is speculation.  Quod erat demonstratum.

Earl H. Tilford, Jr., PhD
Professor of History

Grove City College
Grove City, PA  16127

"My God! What Have We Done?"

Sixty years ago this week, Father George Zabelka, a chaplain with the U.S. Air Force, met with the airmen who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and gave them his blessing. 

Days later he counseled a crew member who had flown a low-level reconnaissance flight over Nagasaki to review the results. The man described how thousands of scorched, twisted bodies writhed on the ground in the final throes of death, while those still on their feet wandered aimlessly in shock - flesh seared, melted, and falling off.

The description raised a stifled cry from the depths of Zabelka's soul – and eventually altered the course of his life.

Read on >>

Bush and the Bomb

While many still defend the nuclear attacks on Japan as "for their own good" – shortening the war and avoiding a greater loss of both Japanese and American lives – many scholars are now arguing that the use of the bomb neither hastened the end of the war nor saved lives.

Marjorie Cohn, writing on, says:

The United States dropped the A-bomb to test it on live targets, and to demonstrate the overwhelming superiority of America. The Cold War had begun.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing." General Curtis LeMay declared that the atomic bomb had nothing to do with Japan's surrender. And Admiral William D. Leahy stated angrily that the "use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender ... in being the first to use it, we ... adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages."

The rest of the article >>

Prof. Earl Tilford offers unreserved praise for the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Dr. Gordon Shull has sent a response to this note, setting forth his understanding of the circumstances surrounding the use of the atomic bombs over Japan, which lead him to view that action as unnecessary, or at the least rather unplanned.

On August 16, 1945, my father, my eight-month pregnant mother and my grandfather went to the Municipal Pier in St. Petersburg, Florida to dance in celebration of the announcement earlier that day that Japan had accepted Allied demands of unconditional surrender. My father, a Merchant Marine captain, had survived four years of running Nazi submarine gauntlets in the Atlantic. He was home on leave with orders to report to San Diego by September 15 where he would take command of a transport headed for the November invasion of Japan. My relatives had reason to celebrate that night and celebrate they did. So much so that my mother went into labor. My father and grandfather, meanwhile, had gotten pretty well into the Jack Daniels when they arrived at a hospital where, during the wee hours of August 17, I was born. By the time I arrived, Dad and Grandpa were pretty well-soused, which is why Dad named me "Victory Japan Tilford." The delivering physician, seeing Dad's condition, held off on putting that name on my birth certificate. When she came to in the recovery room, Mom named me after my father. After accepting Christ Dad became a Presbyterian minister, finishing strong as a PCA missionary in the Cayman Islands. Thank God for the atomic bomb, otherwise I might never have known my Dad.

Likewise, my wife probably would never have been born. Her father was a B-29 pilot would have had to fly many more missions over Japan and his chances of survival would have been minimal. As it was, he lived to fly every bomber in the Strategic Air Command inventory, ending up in B-52s, before retiring in 1966. He fathered my wife and four boys, two of whom served as pilots in the Navy and Air Force. Thank God for the atomic bomb, otherwise I would never have known him, my wife or my brothers in law.

The butcher's bill for the first half of the twentieth century was horrendous. Streams of history issuing from the Renaissance through the scientific, political, and industrial revolutions came together to foster two global conflicts that claimed between 90 and 100 million lives between 1914 and 1945; two thirds of them civilians. World War II killed about three times as many people as World War I. The Second World War accounted for between 21 and 23 million soldiers and at least twice that number of civilians. The Axis states of Germany, Imperial Japan, and Italy lost more than 3,000,000 civilians while the Allied civilian dead numbered at least 35,000,000or ten times the number of Germans, Japanese and Italian civilians killed in the war. Some Russian and Chinese demographers put their combined war dead at between 40,000,000 and 50,000,000. The worst single killer of civilians was the German concentration and slave labor camp systems, in which over twelve million perished.

Allied strategic bombing of Germany, Italy, occupied France and Japan accounted for between 1.5 and 2 million civilian deaths. Add in the 1.5 million Germans who became victims of Red Army retribution and the figure for Axis civilian war dead is HALF that of the number of Jews killed as a matter of state policy during the Holocaust. Japan killed at least as many in slave labor camps in Korea and throughout China. Since neither the Japanese nor Chinese kept accurate records, we do not know within ten million how many Chinese and Korean civilians were killed by the Japanese. But we do know that Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought an end to it!

The butcher's bill for the twentieth century was exorbitant through 1945. However, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki the number of deaths caused by warfare in the second half of history's bloodiest century fell sharply. Had it not been for nuclear weapons, it is probable the Soviet Union and the West would have fought a war as bloody as the wars of 1914-1918 and 1937-1945. As it was, the Cold War, America's longest war, was still our third most costly conflict with some 100,000 Americans making their ultimate sacrifice for freedom on battlefields in Korea, Vietnam and a score of other places. The bomb, and the sure knowledge each side would have used it, prevented that final apocalyptic war.

Japan would have suffered far more had a quarter-to-half-a-million Allied lives been lost forcing its final surrender. The Soviet Union would have claimed their own zone of occupation and established a puppet regime so that Japan might today be divided like North and South Korea. Retribution against the Japanese people might also have been far greater. There were plans to turn post-war Japan into an agricultural nation. One plan involved the sterilization of all Japanese men. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki it seemed Japan had suffered enough. It hadbut Japan also deserved it.

Very Respectfully,

Earl H. Tilford, Jr., PhD
Professor of History
Grove City College
Grove City, PA

I make no apologies nor do I feel any guilt for what happened to Japan.

Looking again at the Hiroshima bombing   [8-8-05]

Arch Taylor prepared the following commentary for broadcast over the Louisville public radio station WFPL. Further information on this particular matter, together with new information about the Pearl Harbor attack and the Allied Occupation of Japan are available in his book, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, and Beyond: Subversion of Values (available at, or by phone 1-888-232-4444).

Sixty years ago, an estimated million Allied military personnel mobilized on warships to invade Japan. They made wills and wrote last letters home. On August 6, 1945, the U.S. Air Force destroyed Hiroshima with a single atomic bomb. An acquaintance of mine who was on one of those ships wrote: "August 6 was my resurrection day." We all rejoiced when Japan surrendered; the invasion was cancelled!

The Hiroshima bomb killed some 70,000 people instantly and destroyed everything for miles around. When people at home began to understand the magnitude of the bomb, they began to raise questions. The Catholic magazine Commonweal editorialized: "Victory in the war is defiled." David Lawrence, editor of U.S. News, said, "Surely we cannot be proud of what we have done." Occupation forces in Japan learned that the country was near collapse already before the Bomb fell. Joe O’Donnel, a Marine photographer, found that the guns along the shore were only wooden poles, thrusting out of sand bunkers. Author John Hersey told the personal stories of five survivors in his sympathetic book Hiroshima.

To counter growing doubts and questions, government authorities published an article called, "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb." The article concealed some important facts and gave false impressions on many other issues. Most important, the government claimed that the Bomb saved millions of lives by making invasion unnecessary.

The American people accepted this story. We were happy to believe that this terrible weapon was really a lifesaving blessing. The Japanese had forced us to go to war by stealthily attacking Pearl Harbor. We had paid them back and at the same time accomplished a wonderful thing with the Bomb.

Thus, we have called this evil Bomb good, and we have built thousands of bombs. Trusting in these weapons of mass destruction, we now follow war policies that threaten the rest of the world and endanger our own security and best interests.

Arch B. Taylor, Jr.
2200 Greentree North Apt 1120
Clarksville IN 47129

Presbyterian to attend 60th anniversary observances of nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Jim Atwood seeks support for petition urging Japan to maintain its constitutional rejection of war


From Len Bjorkman, co-moderator of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

The Rev. Jim Atwood, who served in Japan from 1965 to 1974, will go to Japan as part of a Fellowship of Reconciliation delegation marking the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As a member of the National Committee of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, he will represent us, as a peace fellowship affiliated with the FOR.

Below is the letter that he has sent to our National Committee, giving information about the trip and asking people to sign a petition to maintain Japan's Constitutional rejection of war.

Peace, Len


Jim Atwood
7510 June St.
Springfield, VA 22150

June 30, 2005

Dear Friends:

On August 6th and 9th, the 60th anniversaries of atomic bomb drops on Hiroshima and Nagasaki will take place. I will have the privilege and honor to represent The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship at those poignant occasions. Our delegation, under the auspices of The Fellowship of Reconciliation, will meet with representatives of other peace groups from all over the world and present petitions to the Japanese Diet asking them to support and not repeal Article 9 of their own constitution.

I spent nine years, 1965-1974, as a missionary of the Presbyterian Church, USA, working with Japanese college students, and seeking opportunities to tell them of the love of God and the power of Jesus Christ to turn a war-mad world around. I learned first hand, how strongly the Japanese people support both nuclear non-proliferation and the abolition of all nuclear weapons. After all, they were the only people to experience a mushroom cloud.

The United States itself, as the occupying power, was instrumental in writing Article 9 into the Japanese Constitution which renounces war. It states:

1. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

2. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Today, 58 years after this historic renunciation of militarism and war, strong political forces both in Japan and in the United States are working to repeal a crucial portion of this peaceful constitution which would open the way for the remilitarization of Japan, and promote growing unease not only in the East, but all over the world.

Those of us on the above mentioned peace delegations will join colleagues from the Japan Fellowship of Reconciliation and do the following:

1. Express our public support for maintaining Article 9 of the Japanese constitution.

2. Offer our heartfelt thanks to the people of Japan for their historic and principled stand for peace, and especially for their total support of both nuclear non-proliferation and the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

3. Demand that the United States Government cease attempts to pressure the people of Japan and honor Japan’s own political process.

I am writing you for your help. If you agree with the reasons for which I am participating in these horrible anniversaries which are reminders of the tragic consequences of the use of atomic and hydrogen weapons, please sign the attached petition and get as many others to join you as possible. Please feel free to make as many copies as you wish. Please return them to me (address above) by July 18, or if you wish you can mail them to The Fellowship of Reconciliation. (Address on the petition itself).

I will see that they are presented to members of the Japanese Diet.

To get this petition please go to and click on, "Print and sign a petition"

Many thanks for your attention to this urgent request for help.

Trying to be faithful to the non-violent Christ,

Jim Atwood (Rev.)
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship


GA actions ratified (or not) by  the presbyteries   

A number of the most important actions of the 219th General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book of Order.

We're providing resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest are:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which would remove the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.


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