Again, “We adore God Who is love, who in Jesus Christ gave Himself for us, Who offered Himself on the Cross to expiate our sins, and through the power of this love, rose from the dead and lives in His Church. We have no God other than Him” (Pope Francis, 6/21/14).
Reverend George B. Zabelka was the Catholic chaplain of the 509th Composite Group of the Army Air Force on Tinian Island in the South Pacific in the summer of 1945. The 509th Composite Group was the atomic bomb crews. Before that assignment, he was chaplain to another Air Group whose mission was to firebomb the cities of Japan. By his own testimony during this time, to use his words, “I said nothing.” When questioned as to why he said nothing, his usual answer was, “We were there to pay back the Japanese for Pearl Harbor.” He would then continue that nothing that he was ever taught or that any authorities in the Church or the State ever said or suggested that there was anything unchristian or immoral about what was happening from Tinian Island.
Since he was a highly educated man and had received excellent recommendations for his pastoral care of souls in both his diocese and in the military, and since he read the Gospel every day at Mass, he had to know of Jesus’ command, “Love your enemies” and of his commission to the Church and the apostles and by extension to him as a priest of the Church to go forth and baptize “and to teach them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19). His response to such an inquiry would be, “I knew what Jesus said in the Gospels. But all my life, I and every other Catholic in the world was given an interpretation of what He said that permitted Catholics to engage in the acts that war required. There was never a question in my mind or in my conscience that I was doing anything evil or sinful by not raising the issue—with those who were placed in my spiritual care—of the possible immoral sinfulness of burning men, women, and children to death from the air.”
He said that when he led Catholics or Christians in prayer on Tinian Island and they said together the Our Father, no one but no one thought that “The Father” they were praying to included the Japanese as his beloved and infinitely valued sons and daughters. For Zabelka and his congregation ‘our’ meant we Americans and our allies, and did not include their enemies. This, of course, was a theological error according to the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Gospel. But operationally, on the ground on Tinian Island and in the Catholic Churches all over the United States, no one, regardless of their rank in the Church, thought or spoke about the fact that “The Father” that they were all praying to was
also The Eternal Father of every Japanese man, woman, and child. He therefore felt no
moral need—in fact, it never entered my mind—to bring up that truth of what ‘our Father’
meant to those Army Air Corps men in my spiritual care.
Zabelka, 37 years later in his life, publically said regarding his silence in the face of activities
that were as far removed from Jesus’ teaching as hell is removed from heaven, “I was brainwashed.” This analysis of the moral situation he found himself in was correct, and the evidence to verify it as correct as it is Himalayan. For example, a few years ago in London, England, a statue was unveiled in honor of Charles Harris. In his time, he was known as ‘Bomber’ Harris. Harris was the leader of Bomber Command, the air group that conducted the fire bombings of German cities, killing and maiming millions of civilian men, women, and children. In later years, Harris was often referred to as “England’s Eichmann.” Despite this, a few years ago in London, there stood the Queen Mother surrounded by upper echelon ecclesiastics from all the major churches garbed in full canonicals, honoring Charles ‘Bomber’ Harris. They, like Zabelka, when confronted with Jesus’ teachings of “Love your enemies, Put up the sword, Love one another as I have loved you” would simply defend their position of engaging in mass human slaughter with the support of Jesus by saying that they interpreted those passages in a way that allows them to do what they did and still be following Jesus.
A priest has recently come to my attention who was a military chaplain but who is now retired and doing parish work in his diocese. From the altar and in private conversations and at Church gatherings he is forever waxing eloquent about the goodness, greatness, and Christian faith of those American ‘heroes’ whom he was chaplain to during the American conquest and destruction of Fullajah. I would submit that he, like Zabelka, and like those ecclesiastics of distinction gathered around the statue to honor Charles ‘Bomber’ Harris, was brainwashed into believing evil was good, into believing that doing the opposite of what Jesus taught as the Way and Will of the Father was the same as doing what Jesus taught.
Further evidence to substantiate Zabelka’s analysis of what he did—or rather didn’t do— can be found in the deadly and dead silence of the American Catholic bishops, individually and as an Episcopal conference, regarding the 10 years of American and British human slaughter and maiming in Iraq, largely executed by American and British Catholic Christians. Only one bishop out of the entire group of approximately 300 American bishops told the people of his diocese that such destruction of innocent human life, in utero and extra utero, was intrinsically evil and that they should not participate in it. He said to his people that this war utterly contradicts the teachings of Jesus and in no way could honestly be said to meet even the minimal standards of Catholic morality: namely, the norms of the Catholic Just War Theory. Other than this one bishop, every other bishop “said nothing” to the people of his diocese. During his time on Tinian Island the number of humans beings, mostly civilians, destroyed by those Catholics for whom Rev. George Zabelka had immediate spiritual and moral responsibility ran into the tens of thousand. He said nothing to any of them and by his silence gave spiritual and moral consent, in the name of Jesus, to what they were doing when they were carpet-bombing Japanese cities. The American Catholic Bishops between 2003 and 2013 also said nothing concerning the participation of those Catholics for whom they had immediate spiritual and moral responsibility as they traped off to a country seven thousand miles away to kill and maim millions of people. Their calculated and politically crafty and cunning strategy of silence imparted all the consent a Catholic boy or girl needed to sign up to go to Iraq and kill ragheads.
All of the above Christians, with the exception of the one bishop I mentioned, are in possession of or possessed by an image of God that in no way can be found in the person, life, or teaching of Jesus. If for Christians Jesus is as Saint Paul says, “the visible image of the invisible God,” then the image of God from which the bishops and priests mentioned above were deciding for themselves, and for others, right from wrong, good from evil, the will and the way of God is an image of God that is nothing more than a figment of their imaginations. The image of God from which a Just War Theory is derived also owes nothing to Jesus’ person, words and deeds. It relies on an image of God that is the product of philosophical speculation (Cicero, 65 BC) rooted in some very limited perception of self, of humanity and of the universe, whose only validation is some logically correct use of reason. But, what some logically correct use of reason can build up, some other equally logical use of reason can tear down. For the Christian, when he or she is confronted with a “truth” or God image—garnered from a reasoned philosophical reflection—that contradicts the teaching of Jesus, his or her Lord, God, and Savior, the Christian must then part company with his or her philosophical sense of truth regarding their rationally constructed image of God as a false image of God. Because, for the Christian, Jesus is the truth and the true image of God because Jesus is God incarnate.
Jesus is not a philosopher. He is the Self-revelation of the true image of God and the true content of God’s Will and Way. It is this by the fact that He is God in the flesh. The Church has no commission from Jesus to teach philosophy. Its commission from Jesus is “teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.” Communicating to those Christians in one’s spiritual care, explicitly by word or implicitly by silence, that they here and now can go out and slaughter other human beings in war amounts to parting company with the image of God as revealed by, with, and in Jesus and to instead choose to be an agent and a propagandist for an image of God that has nothing behind it. How else could the absolutely clear meaning of the “Our Father” image revealed by Jesus be interpreted as the Father of “We Americans” but not the Father of the “Japs” or “ragheads” whom “We” are lethally trashing by the millions? You can bet your bottom dollar that such a grotesquely contorted interpretation of “Our Father” has money and power as its major hermeneutic.
As the eminent Catholic Biblical scholar, the late Rev. John L. McKenzie articulates the issue: “If the Roman Catholic Church were to decide to join the Mennonites in refusing violence, I doubt whether our harmonious relations with the government would endure the day after the decision. I believe that both here and elsewhere the Church can avoid persecution by surviving as it has so far, that is by being the lackeys of the establishment of wealth and power, that is, by not being the Church. Popes and Bishops must proclaim the entire reality of Jesus Christ. They must proclaim that Western men and women will escape the ultimate horror only by attending to the person and words of Jesus. Like Paul, that is all they have to say; so for Christ’s sake, let us say it“.
Both the Hebrew prophets and Jesus are clear, where more is morally demanded, silence is evil. Both are also equally clear that there is no more dangerous choice that an individual or a group can make than giving oneself over to and proclaiming as God that which is not God.
-Emmanuel Charles McCarthy (To be continued)