Monday 3 July 2023

The Day the Bomb Fell - Johannes Siemes SJ and Bruce Kent - CTS Onefifties

The Day the Bomb Fell
Johannes Siemes SJ
Bruce Kent
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781784695316
eISBN 9781784695033
CTS Booklet CL05

Over the last several years I have read over 350 volumes from the Catholic Truth Society. In 2018 during the 150 Anniversary of the CTS they released special editions of 25 of their most popular and influential booklets, they were released as a series called Onefifties. And were released between late 2016 and early 2018 I believe. I have been slowly working my way through them. I have picked up all of them in eBook format. We are told about the series that:

“CTS Publisher Fergal Martin said, “1868 to 2018 we feel is something to celebrate. We have delved into our archives of thousands of titles and uncovered countless gems that celebrate the huge range and diversity of CTS publishing across a century and a half. The CTS archive represents a unique and valuable resource chronicling the changing concerns of the Catholic population of the British Isles and beyond over the last 150 years. There is something original and special here for everybody. Our hope is that readers can dip into the past – and find the present.”

The description of this volume is:

“Here is an eyewitness account, by a German Jesuit, of the atom bombing of Hiroshima. Appended is an account of the Christian peace movement by a well-known activist.

The morality of nuclear weapons and deterrence, and the possibility of “just war”, is still hotly debated amongst Christians.

Fr Siemes’s account of the Hiroshima bombing and its aftermath is remarkable for its level-headed, factual tone; he does not engage in the easy judgements so common in discussing nuclear weapons. All war is horrible, and so-called “conventional” explosives are quite as capable of killing civilians as their nuclear analogues.

Bruce Kent’s text on the peace movement was first published in 1970, at the height of the Cold War. Today our real concerns about security are less likely to involve the arms race and opposed great power blocs than the actions of international terrorists and rogue states. Many sincere Christians still advocate disarmament and the exclusively peaceful resolution of conflict. That other equally sincere Christians reckon them naïve or mistaken does not diminish the value of their witness; nor, however, does the sincerity of that witness tell us, in itself, anything about the value of their arguments.”

This volume is in fact the compilation of two previous released works, the first ais a first hand account of Hiroshima and the second on the concept of peace. The booklets included are:

The Day the Bomb Fell – Johannes Siemes SJ - 1984
Peace is our Problem – Bruce Kent - 1970

The chapters in the second are:

I. Time Runs Out 
II. Christians: Peace And War In History 
III. The Popes and the 2nd Vatican Council 
IV. Fr Dominique Pire O.P. 
V. Suggestions For Action

I did not highlight much my first time through this volume. Those passages I did highlight tended to be longer, they are:

“Up to 6 August occasional bombs which did no great damage had fallen on Hiroshima. Many cities round about, one after the other, were destroyed but Hiroshima itself remained protected. There were almost daily observation planes over the city, but none of them dropped a bomb. The citizens wondered why they alone had remained undisturbed for so long a time. There were fantastic rumours that the enemy had something special in mind for this city, but no one dreamed that the end would come in such a fashion as on the morning of 6 August.”

“At half-past four in the morning we finally arrived at the Novitiate. Our rescue expedition had taken almost twelve hours. Our two wounded were now, for the first time, properly dressed. I get two hours’ sleep on the floor.”

“We have discussed among ourselves the ethics of the use of the bomb. Some consider it in the same category as poison gas and were against its use on a civilian population. Others were of the view that in total war, as carried out in Japan, there was no difference between soldiers and civilians, and that the bomb itself was an effective force tending to end the bloodshed, warning Japan to surrender and thus avoid total destruction. It seems logical to me that he who supports total war in principle cannot complain of a war against civilians. The crux of the matter is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences, which far exceed whatever good might result? When will our moralists give us a clear answer to this question?”

“Earl Mountbatten referred to the ‘military menace which would have greatly increased by 2001 A.D. unless brought under control soon.’ Then he made a vital point which is really the object of this pamphlet. ‘Peace’ he said, ‘has become too important to be left to professional statesmen and politicians.’ In other words, the ordinary people – you and me – must stop looking at peace as a specialized job at which only the experts can work. If we want peace and not world destruction, all of us, and especially Christians, have got to do some hard work and some deep thinking.”

“Winston Churchill said long ago of nuclear warfare ‘Mankind is placed in a situation both meaningless and laden with doom.’ But nuclear warfare is not the only kind of warfare. The Jews and the Arabs are so far still fighting with ‘conventional’ weapons. Korea was not fought with nuclear weapons (against the advice of General McArthur). Napalm and C.S. gas may not be conventional weapons, but the Vietnam conflict has killed hundreds of thousands without becoming a nuclear battlefield. Starvation rather than bullets has taken a toll of nearly two million lives in Africa in a non-nuclear war in which, because of arms sales, we were deeply involved.”

“But Christians have or should have special motives in working to remove the curse of war. Every time we go to Mass we say, with the priest, ‘Lamb of God…grant us peace.’ We, who claim to see Christ even in our worst enemies, should be the reconcilers. We should try to earn for ourselves the blessing of the peacemakers promised in the Sermon on the Mount.”

A note on the first piece states:

“The Day the Bomb Fell is the text of the talk given by Father Siemes to the crew of H.M.S. Tyne in March 1946, and taken down in shorthand by a ship’s writer. One of the crew, Robert J. Bloomfield, then a nineteen-year-old stores assistant and now a writer and journalist, kept a copy of Fr Siemes’s talk, and has made it available for publication. 

Fr Siemes died on 6 August 1983, thirty-eight years to the day after the events described here.”

So the date of the first work could in reality be stated as 1946 and thus very fresh to the actual events. It was only published later after the death of Fr Siemes. Both pieces were well worth reading. This would have been a great resource for a course I did many years ago called Peach and Conflict Studies. Either as a primary or secondary source for readings. Both provide different insight and perspective. I am thankful I gave it a read and will likely do so again.

To date I have only read a few of the CTS Onefifties, about a half dozen of the 25 released, but have benefited from each of them, and look forward to reading the remaining volumes. This is a great read and one I benefited from. It would be a good read for almost any Catholic. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

For all reviews of books in the CTS Onefifties Series click here.

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