69 years ago today, 75,000 mostly civilians died in a single act of war whose far-reaching consequences continue to reverberate in our day.

Whatever one may think of  Dr. Gary G. Kohls‘ conclusions about the bombing of Nagasaki in his article “The Bombing of Nagasaki August 9, 1945. Unwelcome Truths for Church and State,” he raises a troubling picture from the end of the Second World War.

St. Mary's CathedralDr. Kohls describes the dramatic history of Christianity in Japan in which for 250 years the Imperial Japanese government sought to wipe out all Christian influence. As Japan emerged from the dark years of Christian persecution Christians in Japan grew to such strength that they were eventually able to build the massive St. Mary’s Cathedral, in the Urakami River district of Nagasaki. This great Christian Cathedral was one of the few landmarks in Nagasaki that could be identified from 31,000 feet and so tragically became the Ground Zero target for the plutonium bomb, called “Fat Man”, after Winston Churchill, that was dropped on 9 August 1945 on the people of Nagasaki.

In this single act, Kohls points out ironically,

What the Japanese Imperial government could not do in over 200 years of persecution (destroy Japanese Christianity) American Christians did in 9 seconds.


Christianity never really recovered in Japan where today

Even after a slow revival of Christianity over the decades since WWII, membership in Japanese churches still represents a small fraction of 1% of the general population, and the average attendance at Christian worship services has been reported to be only 30. Surely the decimation of Nagasaki at the end of the war crippled what at one time was a vibrant church.

The crippling of “what at one time was a vibrant church” in Japan is undoubtedly only one of the multitude of tragedies that human beings perpetrated throughout the horrific events from 1939 to 1945. But this particular tragedy stands as a stark challenge to Christians to embody the message of the one we say we follow who promised,

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

There is little value in trying to lay blame in the present for the atrocities of the past. But, the pain and suffering of 9 August 69 years ago must not be dismissed, forgotten, or diminished with simplistic explanations. A devastating and long-lasting tragedy was unleashed when the B29 Superfortress named “Bockscar” dropped on the people of Nagasaki the 10,000 lb. “Fat Man” bomb with its explosive capacity of about 20,000 tons of explosives.

Christians are people of peace. We find in the prophet Isaiah’s words a description of Jesus:

For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:5,6)

How do we live together today in such a way that our relationships bear testimony to the presence and work of the “Prince of Peace” in our lives and in the world? What practices do we nourish that encourage us to be people of peace? How can we share in co-creating a world in which the repetition of the horror of 9 August 1945 is less likely in the future?


At the Globe and Mail on Thursday, Brian McKenna told the story of Nagasaki through the life of his grandfather’s sister, Sister Regina McKenna who was a nun with Montreal’s order of the Sacred Heart, teaching in Japan during the Second World War.

The city burned for days. Almost all of the churches were destroyed. The survivors wrote of unspeakable suffering, 70,000 dead within 90 days, and everywhere a stench of death and corruption.

Sister McKenna wrote that the medical system is overwhelmed. “Two-thirds of the population of Nagasaki are dead. The city itself is a mass of ruins. They are still burning the dead. The hospitals having been destroyed, the wounded are not being cared for.”

In 1945, the medical world knew little of radiation poisoning, so her next line resonates. “Some patients apparently recover, then suddenly die from hemorrhages.”

All reporting from Nagasaki was censored.

A Japanese and American film crew rushed to the site. But their footage was suppressed for more than 50 years. When footage finally aired, the impact on public policy (“why two bombs?”) that the nuclear attack should have triggered was diminished by the passage of time.

For Sister McKenna, the imprint of that explosion was like a gigantic X-ray, searing her body and mind for a lifetime. Her fellow teaching sisters said “she was never quite right” after experiencing that cataclysm. And in the end she succumbed to a cancer brought on by radiation poisoning.