Framing Hiroshima within Easter

I am at the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima, it is Passion week, Easter has closed in.

I am in front of an exhibit. Behind glass upon a circular stand is what looks to be scraps of cracked wax. Below I read about the mother who saved the melted skin of her nine year old son, the skin to show the father, a soldier, who is away still fighting, not knowing everything is lost. The mother, shielded from the original blast will soon die of "A-bomb disease."


I see a photograph, a boy standing, arms held out as if feeling his way, sheets of skin hanging off muscle like Spanish moss.

I read of a woman on a street car who watches people on the street. She sees small fires start at the tips of fingers, then she sees the fires spread and cover bodies.

I read about a girl who was making 1000 paper cranes which will grant her wish to live. She dies of leukemia ten years after the bomb. She made 644 paper cranes.

There are 140,000 other stories.

How do you place Hiroshima within Easter? Easter within Hiroshima? With what perspective do you frame 140,000 crucifixions? Is it not reasonable here to see Easter as a joke?

On behalf of the Allies, President Truman thanked God that this "awful (atomic) power has come to us and not to the enemy." Hiroshima was still burning, Nagasaki to come, when he prayed that God, "may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purpose."

I am looking at a tricycle. Another exhibit. It has slumped from the heat that arrived immediately after detonation. I’m in deep here, hanging on to Easter in the middle of Hiroshima.child'sportrayalHiroshima2

All my received Sunday answers fail, all the ones I repeated to my children: Easter: the settling of a payment for sins—a human/divine sacrifice required by a righteous God—us just off-stage knowing everything turns out all right at the end. Easter: the right to eternal life for believing the right thing—a new fraternity reserved for those who believe in the one way—the knowledge that after death heaven awaits the steadfast and upright, while in the mean time, we are given a pass to go on playing by the code of lesser evils, the miserable dictates of death, the rules of reprisal and sacrificial violence.

What is Hiroshima except a barely imaginable spectacle of the game of death? With us thanking God that it fell to us to be able to play deadlier than our enemy. The grizzly victory gained, in the name of God.

But what is Easter except Jesus voluntarily stepping into the toxicity of all our deadly ways of securing our lives? And what is the resurrection but an end to the game of death?


If this is how Easter truly is it undermines everything we believe about death. It is the new and dangerous reality that makes it possible to live as though death were not. If it isn’t true, well, then you’d expect things to look much like they do now.

Or, it is true, but we’ve missed the point of the best story ever. Or it is true, but we’ve put in on hold because violence appears always to win. And winning is what counts. Security trumps trust. Which of course it does in a closed system. Or it is true, but only in those church-rehearsed, spiritualized ways that secure for us a personal paradise over 140,000 non-believers. Which of course makes it all false.

But I also see how easy it is to blame the "administration," and be blind to my own participation. What damning prayers—in the name of God, and thus justified—have I whispered for my security, preservation, recognition?

Easter is an event toward humanity, but there is a personal response to Easter. A daily response that has nothing to do with mouthing verses, but everything to do with seeing, in the lynching of Jesus, my propensity to exclude another for the sake of me and mine, which is nothing but the fear of death; and everything to do with a resurrection that makes tricycle_hiroshimaall that fear, all those death-grip moves to solidify the group, unnecessary.

If there is such a thing as original sin, it is simply this: my participation in sacrificing another for the sake of my group, my nation, my world—which diminishes everything and destroys oneness—an abiding oneness which is God’s desire for us.

If Hiroshima (insert Gaza, West Bank, Afghanistan, Iran…and any number of Old Testament nations) can justifiably be sacrificed in the name of God, can Easter be true?

Easter is the witness that there is nothing behind Jesus, no warrior God in disguise, nothing except love. Easter is not a narrowing of options in the false top-down reading of "I am the way the truth and the life," but an opening up of possibilities in the bottom-up witness of one who is inhabiting death for us—and who returns to us in the ones we exclude. Easter is not assented to, it is undergone.


  1. Besides dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagaski, America basically had three other options. 1. A ceasefire or peace treaty that allows Japan to keep whatever territory it still has, despite protests from Russia, England, and China. 2. A demonstration of the atomic bomb’s power near the Japanese coast in hopes this coaxes Japan to surrender. 3. An escalation of America’s conventional bombing raids on Japan followed by a ground invasion of Japan, fighting street by street until Japan surrenders.

    Option 1 leaves the same Japanese government in place that launched the Pearl Harbor sneak attack and is in a position to build its own nuclear arsenal. If option 2. leads to Japan surrendering then America is spared from the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japanese cities or to conventionally bomb or invade them. That’s great except that it also leaves the same Japanese government in place that launched the Pearl Harbor sneak attack. If option 2. fails to bring about a Japan surrender, then America is boxed into choosing option 1 or 3 anyways.

  2. Ian, I don’t think your option #2 was even remotely the only the only one available, but that’s not the point Steve’s making here. Aside from the fact that US intelligence said Japan was poised to surrender months before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the point here, as I understand it, is that to sacrifice another for our own safety is antithetical to the Easter story.

  3. As we’ve seen throughout history, America always takes the high moral road and does what Jesus did. The others – they be the evil doers.

  4. Thank you for reading Joyce.

    Ian, I always appreciate your analysis. However, my wrestling here, as a Christian first, is naturally Hiroshima framed within the Easter story, not Easter within, or subsumed by Hiroshima.

    Thank you Connie, you read me well.

    Jeff, as always, to the nut of the matter.

  5. Steve, I think you framed Hiroshima within Good Friday rather than Easter. I said, on Good Friday, that we hurry away from Good Friday because we know Easter Sunday is coming, but that we dare not do that because we’ll miss what Good Friday is about – not just the forgiveness of sins but also an invitation to a way of life – the most vivid demonstration of taking up our crosses to follow. Ian, whatever the historical justifications for the bombing, it still seems to me the Good Friday place to be would have been in Hiroshima. But I don’t know how to lead a nation to do that – perhaps that’s why Jesus said that my kingdom is not of this world. So we join the kingdom of the Crucified.

  6. Stephen, Thank you so much for this hard and beautiful reflection. There is so much truth in these words. My friend and colleague, Diane Husic, shared this with me. I want you to know of a book I’ve just written that investigates the themes you mention here, sacrifice, atonement, war-culture in the United States and beyond. It’s called “U.S. War-culture, Sacrifice and Salvation” and was published last Dec. by Equinox.

  7. Thank you for this Sam. …But of course it is framed within Easter, as Good Friday has no context without Easter Sunday. (Lingering in Good Friday only happens in the knowledge of Easter.) My point: Hiroshima makes perfect sense if there is only “Friday”, Hiroshima’s happen because Easter is absent, or has no power, or only a compartmental, spiritualized, not-of-this world power–a kind of Platonist division that everything will turn out fine in the higher world? But I can’t believe Jesus was talking about a spiritualized kingdom. He ‘is’ talking about a kingdom not of this world, meaning not like this world’s death-driven kingdom, but instead a kingdom available and among us. Easter, if true, is the new death-behind-us reality. Do we hear Easter’s “invitation to a way of life” as a commitment to a higher ethical standard? Or do we see it as a plunge into a new reality made available in Easter Sunday. If it’s the former, we are still driven by death.
    None of us know how to lead a nation toward this. Which isn’t the calling or the point. But if we see through Easter eyes there is no option but to joyfully get in the way of the things that make for war, violence, death. (Can we at least speak against our own government’s/nation’s involvement in these things?) Which of course is truly joining the “kingdom of the crucified”.

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