Wednesday, August 9, 2006


The things that happen, happen. Is there any use in regret? The moralistic moral is that we ought to learn from the past so that the future will be better. Do you think the future will be better? It’s a fifty-fifty proposition. From a conservative Christian worldview, the world will get worse, first. From a liberal view, well, evolution is such a wonderful thing: from the bloody struggle of survival, where the weak are consumed or become extinct, we arrive in time, somehow, at paradise. Is there a middle way here? Can we triangulate? I’m sure, but why bother.

This is the Ninth of August. Significance? Nagasaki. The second bomb. The one that may not have been necessary. Some would say the first wasn’t necessary. I’m forgetting what the estimates say, of how many American lives were spared by negating the need to invade Japan. And how many Japanese lives were spared, as well. Some estimates say very much over a million. We must have noticed by now that civilians get killed. Collaterally. Current events in Lebanon might remind us of that fact, but anyone who reads my little blog has the intelligence to see all sorts of alternative possibilities. Oh, the situation is different because blah blah blah.... We can all play that game. But the fact is that in a real war innocent people suffer. In wars of theory, the blueprint wars, in mere battles, things go swimmingly. But in the messy business of all-out war -- well.

So I read a thoughtful and heartfelt decrying of the existence of nuclear weapons. (Here, here, here.) War. What is it good for? My first reaction was cold. I try to be a cold man. Nagasaki? Hiroshima? Tough. Don’t bomb Pearl Harbor and your babies won’t be incinerated. This is, and is likely to remain, my opinion. But the human side of me, the compassionate side, the “Christian” side, weeps for the motherless infants who sit crying unattended in the ashes. Everything is at least a dichotomy, and most likely a googlotomy.

From a pragmatic point of view, we might as well ask after the benefit of bullets. I venture to say, indeed, that of all the methods to kill humans that have been devised and made popular, nuclear bombs have killed the fewest. Hundreds of thousands, yet that is the fewest. Flashing swords, knobby clubs, flaming arrows, big rocks, cannonballs, bullets -- crosses -- I’m pretty sure most of these have killed many more. Maybe boomerangs have killed fewer. So it isn’t the numbers that’s so horrifying, about nuclear bombs. It doesn’t take nukes to commit genocide. Machetes will do very nicely, thank you. It’s not the push-button ease. Since when has the repetitive business of mass executions been a disincentive? It’s not even the possibility for destroying the world. If you’re a biblical Christian, you know what’s coming. If you’re not, well, the difference between your own death, and the end of the world, is only theoretical. One of my adolescent insights was that the end of a life is the end of a universe.

So what, then? Why is this day different from all other days? It’s emotional. It’s that it was us -- US -- who dropped the bomb. The bombs. The first, at least, was a necessary thing. But we regret, regret the hard and brutal choices we make, that a greater evil be avoided. We regret doing the lesser of evils.

Buried in these pages is a discussion about lying. I said it was a good thing to lie to Nazis, to save hidden Jews. A correspondent said it was a sin that must be repented of, but that he would do again. My conclusion was that if you would do it again, you didn’t repent, and cannot repent of it -- being unrepentable (since you know you would repeat it) makes it an unforgivable sin. An illogical conclusion, therefore the premise is invalid. It is not a sin to lie to Nazis. My point? We’d drop the bomb again. It is no sin. Odd, isn’t it, how there are evils that are not sins.

I was thinking about these things yesterday, when I was cut off in traffic and forced into an oncoming vehicle. No one was hurt. The vehicles are severely damaged. I was cited for “Failure to yield.” This essay is considerably different than the one I would have written prior to all this. It would have been more lyrical. We are changed by what happens.

In quantum mechanics there is the useful idea of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. We can know the velocity of an electron, or the position, but not both. By learning one, we forever exclude the possibility of knowing the other, for that instant. The act of observing changes reality. Simply by perceiving, we have an effect in the universe. (There are interesting ideas about God’s omniscience in this, but that’s too far afield.) The sound a falling tree makes is different, depending on whether or not there is an observer. Hmm. What has this to do with Nagasaki?

Being alive -- the very act of existing -- is a responsibility. We avoid one thing, and run into something worse. We smile at a child, and he remember with love for the rest of his life the kind person who gave a silence blessing in a crucial and formative moment. We fail to countermand an obsolete order, and a second bomb is dropped, killing tens of thousands. We share cool water by the roadside and our throats are cut. We stop and stoop to aid a fallen stranger and we are remembered forever in a parable.

It’s random, and there is no guarantee. It suits God’s will sometimes that we be martyrs. It suits Him that we be blessed. In this turmoil we cling to no certainty except that which is insured by faith -- a non-physical reality, outside the sidereal influence of Heisenberg’s principle. Does this comfort the orphan? If you sit weeping into your hands, alone even in the midst of your family, you might have an answer. We are all orphans.


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