Takashi Nagai’s deeply religious reflections on the atomic bombings are said to have played a role in a rather passive attitude toward the peace movement in Japan. A paper by a DePaul University’s Yuki Miyamoto, an assistant professor of religious studies, helps understand why the physician and writer came to be viewed as a factor.
As Miyamoto explained in the article published in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Nagai was a popular figure in the city. And, at a November 23, 1945, funeral Mass, he said that the Nagasaki victims of the U.S. atomic bombing there were “sacrificial lambs” to God. And, quoting a biography by Fr. Paul Glynn, Miyamoto notes that Nagai went on to say, “Let us be thankful that Nagasaki was chosen for the whole-burnt sacrifice.”
It’s easy to suppose that this kind of sentiment fit rather well with the U.S. Occupation’s desire to avoid any questioning of the bombing or focus on the suffering of those who were caught in the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eventually, as Miyamoto demonstrates, this led to sharp critiques from Japanese Catholics, including from another physician, Tatsuichiro Akizuki, who became active in the peace movement there. (Akizuki traveled to this country in his anti-nuclear activities, leading to a visit with Dr. Craig Leman in Corvallis, Ore., that Leman warmly remembered in a 2009 interview with me.)
Miyamoto writes that a former mayor of Nagasaki, Hitoshi Motoshima, took a different tack, placing Nagai’s views in the context of their fellow Catholics’ long history of suffering and government discrimination, even after outright persecution ended. And Motoshima, who would be injured in 1990 by a right-wing assassin for his criticism of Emperor Hirohito, pointed out that Nagai recognized the injustice of Japan’s World War II aggression.
The main criticisms of Nagai tended to be threefold, according to Miyamoto. His idea of sacrifice tended to divert criticism from Japan’s World War II government’s failure to accept defeat before the bombings. Nagasaki Catholics tended toward “tolerating the atomic bombings as God’s will.” And by accepting the benefits of peaceful nuclear power, his “conveniently fit” with official U.S. policy. Of course, it’s not necessarily surprising that Nagai, as a scientist and physician who had worked hard to provide patients with radiation treatments under difficult wartime conditions, would hold hope for good to come out of nuclear knowledge.
An earlier article on Nagai is here.