Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, and Beyond:
Subversion of Values
Arch Taylor looks at US interpretations and uses of the
attacks on Pearl Harbor and later on Hiroshima as an example of our
"subversion of values"
Witherspoon Issues Analyst Gene TeSelle
reviews his book
In Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, and Beyond:
Subversion of Values, Arch B. Taylor, Jr., who served as a Presbyterian
minister in Japan for over thirty years, looks at two key events — the
beginning and the end of the war in the Pacific. He has had many reasons to
look at the relations between the two countries during the Second World War
— and at the many questions they have raised with each other, and with
themselves, from then until now.
He begins by pointing out that Japan has never apologized
for Pearl Harbor, and that most US leaders have defended the atomic bombing
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as militarily necessary and a justified
retaliation for Japan's sins.
Taylor summarizes the issues early in the
book (p. 3),
To most Americans, "Pearl Harbor" symbolizes that
Americans are a virtuous people who are forced to self-defense only when
perfidious enemies attack us. "Hiroshima" symbolizes that the application
of destructive power can accomplish desirable ends, and the greater the
power the greater the accomplishment.
That is the logic that prevails today. President Bush in
his second inaugural address in 2005 evoked images of innocent American
victimhood and the righteous use of American power for the good of all.
Relying chiefly on Robert B. Stinnett's Day of Deceit:
The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor (Simon & Schuster, 2000), Taylor
surveys the evidence that FDR, wanting to get the US into the war in Europe,
enticed the Japanese attack through a series of provocations; that the
Japanese codes had already been broken and the location of its fleet
northwest of Hawaii was known; and that the commanders in Hawaii, Kimmel and
Short, were kept uninformed so that the attack would occur and they could be
Much of this is bound to be controversial, although there
has been amazingly little informed rebuttal. One bothersome issue is why an
attack would be provoked in the Pacific, when the basic motivation was to go
to the aid of Britain against Hitler (in fact, one of Hitler's inexplicably
blunders was to declare war on the US a few days after Pearl Harbor, thus
bringing the US into his war when it might not have done so on its
But the hypothesis is a credible one. Democracies do not
go to war unless they are attacked. After South Carolina seceded from the
Union, Lincoln did not dare start hostilities. Instead he resupplied Fort
Sumter, putting the Confederates in a dilemma; they had to attack or look
weak. If we suppose that FDR had thoughts along these lines, it does not
mean that he foresaw the drastic losses in ships, planes, and personnel that
The way the war with Japan was ended has been even more
contentious. Taylor reminds us that a key player like Henry Stimson
initially condemned Britain's saturation bombing of German cities, then
changed his attitude and approved the fire-bombing of Tokyo, supported the
dropping of the A-bombs, but then told a friend,
I think the full enumeration of the steps in the tragedy
will excite horror among friends who heretofore thought me a kindly-minded
Christian gentleman but who will, after reading this, feel I am
cold-blooded and cruel (p. 28).
Taylor carefully traces the chronology: the determination
of Harry Truman (following FDR's lead) to drop the bomb; knowledge that
Japan was really unable to defend itself; refusal to open the way for
negotiations; gratitude for the ending of the war, accompanied by shock at
the way it was done (Time said that it "created a bottomless wound in
the living conscience of the race").
There was a total military clampdown on reporting about
bomb damage, creating a silence that was overcome by John Hersey's
Hiroshima, first published in the New Yorker in August, 1946. It
was after this that defenders of the bomb put forth the argument that
thousands of US troops would have died in an amphibious assault on Japan.
Taylor's wry comment is that it is ironic that veterans would want to credit
the bomb for a victory that had already been achieved by soldiers and
sailors in combat (p. 25).
He goes on to remind us that MacArthur and the occupying
forces rebuffed the genuinely progressive elements in Japan; pretended that
Emperor Hirohito had no responsibility for the war when everyone knew this
was not true; rehabilitated several war criminals so that they could become
political leaders; channeled funds to the Liberal Democratic party which
still holds power; and eventually got their permission for permanent US
bases in Japan — and covert permission to bring nuclear weapons into the
The overall thrust of the book is suggested by its
subtitle: there has been a subversion of the values that Americans like to
imagine they support, and these two "bookend" events of the Second World War
are only a sample of the perversions wrought in US foreign policy through
Setting these and other events in biblical context, Taylor
takes as his theme God's message to Samuel when the people of Israel desire
a king like all the nations (1 Sam 8:11-20). The verb "take," he notes, is
used ten times to list all the things that a king is likely to do. He goes
through the biblical story, contrasting people with nations (states
would actually be a more accurate term). Through their actions, the people
of Israel become one more nation or state. And yet there is the promise that
the nations will beat their spears into pruning hooks (Isa 2:4, Mic 4:3).
Jesus and especially Paul broadened the concept of people to include all the
nations, the goyim. Let them all think of themselves as God's people,
Taylor says; otherwise they will keep on doing what the nations have always
done (pp. 73, 76, 91, 95).
Arch Taylor has been active with Witness for Peace and the
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. It is not a surprise, then, that he ends the
book by mentioning that nonviolence ended the dictatorial regimes in Eastern
Europe and enabled people in the Philippines to replace Marcos. In an
appendix he suggests Christian and interreligious vows of nonviolence, a
statement of forgiveness over Pearl Harbor, and a petition for forgiveness
over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then he offers a list of organizations and
printed resources for peacemaking.
The book can be ordered From Arch Taylor, 2200 Greentree
N. #1200, Clarksville, IN 47129. Price: $10 including postage (check
only); 5 copies to same address, $9 each.
Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City
Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon
board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!