April 3, 2019
Philip C. Johnson, Ph.D.
It’s never just about the location. I’m not one for beaches, cruises or enticing vistas. It’s also not just about the culture. I don’t romanticize Middle Eastern charm, nor do I have the need to be immersed in Japanese culture or imagine becoming an ancient Roman centurion. And while I don’t romanticize my country either, I love it and enjoy being an American. Regarding travel in general, I have no need to escape life. For me, if done right, travel is life – it frames life, gives context to history and perspective for the future. The bottom line: The place is not about the place. It’s about the significance of a location and why it matters now, why it might matter later or how it changed the world in which we now live.
“The place is not about the place. It’s about the significance of a location and why it matters now, why it might matter later or how it changed the world in which we now live.”
For a while I have been wanting to visit the site of the first atomic bomb drop in Hiroshima, Japan. A couple of days ago I was able to achieve that goal. There’s something important to me about seeing and connecting and understanding the trajectory of history and God’s story – with all the events, advancements, personalities, dramas, tragedies and redemption woven together.
I have been collecting various world-changing sites for a while now – places like Athens where the thinkers of the day collided into the Apostle Paul. Or Rome with the expansion of its empire – and the spread of Christianity. Or places like the Palace of Versailles where documents were signed ending World War I, virtually guaranteeing the coming of World War II. That of course brought me to Auschwitz, the very home of evil and perhaps the entrance to Hell.
With the end of World War II, the world witnessed the miraculous creation of the State of Israel – as predicted in the Bible. So, of course Israel has drawn me many times for its significance: Hebron, the tomb of Abraham, the father of three monotheistic faiths. Bethlehem, the place where the Savior of the World became one of us. And Jerusalem, the place where everything began, where the Redeemer died for the sins of humanity and where everything will end.
The end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century have brought their own glimmers of hope, unexpected challenges, disasters and places of significance to see. Each location holds its own unique chapter, pocket of time and dots to connect to the larger narrative: The remains of the Berlin Wall in Germany, Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union, the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, being in Egypt during so much of the Arab Spring and the Egyptian revolution, Libya after the fall of Gadaffi, being in Paris during the brutal ISIS attacks in November of 2015, standing on the front lines in Iraq with Peshmerga soldiers battling ISIS forces and watching the unprecedented refugee crisis flood into Europe, changing that continent forever.
There’s more – much more that I’ve had the privilege to see, people I’ve been able to speak to, new information to evaluate and as always, God’s unchanging Word which is the ultimate filter for truth.
But in the middle of modern history, there was this one event – this one act that started a new chapter in human history: The dropping of the first atomic bomb – using the unimaginable power released by splitting an atom. Somewhere between 90,000 and 140,000 people in Hiroshima were killed. (Numbers vary wildly depending on which study you look at – but even this conservative number is more than enough devastation produced by one singular weapon.)
Scholars love to debate the morality of President Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons on Japan. Was it necessary to end the war in the Pacific? Would Japan have surrendered eventually? How many more lives would have been lost without dropping the Bomb? Was part of the motivation for using the A-bomb to manipulate the Soviet Union? Many scholars debate all of these things – especially as they look back at history. History is always easier to second guess in retrospect.
“The A-Bomb was created to be used. And its creation then became its own cautionary tale of what could happen to our world if more nations gained the technology and used it.”
Of one thing I am certain, there is no way Truman’s administration would have spent the time and resources on the “Manhattan Project” without the full intention of using the bomb as soon as one was ready. It was created to be used. And its creation then became its own cautionary tale of what could happen to our world if more nations gained the technology and used it. And indeed more nations did gain the technology and have tested those weapons of mass destruction – though the US remains the only nation to have actually employed them on the field of battle.
Currently, there are nine nations with nuclear weapons: the USA, UK, France, India, Pakistan, Israel, China, Russia and North Korea. Iran is not far from joining the club. If that happens, then Saudi Arabia will just buy them from someone. Today’s nuclear weapons are thousands of times more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – almost to the point of being pointless. Yes, we have the power to destroy the world many times over.
It makes you feel a bit small. It forces you recognize the brevity of time. Standing at the Hypocenter of the first atomic bomb ever to be used – viewing the Atomic Bomb Dome or visiting the Hiroshima Peace Center didn’t necessarily make me feel hopeful. Because it seems that man does not learn from history. Because I’ve seen what humans are capable of since that horrific event in 1945.
“Visiting such a place also provided a point – an actual spot where one can say, “Yes, this is the location where man’s story advanced forward in a measurable way.”
What visiting this profound sight did provide was a clear and tangible example of the valuable and dangerous capabilities of humans. It also provided an example of how a city and a people can overcome disaster and sometimes find new and better paths. (It did require giving up a certain ideology, however – not a small detail to be overlooked.) Visiting such a place also provided a point – an actual spot where one can say, “Yes, this is the location where man’s story advanced forward in a measurable way.” In other words a spot where you can definitively say, “After what happened here, nothing was ever the same again.”
But none of our weapons, technology, discoveries, global connectivity, conferences, governments, and peace treaties are enough to bring peace – at least not lasting peace. So, I am reminded again that when God walked amongst us, He did not come to bring political peace – He came to bring the hope of peace with Him – to provide a way to bridge the gap between man and God. And that is the only lasting peace for man in a dangerous, unpredictable and fascinating world that is moving quickly towards the final pages of God’s story and His plan for this planet.