The Abominable August 9th

I assume that for any date on the calendar we might find a number of important historical events. For example, December 7th has been tagged as “a date that will live in infamy” by FDR, the person who instigated the Pearl Harbor disaster.

Here I make the case that August 9th can be called The Abominable. Wikipedia lists historical events for August 9th. The event that stands out as abominable is the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. On that morning, the B-29 Bockscar, lifted off from Tinian island (where my father was that very day serving as a Marine radar operator) with the bomb called Fat Man. Nagasaki was the secondary target that day,

There has been much debate about why it was necessary for this horrible bombing of a city, as opposed to a more pure military target, or even a demonstration on an uninhabited area, in my mind even more questionable than the first one of Hiroshima.

But there is more to the story. Nagasaki was the center of the remnant Catholic population of Japan founded by Spanish Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century. Nearly two-thirds of Japan’s Catholics lived there. While Nagasaki was devastated, the Franciscan Convent built by St. Maximilian Kolbe remained standing.

Another story of survival is Takashi Nagai. “Nagai, a medical doctor who had converted from atheism to Catholicism, lost his wife Midori in the atomic blast from the Americans’ Aug. 9, 1945 attack on Nagasaki. The bomb fell on the heavily Catholic Urakami area, killing thousands of the city’s Catholics and tens of thousands of other Japanese civilians.” While suffering injuries from the blast and from advancing leukemia, initiated due to his work as a radiologist and enhanced by the bomb’s radiation, he treated survivors both in bodily and spiritual health. He spent his last years bedridden until his death in 1951, but “he continued to live a life of joy, humility, and faith.” During these days he wrote extensively, including his widely read book The Bells of Nagasaki. “As soon as I wake up, the first thought that occurs to me every morning is that I’m happy,” he said in his writings. “Beating within my chest is a child’s heart. The life of a new day awaits me.” Nagai has been named a Servant of God by the Catholic Church. “Servant of God” is an expression used for a member of the Catholic Church whose life and works are being investigated in consideration for official recognition as a saint. The film All That Remains depicts the story of Nagai’s life.

There are two events that are not on the Wikipedia list.

On August 9th in 1942 Edith Stein was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. She was born in 1891 into a Jewish family in Breslau, a part of the German Empire that is now Poland (Ludwig von Mises was born into a Jewish family in Lemberg, part of the Austrian Empire that is now Ukraine). She was a brilliant philosopher who studied phenomenology under Edmund Husserl at the University of Göttingen, and later at the University of Freiburg, where she had followed him. Her searches for truth eventually lead her to the Catholic Church. In 1934 she entered the Discalced Carmelite convent at Cologne and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. But even there she was not safe in Hitler’s Germany so her order transferred her to Echt in the Netherlands in 1938. By July, 1942 the Germans were in control of that country. A public statement was read in all the Catholic (and some other denominations) churches of the country on July 20th, condemning Nazi anti-Semitic policies. In a retaliatory response on July 26th all Jewish converts, who had previously been spared, were ordered to be arrested. Stein and her sister Rosa, also a convert, were taken from the sanctuary of the convent and shipped to Auschwitz. She is now a Doctor of the Church, beatified, and canonized as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

On August 9th in 1943 Franz Jägerstätter was guillotined by the Wehrmarcht at Brandenburg-Görden Prison, located on Anton-Saefkow-Allee in the Görden quarter of Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany. Jägerstätter was born in the small village Sankt Radegund, Upper Austria, and lived there most of his life. He was the only person in the village to vote against the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Germany, in the plebiscite of 1938; nevertheless, the local authorities suppressed his dissent and announced unanimous approval. He was dismayed to witness many Catholics in his town supporting the Nazis, writing, “I believe there could scarcely be a sadder hour for the true Christian faith in our country”. As a conscientious objector, he was sentenced to death for sedition and executed for his refusal to fight for Nazi Germany. “Minutes before his execution, he was given the option to sign a document to save his life and declined, abjuring any complicity with the Nazi regime. Jägerstätter’s last recorded words before his death were, “I am completely bound in inner union with the Lord.”” In 2007 he was beatified as a saint in the Catholic Church. The beautiful film about Jägerstätter, A Hidden Life, was written and directed by Terrence Malick.

I was moved by these stories of abomination because of the righteous lives that ended and the glorious saints that were created. In this sense they could be called eucatastrophes as coined by Tolkien; “in essence, a eucatastrophe is a massive turn in fortune from a seemingly unconquerable situation to an unforeseen victory, usually brought by grace rather than heroic effort.” But also on August 9th, in 1969, there was another abomination that yielded no beauty. On that date Charles Manson and his “family” committed the Tate–LaBianca murders.

Finally, in almost comic relief compared to recent official crimes, on August 9th in 1974 Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States due to the coverup of the Watergate affair.

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