Month: December 2008

Thoughts on Israel’s war with Hamas

On December 27th, 2008, Israel launched a series of air strikes on Hamas training camps, headquarters, weapons storehouses, underground missile silos and command-and-control centers in Gaza — the start of an open-ended offensive to stem the increasing barrage of rocket-attacks that have plagued Southern Israel in the past months.

Israeli ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shaleb defended the operation:

“Israel is taking the necessary military action in order to protect its citizens from ongoing terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip and carried out by Hamas and other terrorist organizations,” Shalev said, adding that Hamas “holds the sole responsibility for the latest events.”

Israel, she continued, “has exhausted all means and efforts to reach and maintain quiet and to respect the state of calm… Israel’s response is aimed solely against the terrorists and their infrastructures in the Gaza Strip. It is not intended against the civilian population. Israel is committed to prevent a humanitarian crisis.”

Shalev asserted that “No country would allow continuous rocketing of its civilian population without taking the necessary actions to stop it.”

Commenting on the three-day air assault by Israel on Hamas, Deal Hudson states “Bombing Gaza Won’t Make Israel Safer”. It’s a good post and, if anything, certainly jeopardizes Hudson’s standing as a member of the cabal of “Catholic neocons” beholden to Israel and the Republican Party (see Robert Sungenis and other tirades from the fringe-right). That said, I wish to register some thoughts in reaction, both to Hudson and our fellow critics at Vox Nova: (more…)


Conciliar Disputes

Chronicle of a Council (Wall Street Journal December 25, 2008) — Fr. Edward T. Oakes reviews John W. O’Malley’s What Happened at Vatican II (Belknap Press. September 2008), a book I’m almost finished reading. Oakes’ appraisal of the book is spot-on. As far as his editorial bias, O’Malley is unabashedly on the side of the ‘progressives’. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can concur with Rourke’s confidence (“his liberal advocacy never impairs his acutely observed history of the Council”.

I found it to be a decent enough introduction to the lead characters and controversies; the disputes between the ‘conservative’ minority and the ‘progressive’ majority; the language and style of the documents that gave the Council its innovative character.

But I’d also admit something does get lost in the condensation — and Novak seems to agree as well (A Spirit of Affirmation Washington Post October 5, 2008):

Based on my experience of the same events [Novak was a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter during the second session], O’Malley does a truly superior job of reporting the crucial details and capturing the moods and passions of that time. Secondly, he has the advantage of many testimonies not known to us back then. These, too, he handles deftly.

But to my thinking, O’Malley’s approach is a little too lacking in irony, a little too blind to the council’s negative effects and much too blind to errors committed by progressives in pursuit of noble goals: Translations of council documents (and important texts of the Scriptures) were so ideologically cast that they distorted the meaning. The abruptness of changes in the sacred liturgy unloosed a sense of instability and make-it-up-yourself theology. In some places, there followed a “me decade” of “cafeteria Catholics” who felt they could pick and choose from church doctrines.

As Novak states, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have in the course of four decades become the council’s chief interpreters — striving to repair the damage wrought by the progressives. O’Malley’s work might have benefited from an examination of their critiques.

Which is why I’m pleased to encounter — by way of Fr. Neuhaus’ review in First Things — the anthology Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition (Oxford UP, April 2008) — which “shamelessly pulls rank on O’Malley by opening with a reflection by Pope Benedict XVI on the proper interpretation of the council”:

A great difference between the Lamb and Levering hermeneutic and the O’Malley hermeneutic is that the former is primarily theological and attuned to what is believed to be divinely revealed truth as it has been handed on and its understanding faithfully developed over the centuries. The O’Malley interpretation is dominantly sociological, psychological, and linguistic, aimed at demonstrating how the council moved beyond “the status quo.”

I found Neuhaus’ conclusion is particularly insightful:

Some essays in the Lamb and Levering volume weigh in so heavily on the side of the hermeneutics of continuity that one might get the impression that not much happened at Vatican II. Obviously, that is not the case. After allowing that the liberal leaders at the council were sometimes elitist and manipulative, O’Malley gives this telling reflection on how the council is interpreted:

During the council, the media often pilloried “the conservatives” for obscurantism, intransigence for being out of touch, and even for dirty tricks. One thing can surely be said in their favor. They saw, or at least more straightforwardly named, the novel character and heavy consequences of some of the council’s decisions. The leaders of the majority, on the contrary, generally tried to minimize the novelty of some of their positions by insisting on their continuity with tradition. It is ironic that after Vatican II, conservative voices began insisting on the council’s continuity, whereas so-called liberals stressed its novelty.

There is indeed irony, but it is not the irony that O’Malley proposes. What Happened at Vatican II is a 372-page brief for the party of novelty and discontinuity. Its author comes very close to saying explicitly what is frequently implied: that the innovationists practiced subterfuge, and they got away with it. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his Society of St. Pius X are right: The council was a radical break from tradition and proposed what is, in effect, a different Catholicism. The irony is in the agreement between Lefebvre and the liberal party of discontinuity. O’Malley and those of like mind might be described as the Lefebvrists of the left.

It is almost half a century after the council. The pontificates of Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, along with the scholarly arguments represented by books such as Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition, make it evident that the hermeneutics of continuity is prevailing, if it has not already definitively prevailed. Fr. O’Malley may suspect that is the case. His book has about it the feel of a last-ditch effort to defend the story line of the post-Vatican II Church vs. the pre-Vatican II Church that was popularized by Xavier Rynne all these many years ago. The final irony is that if, in the twenty-fifth century, the Second Vatican Council is remembered as a reform council that failed, it will be the result of the combined, if unintended, efforts of the likes of Marcel Lefebvre and John O’Malley in advancing the argument that the council was a radical break from the tradition that is Catholicism. I do not expect they will succeed.

Recommended Reading at American Catholic (a Roundup)

“Honestly, I’d rather be reading
the American-Catholic
  • Should Catholics Own Guns?, by Ryan Harkins. How are we, as American Catholics, to understand our Second Amendment rights? As the Constitution of the United States is a document made by man, it is subject to errors, and has contained notable ones in the past. Could it possibly be that the “right to bear arms” itself is a mistake?
  • “Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.”, by Donald McClarey. Self-avowed atheist Penn Jillette of the Las Vegas show, Penn & Teller, is well known for his antipathy towards Christianity. But something happened to him just recently in an encounter with a practicing Christian after one of his shows.
  • Does a Profit-Driven Business Model Corrupt?, by DarwinCatholic. One of the big criticisms of free market economics is that markets are driven by greed. “Why would you want to allow markets to set the price of [health care, wages, basic housing, food, education, etc.],” the argument goes, “when that means subjecting a basic humanitarian necessity of the dictates of unfettered greed?” This represents a basic misunderstanding of how markets work.
  • Torture in the News, by Christopher Blosser. Practically buried in the news in the wake of the corruption scandal of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was the publication, on December 11, of a report by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) — the culmination of an 18-month long investigation into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.
  • Lead Us Into Temptation: American Materialism Eric Brown considers the questions: Why are we so materialistic? and Why are we so unwilling to acknowledge and explore what seems to be one of the central aspects of modernity?
  • “It Is Better That One Man Should Stand In For The People” John Henry asks Vox Nova‘s Morning’s Minion (regarding his penchant for lambasting evangelical Christians), “Do you think it is legitimate to cite one unflattering example as a stand-in for millions? If so, do you think Ms. Pelosi should be cited as a pretext for dismissing leftist Catholics? Archbishop Chaput for all Catholics?”
  • Freedom as a Political Good, by DarwinCatholic. In the moral sense, the Church does not hold “freedom” in the sense of simply doing whatever you want to be a good. Rather, the Church holds doing the good to be the good, and freedom to be the means of achieving that. However, let us look now at the political question of freedom …

  • The Return of Gregorian Chant, by Tito Edwards. This past Summer a conference took place on the shores of Lake Michigan on reinvigorating the use of Gregorian Chant in our liturgies. The Reform of the Reform continues.

Torture in the News

Practically buried in the news in the wake of the corruption scandal of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was the publication, on December 11, of a report by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) — the culmination of an 18-month long investigation into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody:

A major focus of the Committee’s investigation was the influence of Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training techniques on the interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody. SERE training is designed to teach our soldiers how to resist interrogation by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions and international law. During SERE training, U.S. troops — in a controlled environment with great protections and caution — are exposed to harsh techniques such as stress positions, forced nudity, use of fear, sleep deprivation, and until recently, the waterboard. The SERE techniques were never intended to be used against detainees in U.S. custody. The Committee’s investigation found, however, that senior officials in the U.S. government decided to use some of these harsh techniques against detainees based on deeply flawed interpretations of U.S. and international law.

The Committee concluded that the authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques by senior officials was both a direct cause of detainee abuse and conveyed the message that it was okay to mistreat and degrade detainees in U.S. custody.

Chairman Levin said, “SERE training techniques were designed to give our troops a taste of what they might be subjected to if captured by a ruthless, lawless enemy so that they would be better prepared to resist. The techniques were never intended to be used against detainees in U.S. custody.”

Senator McCain said, “The Committee’s report details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody. These policies are wrong and must never be repeated.”

Further details:

The report is not without its share of critics — On Friday, the Republican half of the allegedly “bipartisan” Senate Armed Forces Committee released a statement repudiating the McCain-Levin report and its conclusions, stating:

The latest inquiry into detainee treatment by the Senate Armed Services Committee breaks little new ground – merely reiterating the findings of at least 12 previous independent investigations, which reported that certain isolated and limited incidents of detainee abuse occurred in the handling of detainees in U.S. custody. The implication, however, that this abuse was the direct, necessary, or foreseeable result of policy decisions made by senior administration officials is false and without merit. It is counter-productive and potentially dangerous to our men and women in uniform to insinuate that illegal treatment of detainees resulted from official U.S. government policies. [Read the rest]

In Torturing the Evidence, the Editors of National Review responded to the Levin-McCain Report:

Prisoner abuse should not be taken lightly. There have been nearly two dozen detainee deaths reported, five of which are believed to have occurred during interrogations. But these episodes are endemic to warfare, not peculiar to the Bush era or a result of the president’s policies. Abuse is not to be tolerated — and it isn’t: dozens of U.S. military personnel have been disciplined and a number tried in courts-martial. There is a world of difference between relatively rare wrongdoing at the hands of a miniscule number of soldiers and a government program of torture.

The torture narrative is at odds with the facts. The U.S. does not have a policy of torturing captives, nor does it fail to abide by its obligations under the Geneva Conventions. When abuse has occurred, steps have been taken to punish the wrongdoers and rectify military practices. Those efforts will continue. A sober study would have made that clear. Congressional Democrats have instead found it expedient to smear the administration, the military, and the intelligence community for political purposes.

And as Jacob Laskin notes, [The Levin-McCain report] brings no new evidence to light, while its conclusions about the complicity in “torture” of Bush administration higher-ups have been discredited by a multitude of previous investigations:

[A] 2004 report on Abu Ghraib by Army Gen. Paul Kern found 44 incidents of abuse at the Iraqi prison, but absolved Rumsfeld and other administration officials from responsibility. An August 2004 investigation by former Secretary James Schlesinger concluded that Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials bore some indirect responsibility for the Abu Ghraib abuses, but also underscored that “there is no evidence of a policy of abuse promulgated by senior officials or military authorities.” In Guantanamo Bay, a 2005 Army Regulation report examining 24,000 interrogations conducted over a three-year period “found no evidence of torture or inhumane treatment” at Gitmo. One may reasonably take these investigations as proof that the Bush administration, whatever its mistakes, had no systematic policy to “torture” detainees.

Some quick observations:


The most controversial SERE techniques adopted for use in interrogations is waterboarding – immobilizing the subject and pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages, so as to bring on the simulation of drowning.

Waterboarding is commonly accepted to be a form of physical torture. It was used by Japanese soldiers against American POWS during World War II; by French soldiers during the Algerian war, and was designated as illegal by U.S. generals during the Vietnam war.

Guantanamo commanders requested permission to use a “wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation” in a memo to the Pentagon. Sec. Rumsfeld denied permission in his now (in)famous reply of Dec. 2, 2002, stating that “as a matter of policy, Category III techniques [ ] was not warranted at this time. Our Armed Forces are trained to a standard of interrogation that reflects a tradition of restraint.” However, in February 2008, CIA Director Michael Hayden testified before Congress that the CIA had used waterboarding on three high-ranking members of Al Qaeda in 2002-2003 (Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubayda and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri), following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

This week, Vice President Dick Cheney reasserted his approval of waterboarding in an interview with ABC News, and later, in an interview with the Washington Times, admitted that he was privy to the discussions which authorized the procedure and “signed off on it” — prompting Senator Levin to call for an investigation.

The protest launched by some, “if that’s the case, we have tortured members of our own armed forces (during SERE training)” is rather flimsy: does training our troops to endure waterboarding (with the expectation that they would be subjected to them by an enemy, and precisely that: an enemy not subject to the Geneva conventions) therefore legitimize our right to waterboard those we capture? — I would say not.

“Aggressive Interrogation Techniques”

The predominant focus of the report, however, is not so much the rare use of waterboarding as the entire range of SERE tactics — “stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias (such as fear of dogs), and deprivation of light and auditory stimuli” — which were approved by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld in 2002 for use in special interrogations.

Do these “aggressive interrogation techniques” also amount to torture? — This is something that the Levin-McCain report assumes, although it is a topic of much dispute, both in the general public as well as our Catholic online community (discussed below). For an explanation of the range techniques in question, see: What is Torture? A Primer on American interrogation.

Abu Ghraib – abuse of the policy, or the policy itself?

Another assumption is that what happened at Abu Ghraib was in fact not an abuse of policy but the policy of the United States itself. Catholic apologist Mark Shea, in characteristic hyperbole, asserts that “our troops, acting on the orders of the President of the United States, did what they were ordered to do“.

However, as stated previously, numerous investigations into the abuses of Abu Ghraib have concluded otherwise. The investigation conducted by 2004 Independent Panel to Review DoD Detention Operations headed by James R. Schlesinger concurred with the findings of several previous investigations that Abu Ghraib was the consequence of “serious leadership problems”; that techniques circulating from Guantanamo and Afghanistan “effective under controlled conditions … became far more problematic when they migrated and were not properly safeguarded”; likewise “the abberant behavior of the nightshift in Cell Block 1 at Abu Ghraib would have been avoided with proper training, leadership and oversight.” Ultimately, it concluded that “No approved procedures called for or allowed the kinds of abuse that in fact occurred. There is no evidence of a policy of abuse promulgated by senior officials or military authorities.”

Consequently, one might conclude that Mark Shea is playing fast and loose with the facts when he posts a photo of a prisoner covered in excrement with the assertion that this was done “at the order of President Bush” or to characterize the legal opinions rendered by Bush’s counsel as such “that the President has legitimate authority to order a child’s testicles to be crushed if he sees fit”. Remarks of this nature do nothing to advance the discussion.

* * *

In “Drawing a Line Against Torture” (First Things “On The Square” October 2004), Fr. Neuhaus remarked:

Torture as defined in international agreements to which the U.S. is party—outrages against human dignity, humiliation, degradation, mutilation, the threat of death—is never morally permissible. Admittedly, a measure of coercion, both physical and mental, is inevitably involved in most interrogation. The very fact of being in custody and under threat of punishment is a form of coercion. The task is to draw as bright a line as possible between such coercion and torture, and to forbid the latter absolutely. The uncompromisable principle is that it is always wrong to do evil in order that good may result. This principle is taught in numerous foundational texts of our civilization and is magisterially elaborated in the 1993 encyclical of John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor. We cannot ask God’s blessing upon a course of action that entails the deliberate doing of evil. When something like Abu Ghraib happens, the appropriate response of patriotic Americans is one of deep sorrow, clear condemnation, and a firm resolution that it not happen again.

During October 2006 various members of the Catholic online community (“St. Blog’s”) engaged in a discussion, both on the theoretical level and that of practical policy, on these questions. Mark Shea has taken John Paul II’s list of actions which were deemed “intrinsically evil” in Veritatis Splendour (“whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit”) as officially settling the matter — while other participants such as Catholic apologists Jimmy Akin, David Armstrong and Father Brian W. Harrison (in a contribution to Catholic Answers’ The Church & Torture This Rock December 2006; as well as Torture and Corporal Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Moral Theology Living Tradition Sept. 2005), are of the opinion that the passage does not suffice as an absolute condemnation, and have labored to distinguish between what coercion and torture.

It is, by all appearances, a debate that is far from over. Most recently, another Catholic writer, Ross Douthat, In Thinking About Torture (The Atlantic, Dec. 16, 2008), Ross Douthat, penned his “own inarticulate mix of anger, uncertainty and guilt about the Bush Administration’s interrogation policy” and “the sheer muddiness that surrounds my own thinking (such as it is) on the issue”:

… the waterboarding of al Qaeda’s high command, despite the controversy it’s generated, is not in fact the biggest moral problem posed by the Bush Administration’s approach to torture and interrogation. The biggest problem is the sheer scope of the physical abuse that was endorsed from on high – the way it was routinized, extended to an ever-larger pool of detainees, and delegated ever-further down the chain of command. Here I’m more comfortable saying straightforwardly that this should never have been allowed – that it should be considered impermissible as well as immoral, and that it should involve disgrace for those responsible, the Cheneys and Rumsfelds as well as the people who actually implemented the techniques that the Vice President’s office promoted and the Secretary of Defense signed off on.

As Ross observes, the case made by some that the record of human rights violations which occurred under the watch of the Bush Administration — such as the abuses of Abu Ghraib and the rendition of detainees to CIA “black sites” — is somehow altogether different from what occurred in the past, crumbles in the light of historical examination. As he puts it:

… as far as the baseline of Bush Administration wrongdoing goes – the decision to take an ends-justify-the-means approach to the interrogation of terror suspects – I do think it needs to be placed in historical context, and treated as an example of the kind of consequentialism that’s endemic to modern Presidencies (and to international affairs more generally), rather than as a distinct break with a more idealistic, human-rights-centric American past.

Douthat references New Yorker correspondent Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, “the battle within the Bush Administration over a new anti-terrorism policy of harsh interrogations, indefinite detentions without due process, extraordinary renditions, secret CIA prisons and warrantless wiretappings.” (See Benjamin Wittes’ “One Side Only” (Policy Review Oct/Nov 2008). According to Witte, Mayer’s book is strongest when it adheres to the facts of the matter:

She brings a whole lot of information to the table, whether on details of extraordinary renditions, debates within the CIA over how to handle those it snatched around the world, bureaucratic infighting throughout the administration over interrogation and detention policy, or the extreme anxiety officials felt about how best to conduct the fight against the enemy. She reports on new documents; she has clearly had significant access to key players. What’s more, the texture of her reporting gets down and dirty enough to make phrases like “coercive interrogation” all too real. No decent person can read her account of the CIA’s interrogation program without something approaching nausea.

Unfortunately, says Witte, her efforts are marred by an attempt to fit the travails of the Bush Administration in the wake of 9/11 into an all-too-simplistic moral narrative:

perhaps her biggest mistake is the one that resides in that subtitle and her related Manichean sense of the Bush administration as a hard-fought internal war between good and evil, between torturers and decent conservatives, between those who believe in the rule of law and those who do not, between practitioners of the old tried and true methods of fighting terrorists and those who eagerly chose to dwell in what Mayer’s arch-villain, Vice President Dick Cheney, once called “the dark side.”

As Witte demonstrates, this leads to questions of fairness in Mayer’s casting of certain characters, and negligence to entertain evidence which would complicate her portrayal of Bush administration officials as the villains. This reminds me of DarwinCatholic’s caution in a recent post to The American Catholic:

The most rewarding approach to history is to understand as sympathetically as possible the motivations of all those on both sides of major historical conflicts. Picking a “good guy” and “bad guy” and engaging in constant denunciations of specific acts is generally not condusive to this. Certainly, that does not mean that one may not judge the morality of historical events. But it does mean taking a less judgemental approach to history as a whole.

Simplistic narratives are generally the enemy of historical understanding.

* * *

Lastly, we should acknowledge that the use of “aggressive interrogation” techniques, even if licit, may not be necessary or warranted. Consider the recent testimony of Matthew Alexander (not his real name), a former professional interrogator who says he’s still tortured by what he saw in Iraq:

I should have felt triumphant when I returned from Iraq in August 2006. Instead, I was worried and exhausted. My team of interrogators had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war. But instead of celebrating our success, my mind was consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the U.S. military conducts interrogations in Iraq. I’m still alarmed about that today.

Dissatisfied with what he referred to as the “Guantanamo Bay Model” — “Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules — and often break them” — the former senior interrogator at Iraq embarked on a different strategy:

I refused to participate in such practices, and a month later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead. I taught the members of my unit a new methodology — one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of “ruses and trickery”). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.

Over at Alternet, DemocracyNow’s Amy Goodman interviews Alexander, going into greater detail of the strategy he employed in the interrogation which culminated in the disclosure of the whereabouts of Musab al-Zarqawi:

if you look at the way we do criminal interrogations in the United States, you can certainly tell a criminal suspect what are the consequences for a crime that they’ve committed, or that you suspect they’ve committed. So that, I think, is a permissible and ethical way to conduct an interrogation. However, it’s not the most effective. The most-effective techniques are those that rely on rapport-building and relationship-building and then adapt that into the culture of the person that you’re interrogating.

Alexander has also written a book entitled, How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq. .

Avery Cardinal Dulles 1918-2008

Avery Cardinal Dulles passed away at about 6:30 on the morning of December 12th, 2008 — at Murray-Weigel Hall, the Jesuit infirmary, located at Fordham University, in Bronx, New York.

Obituaries | In the News

“Having learned with sadness of the death of Cardinal Avery Dulles, I offer you my heartfelt condolences, which I ask you to kindly convey to his family, his confreres in the Society of Jesus and the academic community of Fordham University. I join you in commending the late Cardinal’s noble soul to God, the Father of Mercies, with immense gratitude for the deep learning, serene judgment and unfailing love of the Lord and his Church which marked his entire priestly ministry and his long years of teaching and theological research. At the same time I pray that his convincing personal testimony to the harmony of faith and reason will continue to bear fruit for the conversion of minds and hearts and the progress of the gospel for many years to come. To all who mourn him in the hope of the resurrection I cordially impart my apostolic blessing as a pledge of consolation and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Pope Benedict XVI.

Personal Tributes

Collected Archives

Mitsuo Fuchida – "From Pearl Harbor to Calvary"

As Donald notes, today is “the day that will live in infamy” — the anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

When I was young, I learned of the story of Captain Mitsuo Fuchida of the Imperial Japanese Navy, famous for leading the first wave of the attack on that fateful day of December 7, 1941. Wounded in the battle of Midway, he spent the rest of his life as staff officer, and was actually in Hiroshima only a day before the bombing (he was saved by a call from Headquarters asking him to return to Tokyo).

What is particularly fascinating about his life, however, is what happened after the war:

After the war, Fuchida was called on to testify at the trials of some of the Japanese military for Japanese war crimes. This infuriated him as he believed this was little more than “victor’s justice”. Convinced that the Americans had treated the Japanese the same way and determined to bring that evidence to the next trial, in the spring of 1947, Fuchida went to Uraga Harbor near Yokosuka to meet a group of returning Japanese prisoners of war. He was surprised to find his former flight engineer, Kazuo Kanegasaki, who all had believed had died in the Battle of Midway. When questioned, Kanegasaki told Fuchida that they were not tortured or abused, much to Fuchida’s disappointment, then went on to tell him of a young lady who served them with the deepest love and respect, but whose parents, missionaries, had been killed by Japanese soldiers on the island of Panay in the Philippines.

For Fuchida, this was inexplicable, as in the Bushido code revenge was not just permitted, it was a responsibility for an offended party to carry out revenge to restore honor. The murderer of one’s parents would be a sworn enemy for life. He became almost obsessed trying to understand why anyone would treat their enemies with love and forgiveness.

In the fall of 1948, Fuchida was passing by the bronze statue of Hachiko at the Shibuya Station when he was handed a pamphlet about the life of Jacob DeShazer, a member of the Doolittle Raid who was captured by the Japanese after his B-25 Mitchell ran out of fuel over occupied China. In the pamphlet “I Was a Prisoner of Japan” Deshazer, himself a former U.S. Army Air Force Staff Sergeant and bombardier, told his story of imprisonment, torture and an awakening to God. Fuchida became more curious about Christianity but couldn’t find a Bible at the time in post-war Japan, but in the spring of 1949, again at the statue of Hachiko he met a man selling Bibles, and he bought one. Later that fall, while reading the Bible, he understood for the first time why the young lady had forgiven her enemies and took his first steps in becoming a Christian. In May of 1950, he and Jacob DeShazer met for the first time, as friends. [Source: Mitsuo Fuchida – Wikipedia Entry]

Fuchida went on to become a missionary, preaching the gospel until his death in 1976. A full account of Fuchida’s life is given in God’s Samurai: Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor (Potomac Books, 2003).

Fuchida’s testimony, “From Pearl Harbor to Calvary,” is also available online:

I would give anything to retract my actions of twenty-nine years ago at Pearl Harbor, but it is impossible. Instead, I now work at striking the death-blow to the basic hatred which infests the human heart and causes such tragedies. And that hatred cannot be uprooted without assistance from Jesus Christ.

He is the only One Who was powerful enough to change my life and inspire it with His thoughts. He was the only answer to Jake DeShazer’s tormented life. He is the only answer for young people today.

On a personal note, My grandparents on both sides of the family were [Protestant] missionaries to Japan; my grandfather, Maas Vanderbilt, was in the Philippines in World War II, and — like DeShazer and many others — returned after the war as a missionary to the land where he fought.

My parents spent much of their early years there, and I myself was born in the city of Yokohama.