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Crossing the Border of History

by William Apel


August 17, 2015

Crossing the Border of History

Bill Apel & Hiromu Morishta

Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!

In April of 2013, I made a personal pilgrimage to Hiroshima and crossed many borders. But the greatest boundary I crossed was the “border of history.” The reason for my journey was to meet and interview a survivor of the Hiroshima A-bomb and lifetime peacemaker Hiromu Morishta (now in his 86th year). I wanted to hear and record his story of the day the Bomb dropped. It is crucial that we preserve such accounts. Like many in the BPFNA, I believe we can never lose sight of the human face of violence and war in our witness for peace and justice.          

On August 6, 1945, the 14 year-old Hiromu Morishita had gathered with his middle school classmates to do civil defense work to help prepare Hiroshima for the inevitable attack of American B-29 bombers. It was 8:15 in the morning and Morishita was ready to help widen a street for use as a fire lane in anticipation of air attacks. Suddenly, without warning, there was a tremendous flash of light, and then, a shattering blast which threw Morishita to the ground. He said it was like being thrown into a large fiery furnace. Suddenly, there was no air, no light, no anything. A forceful wind blew in every direction. Everything burst into flames. Soon a “black rain” fell from the sky as a giant mushroom cloud formed above where the city had been.
When Morishita regained consciousness, he struggled to get back on his feet. He recognized nothing. The city was gone. There was only smoke and rubble. No buildings, no classmates, only a disturbing silence. Then, he began to hear cries for help. His own pain was almost unbearable. He realized that parts of his body had been badly burned - especially the left side of his body, the side that had been turned toward city-center and the Bomb’s epicenter. His head was bloated and his skin sagged over his face completely covering his left eye.
Not knowing what to do, Morishita began to walk as best he could. He joined hundreds of other “walking dead.”  He walked with his arms extended forward. The pain was simply too great for his arms to touch his body. If they did, they would stick to his gelatin-like burnt skin. He sought water for his searing burns. The nearby river tributary might offer relief. But it was filled with mangled debris and bodies. Others crowded into the river. But Morishita could find no room. The agony continued. The days and weeks ahead were only more of the same.... Morishita had “survived” but the 14 year-old boy was no more....

More than 10 years passed without Morishita speaking of that day. He, like hundreds of other Habakusha (blast effected people) remained silent. How can one speak of the unspeakable horror of the Bomb? How could one speak for the dead? Gradually, Morishita did begin to come back to life. An American Quaker in Hiroshima, Barbara Reynolds, opened her home to many Habakusha, including Morishita, where they were treated with respect and dignity. In 1964, as part of a world peace delegation from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he was to meet in America, the Trappist monk and peacemaker Thomas Merton. As apostles of God’s love, Reynolds and Merton placed Morishita on a path toward recovered wholeness and peace. Morishita experienced a rebirth, an awakening. He told me with a wry smile, “Thomas Merton must have been a Buddha.”

In the Christian idiom, we might say Morishita had met the living Christ as Reynolds and Merton encountered him at the point of his deepest needs and responded to him as Jesus would have responded (Matthew 25: 37-41). Literally, out of the ashes of Hiroshima, arose a new man fully committed to lifelong peacemaking.   
Beginning in the mid-1960s, Morishita began his worldwide call for the abolition of war and all nuclear weapons. He would visit over 30 different nations with a simple message - never again should any individual, group, or nation, for any reason have to experience what the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced. He met with world leaders like the Secretary General of the United Nations and Harry S. Truman, the American President who ordered the Bomb dropped on Hiroshima. He also met with thousands of people like you and me. Morishita refused to assignment guilt or blame for the Hiroshima Bomb. Instead, he spoke, and continues to speak, about a future without any Hiroshimas or Nagasakis, a future we hardly can imagine. He called for all who can listen to become what his friend Thomas Merton called “signs of peace.” First we listen and, then by God’s grace, we act in informed and prophetic ways crossing borders again and again in our journey toward the peaceable Kingdom.

William Apel is professor emeritus of religion at Linfield College in Oregon. He was active in the BPFNA during its founding years, and has taught and written about peace and justice issues throughout his ministry as a college chaplain and academic life. His books include Silent Conversations: Reading the Bible in Good Company and Signs of Peace: The Interfaith Letters of Thomas Merton.

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