The third annual Friends Journal Student Voices Project is calling all middle school (grades 6–8) and high school (grades 9–12) students to add their voices to the Friends Journal community of readers. This year we’re asking students to write about the important parts of building a loving, safe, and supportive community.
We welcome submissions from all students (Quaker and non-Quaker) at Friends Schools and Quaker students in other educational venues. Select articles will be published in the April 2016 issue, and honorees will recognized by Friends Council on Education. The submission deadline is January 4, 2016. Instructions and details can be found at Friendsjournal.org/studentvoices.
Effects of war
I was very moved by the articles on “The Effects of War” in your August 2015 issue. Each article provided evidence of the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote (and I’m paraphrasing), “When we drop bombs overseas, they explode in our communities.” These articles described war’s disturbing, complex, painfully interrelated, and often long-lasting effects.
Re-thinking the bomb
It was not surprising to read in Maida Follini’s letter (FJ June/July) that “one student” thought revenge was the motive for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The prevailing mood among Americans at the time was that Japan got what it deserved for attacking Pearl Harbor and for causing the deaths of so many American military men and women during World War II.
What did surprise me was seeing a myth that I once believed was still floating around and still considered credible: the myth that those at the highest decision-making levels in the U.S. government ordered the atomic bombing of the densely populated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—a bombing which killed between 190,000 and 200,000 civilians—in order to bring about the surrender of Japan and save “the estimated 2,000,000 Japanese and Americans who would have died in an invasion.” Subsequently available knowledge makes it clear other motivations were paramount.
Knowing Russia had advised Japan that it would not renew the neutrality pact it had with that nation and that Russia planned to march through China toward Japan in August of 1945, the U.S. government wished to hasten Japan’s eventual surrender in order to prevent Russia from invading Japan and claiming a role in the occupation of Japan.
Did dropping the atomic bombs hasten the end of the war? Certainly.
Was dropping the bombs necessary to bring about Japan’s surrender? No.
The Japanese had been putting out peace feelers since at least July 1944. Had the U.S. government not demanded unconditional surrender and had it been willing to say it would allow the Emperor—revered by many Japanese as a god-like figure—to remain on the throne, a surrender could have been negotiated prior to August 1945. That surrender would have saved more than the 25,000 to 46,000 lives that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had estimated would be lost if U.S. forces were to invade Kyushu and the main island of Japan.
Many Americans still rationalize the death and destruction we rained down on the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even if the inflated numbers were correct, how many of us would be okay with the decision to drop the atomic bombs 70 years ago?
In the June/July issue of Friends Journal, you published a letter perpetuating the widely held belief that the two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 ended the war. The political events in the summer of 1945 are too complex for most of us to grasp. We do not have the knowledge of diplomatic process or military planning. I quote, therefore, from three sources who do.
Although General Eisenhower’s command was mainly in the European theatre of war, he must have known about events in the Pacific. As President, he is quoted as saying: “The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”
In August 2011 the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation wrote that “the historical record is clear” that at the time Hiroshima and Nagasaki were leveled, each with a single atomic bomb, Japan had been trying to surrender: “The United States had broken the Japanese codes and knew that Japan had been trying to surrender.” We also know that the precipitating factor to Japan’s actual surrender, as indicated by Japanese wartime cabinet records, was not the U.S. atomic bombs but the Soviet Union’s entry into the war against them.
In his history of the war, Winston Churchill wrote “It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atomic bomb. Her defeat was certain before the first bomb fell and was brought about by overwhelming maritime power.”
Kennett Square, Pa.
Correction: In that June/July Forum letter from Maida Follini, editing typos in the sixth sentence changed the context of the timing of the Japanese surrender. The sentence should read: “On August 15 (despite an attempted coup by Japanese military wishing to continue the war), Japan surrendered.” We apologize for the inadvertent edits.
Weight and health, assumptions and welcome
Madeline Schaefer made some great points about being a Quaker and contending with an exploitative, destructive, and deceptive food industry; she also thoughtfully handled moral thinking around disordered eating (“Bringing Our Bodies to the Light,” FJ June/July). However, I nearly didn’t get to that part of the article. Why? Because of the passage where she and her friend discuss her being “rather disturbed” by the number of overweight women she saw at a yearly meeting sessions. She then goes on to wonder if it’s just a “community of unhealthy adults” and assumes there is “little emphasis” on physical health among them.
First of all, why just women? Why not men? Secondly, why is there the assumption that fat women—not curvy or fluffy or overweight or large, but fat—are unhealthy? Why assume that fat women automatically have an unhealthy relationship with food and eating? I understand that she can only see through the lens of her own internalized body issues but why should fat women, whose personal stories and struggles she couldn’t possibly know, be casualties in some internal war?
I am a fat woman. I am also a woman of color who grew up with a Catholic mother and an Seventh-day Adventist father. I already feel like an outsider the minute I walk into a Quaker meeting and see a largely homogenous group of people. When I engage in conversation with other Quakers on social media, they are overwhelmingly white and middle or upper-middle class. I already feel out of place in my faith community, but now I have to wonder, every time I sit down in the company of my community, who is looking at me, taking in the size of my body, and asking themselves why I am so unhealthy. Why am I a broken thing that needs to reconcile herself to being a victim of disordered eating? Fat people are not always sick; we are not always struggling with eating disorders; we are not always on the brink of destroying our bodies. Many of us are living lives very similar to yours. I, too, love yoga. I also love running and playing soccer and swimming. I eat mostly organic, locally grown produce and sustainable, locally sourced meats. Fat people have been tasked with educating others about how we may differ from your picture of us—how we are like you—in order to humanize ourselves. We really shouldn’t have to.
The message is incongruent: you are telling us to accept and nourish our bodies, but you have already implied that we are not currently doing so and that we are not already authentic. It is assumed that because we are fat, we are also broken, unhealthy, sick, uneducated about our own bodies, and in need of salvation. I assure you that every time I step out the door, I hear, see, and feel these messages in the stares from other people. The last place I want to feel them is when I am trying to feel a message from God.
As Quakers, we need to understand the true meaning of diversity. Pointing to a few token attributes such as race or class or language is not a holistic approach to diversity. In order to embrace true diversity, we need to look inside ourselves and examine how our own biases and internalized messages color the way we think about and treat those around us. Schaefer went on to write a very sensitive and insightful article, but the spear had already been thrown. She seemed to have already excluded me and women who look like me from the conversation. I ask her to continue exploring this issue in a manner that is inclusive to those of us who live in bodies that exist outside whatever arbitrary size indicates “health” to her and those she grew up with. Fat people can spiritually support others in their journeys to bring their bodies to light. We just need to be seen as people first.
Divisions in North Carolina
Some advocate remaining together no matter how much disunity there may be (Friendsjournal.org, Oct. 2014). For these folks, the cost of schism is too high. On the other hand, the cost of skirmishing year after year over unresolved differences also exacts a high price!
Unless there is a clear and mutually acceptable path for resolving the issues involved, I speculate that the dividing into more homogeneous groups is the most creative and peaceful solution to the discord.
My wife and I were disfellowshipped by our Friends meeting. Since then, we worshiped for years with conservative Mennonites. Having lost my wife to cancer in 2013, I still worship with the same Mennonite congregation. Mennonites divide frequently, and still grow in numbers by leaps and bounds! Schism, managed well, can be a step forward.
Blue Grass, Va.
Guns and fences
We now have the ongoing, contentious disagreement of gun owners and the National Rifle Association with the anti-gun, anti-violence peace advocates. While one sits atop of the fence dividing the two parties, they witness to both spectacles: one being aggressive and demanding, the other being peaceful and disarming; one preaching hate, and one preaching love. It is still based on one’s perspective.
But as Quakers and as peace advocates, our perspective should still be one of peace! Gun ownership and gun violence continues to be the plague of our society, and it is one which will not soon go away. So, we must keep to our perspective of being advocates for peace, brotherhood, understanding, cooperation, caring, and love. As Quakers, we should stand up and make our voices known that gun violence is unacceptable, and it should not be seen as acceptable in an otherwise civilized society.
Robert A. Lowe
Comments on Friendsjournal.org may be used in the Forum of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.