It was Aug. 6 when I saw the movie Oppenheimer. That wasn’t intentional; the movie was sold out the day we planned to go, and Aug. 6 was the next available time.
On that same date 18 years ago, my family and I were in Hiroshima for the ceremony remembering the day the US dropped the atomic bomb. At 8:15 a.m., the crowd marked the moment with a silent prayer and then the tolling of the Peace Bell. As is true every year, the ceremony was a plea for worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons and a call for building a world at peace.
“We are all hibakusha,” said a speaker representing the secretary general of the United Nations. He was not saying that everyone in the audience had suffered the way the survivors of the bomb, hibakusha, had suffered. Rather, he was saying that all us living on the planet have survived this terrible moment in human history and share a common plight.
That evening, we and thousands of others lit paper lanterns and floated them down the river. We could hear strains of Mozart’s Requiem.
That visit back in 2005 was for the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb and the 40th anniversary of the World Friendship Center, a long-time Brethren Volunteer Service project site. Brethren longings for peace were represented at the center’s anniversary event by more than 1,200 origami cranes that had been folded the month before by children and adults at Annual Conference.
The World Friendship Center hosts visitors from around the world who travel to Hiroshima to reflect upon peace and hear the stories of hibakusha. When I watched Oppenheimer, I thought of those survivors.
The movie takes the viewer into the mind and experience of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who oversaw the test blast for the atomic bomb—an event he gave the code name Trinity. While the movie doesn’t show the devastating results of the use of that weapon, there’s evidence of his own wrestling between two realities—the theoretical physics that his brilliant mind could employ and the horror that he knew had been unleashed on an unprepared world.
Relatively few people possess the knowledge and power of an Oppenheimer, but collectively humanity wrestles with life-and-death decisions that should take our breath away. Let us listen and then bear witness, animated by the triune God who creates, saves, and sustains us.
Wendy McFadden is executive director of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.