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16 July 2004
Two men and the A-bomb

FROM THE MAIL would like to pick up where it left off last week, with Jubilee magazine and the "Two Men & The A-Bomb" story.

FTM closed last week's edition remembering - rather, learning for the first time about - the Japanese doctor, Takashi Nagai, who, dying of radiation poisoning after the bombing of Nagasaki, devoted the remaining few years of his life promoting devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through his books and watercolors, and using the sales of those works to build churches and schools. Reportedly, his cause for canonization is underway.

The other man in the story is RAF Commander Leonard Cheshire, one of the most decorated British flyers during World War II, and a Catholic layman whose cause for canonization, if it is not underway, should be.  Jubilee readers were introduced to him this way:

"Until the Atom bomb drastically revised the standards, Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, RAF, was probably history's foremost human agent of destruction. He was a bomber pilot who had participated in or led 100 raids over Germany and occupied Europe, who had developed improved bombing techniques, who had been entrusted with the most delicate and difficult missions and had been rewarded with Britain's highest honor. A Group Captain (the equivalent of U.S. Colonel) at 25, the youngest man ever to have held the rank at the time, at 28 he had climaxed his career by being named England's official military observer at Nagasaki."

Cheshire was with the U.S. crew, in the plane, when the bomb was dropped.

"Nagasaki changed him," the Jubilee's Richard Gilman wrote.

"The change was slow, with little in it of revelation or violent repudiation, and its manifestations were often indirect. Unsettling questions about human responsibility and man's interrelatedness began to occur to him. A month after Nagasaki he wrote: '....I had been fully warned of what to expect...I had lived with the men who made the bomb; I had seen it in component parts; I had touched it, talked about it, and thought about it. In spite of this I was not prepared for what I saw....When Nagasaki blew up we felt nothing bu an overwhelming sense of awe, not because an unusual number of Japanese had been killed but because something had happened which altered our fundamental concepts of life....Strength,' he wrote, 'is once more measured in terms of guns, efficiency and dollars: the weak are still at the mercy of the strong, and we are on the way towards another war.'"

For a number of years after the way, Cheshire, who professed no faith and had no religious leanings, tried and failed at a number of initiatives. One of his initiatives, however, endured, a hospice called Le Court. Caring for a dying colleague, Arthur, a Catholic, who had no family or friends to care for him in his final days, Cheshire picked up one of the books in his friend's collection, One Lord, One Faith, by Vernon Johnson, a well-known Anglican convert to Catholicism. Cheshire was so impressed by the book he began his own journey of discovery into the Church, located a priest, and in 1948 was baptized. At the time of his conversion, the Jubilee story continued, "Le Court had eight patients and a staff of two. A year later it had a larger staff, much medical equipment and 32 patients. An associate has described how they came: 'He just took in anyone who knocked at the door.' Those who knocked were sick, crippled, helpless, aged, merely lonely in some cases, and the only condition they had to meet was that nobody else wanted them. If they could contribute to their own support, good; if not, means would be found. Cheshire scavenged for household supplies, mended things as fast as they fell apart in the old Victorian house, charmed people into volunteering, and never worried about finances (unsolicited donations had a way of showing up in the mail.

"What had happened was that he had slipped without conscious intention into his life's work, by doing the direct compassionate thing in an untheoretical, unprogrammatic approach to human need. He wanted, he discovered, to give the sick, the helpless and the outcast something more than alms and institutions: a place of their own where they could live with dignity...and die in an atmosphere of love. And it was a work of peace. 'When I started to look after Arthur,' he has said, 'and forgot my own troubles, those troubles vanished. Perhaps if the world were to do the same, look after its less fortunate members and forget its own personal problems, then all the world's problems might vanish, too. That we we might win universal peace.'...."

By August 1955, when the Jubilee article appeared, Cheshire had established four houses, Le Court, for younger incurables; Holy Cross, for mental patients; St. Teresa's, and St. Cecilia's. "For more than three years," the article states, "he has been flat on his back in a tuberculosis sanitarium, having undergone four chest operations. But all this time he has been far from inactive. Besides keeping an eye on the homes, he has started a crusade to attract people to the Faith by means of a fleet of buses which, equipped with tableaus depicting scenes such as the Nativity with a loud speaker which carries Cheshire's recorded voice outlining some simple truths, he sends throughout England under volunteer drivers. And recently he began a new project: air-lifts to Lourdes for friends of invalids who would like to go themselves but are unable. 'It is the same tenet as Christ on the Cross,' he says. 'They carry their friends' suffering with them and bring back the benefits.'"

Today, Leonard Cheshire probably could not get away with his trucks and loudspeakers without landing in a British court on charges of inciting hate, but his charitable houses live on, providing care to more than 20,000 disabled people in more than 250 homes operating in 57 countries around the world.

It is Britain's largest independent charitable organization.

And now you know the impact of Nagasaki on one of Britain's greatest flyers. Too bad it didn't have a similar effect on everyone else involved in the making and dropping the bomb.

* * *

Other items of interest.

The April 1959 issue of Jubilee gives a bitter-sweet insight into just one of the challenges facing bishops, priests and nuns: the Catholic baby boom.

In "The Baby Boom Reaches the Schools," today's Catholics can gain an understanding of the excitement of the era:

"In the ten years between 1946 and 1956, during which U.S. families settled down to a normal [sic] life after the trials of World War II, the numbers of children in Catholic elementary schools have increased from 2,000,000 to 3,800,000. The figure is expected to reach 4,300,000 by the fall of 1960. These statistics tell but part of the story on one of the most prolific increases in the history of the country. There is believed to be an equal number of Catholic children who are not able to attend Catholic schools, because there are none available, or perhaps because the children's parents, for a variety of reasons, feel obliged to send them elsewhere. But the story is not told by mere figures: behind the statistics is a saga of human ingenuity, planning and skill, leavened by frustration and despair over lack of funds and personnel.

"The great majority of children, out of all proportion to previous classes, are in the lowest grades - kindergarten, first and second. Where in the past a typical elementary class might run from 20 to 35 or 40, a pastor or principal now counts himself lucky if he has only 50 to make room for. Many classes run as high as 70 or 90, and classes over 100 are so common that only the layman shows any surprise. Queen of the Universe, in the gigantic new development of Levittown, Pennsylvania, has a first grade of 265 children - a figure typical enough (its neighboring St. Michael's, has a first grade of 487)....

"Pennsylvania's Levittown, which encompasses three townships and one borough, is composed of 17,300 mass-produced houses, running in price from about $10,000 to nearly $20,000; they are grouped by price bracket, a fact which, like the mass production of the homes (all have exactly the same color inside, the same GE electrical equipment, identical plastic flooring) often creates overwhelming feelings of uniformity. There are four Catholic churches in Levittown, of which three have their own elementary schools....There are also thirteen public schools, with three more under construction....A large number of the parents work in nearby factories such as U.S. Steel, Kaiser, Rohm and Haas or RCA-Victor in Camden....

"Like other pastors in his diocese, Fr. James A. Coyle of Queen of the Universe feels that no child should be denied a Catholic education, and most of the Catholic parents in Levittown agree with him. With a pitifully small teaching staff (eight sisters and eight lay teachers for 1,200 student), he has performed a miracle of logistics that would be the envy of any quartermaster general...."

This story is accompanied by priceless photographs. Talk about an over-crowded school! One photo depicts several hundred young people at lunch. Girls in uniforms were segregated from the boys, and the photo cutline explains that two teachers oversee these several hundred, and no talking is aloud - "to keep general chaos from breaking out"! The cutline adds: "Unlike the development's public schools, which serve a hot lunch (the one fact of which parish parents are envious), Queen of the Universe can only furnish milk."

So there you have it, apartheid in egalitarian Levittown, a suburb built on the dream that there would be no class distinctions. And yet the Catholics have to pay for the public schools, and their Catholic schools, and lunches, and everything else. Imagine the envy of Catholic Joe who works with Protestant Bob on the line at the RCA-Victor plan, and that Bob has so much more disposable income because he gets public education and government food for his two kids, and Joe's got four or six - and he's subsidizing the smaller classes in the public schools by sending his children to a Catholic school!

* * *

If Jubilee, today, might be considered "liberal" in its slant on many issues, it was also staunchly "Catholic" and clearly countercultural. Its heroes, those great men and women held up for emulation, were people like Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and Leonard Cheshire, Charles de Foucauld, the French missionary to the Moroccans who is up for canonization. The magazine was also far more skeptical of the "American way" than most Catholic Americans are today, as two cautionary stories indicate.

In November 1953, Jubilee published Dr. Robert P. Odenwald's, "Don't Raise Your Child To Be A Quiz Kid," which warned parents against pushing their children to  "too early, superficial achievement, making him an intellectual robot, instead of assigning him tasks which will develop in him a well-rounded, admirable personality prepared to offer the world his best in an age when such ability is greatly needed and highly rewarded."

What concerned Dr. Odenwald was the growing obsession with I.Q. tests, achievement tests, and the "unreasonable worship of factual information.

"The result is often an individual who is dismayed to find that society has no place for him. The psychological trauma caused by recognition of one's unfitness can be devastating."

The good doctor lamented the "undue emphasis" placed on "intelligence" by all sectors of society, complaining: "Not only is there an attitude of ridicule for those who are mentally slow, but there is also the idolatrous worship of the achievements of the 'kids' on quiz programs. Books which are compilations of unrelated facts and figures in sports, history, politics and other fields are immensely popular....[T]here is in the modern mind an equating of intelligence and morality, so that anyone who appears to be intellectually superior (as evidenced) by worldly success) is accepted as a model of the virtuous life. It comes as a profound shock when a convicted scoundrel or murderer proves to be a person with a high IQ....

"Society should not value only the factor of intelligence. Rather it should esteem the whole individual, the maturity of his personality, his moral integrity, and his willingness to contribute to the welfare of the community. There is a distinction between the ability to do school-work and the ability to lead a happy, constructive life as a member of society. A number of persons below normal intelligence can become socially useful and adjusted if they are just given a chance to prove their own worth. Society should find a satisfying place for everyone to do his share instead of looking to the intellectual supermen for every accomplishment."

Reading this, one can almost sense the rise of the "whiz-kids" that led America into Vietnam, and their intellectual descendants who took us into Iraq.

The other warning came in the November 1962 Jubilee excerpt from Martin Gross' The Big Quiz: The Search for the Square American on the dangers involved in the growing use of "personality" tests by corporations as part of their hiring procedures.

At the time this book was written, about 21 percent of major American companies, including IBM, Lever Bros., Armstrong Tire & Rubber, Sears, and Standard Oil were using one or another of the major half-dozen-or-so personality tests, such as the Bernrueter Personality Quiz and the Kuder to determine an applicant's suitability in the corporation or an advancement.

The bottom line in this remarkable expose is that the tests were designed to keep Catholics from infiltrating the Protestant power structure. "For example, if a head count of a corporation shows that while only sixty percent of its executive population are Protestant, 85 percent of its successful executives are also Protestant, then 'Protestantism' becomes an empirically significant  item that can be determined and looked for.....Stanford University psychologist E.K. Strong, Jr., has devised a test which operates on a curious premise: you are suited for a job or profession only if your prejudices mesh smoothly with those of the 'typical' man in the same field...."

And note this observation: "Although the brain-watchers merchandising [i.e. his incredible success in getting major corporations to buy his tests at $35 a piece, ed.] it is less significant than his genius in aborting opposition from the men and women whose lives he toys with daily. For an industry that is responsible for the rejection of hundreds of thousands of people each year, there is a shocking lack of resentment against the tester from the public. The reason is simply this: most testers have covered themselves by lying. The man who may never be a vice-president because he failed a battery of personality tests is never told the real reason. He is given one out of a dozen vapid excuses and leaves the office of the tester with his ego intact....

"In fact, an alarming document in this campaign to keep the public innocent and disarmed has actually been published by a Park Avenue tester for all his clients. It is a 'pony' entitled, 'How To Turn Down a Job Applicant,' part of which reads:

"'Don't let yourself be trapped by the applicant who asks "How did I do on the tests?"....It's best not to volunteer any information about test results. If he brings the subject up you can say something to the effect that he "did very well," and add that your decision had nothing to do with the test results. A white lie? Of course, but it's the kind of harmless deception that all of us have occasion to resort to without suffering any pangs of conscience.'"

Looks like wiz-kids had everything figured out 50 years ago.

On the web: www.thewandererpress.com

 
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