The Bull Moose and the Buddhist

I’ve been watching The Roosevelts An Intimate History on PBS this week. I have DVR’d each night’s installment but am a couple of nights behind, so what I have seen so far has dealt mostly with Theodore Roosevelt, an energetic and immensely vital man, with a few disturbing sides to his very large personality.  Not to put too fine a point on it but he was a war monger, and he sometimes lived recklessly out of a need to constantly prove himself.

TR in 1917
TR in 1917

When America entered WWI in 1917, a 58 year-old, half-blind Roosevelt went to then-President Woodrow Wilson and offered to not only raise a division of volunteers but to also lead them into battle.  It was absurd and Wilson declined the offer.  Speaking of TR after their meeting, Wilson said “He is a great big boy. There is a sweetness about him. You can’t resist the man.” One of Teddy’s nicknames was “Bull Moose” because he was the founder of the Bull Moose Progressive Party. It was an apt description of the man.

I am always interested to see if figures like that have any connections with Buddhism. I did some research on my own and found out that Teddy had a Buddhist bud! In fact, they were close friends. The documentary mentions that at one point TR became interested in jujitsu. The person who introduced him to that martial art was a man named William Sturgis Bigelow, a long time friend who often entertained TR in his Boston home. Bigelow was a doctor, graduated from Harvard Medical School, who lived in Japan for seven years to study Buddhism, and became a collector of Buddhist and Oriental art.

In 1908, Bigelow gave a lecture at Harvard titled “Buddhism and Immortality” that was later published. It is a lengthy piece full of the rather stilted language of the time. Buddhist thinking from Westerners during this period is always a mixed bag. Sometimes they get it and sometimes they don’t. In this short paragraph from the lecture, Bigelow closes in on the former:

William Sturgis Bigelow in Japan, c.1884.
William Sturgis Bigelow in Japan, c.1884.

Consciousness is continuous. Therefore, there is but one ultimate consciousness. All beings are therefore one; and when one man strikes another, he strikes all men, including himself. Just when and where and how in terms of space and time he feels his own blow depends on circumstances, but sooner or later he will. A good deed comes back to the doer in the same way.”

You can read the entire lecture at and learn more about TR’s BBF (Best Buddhist Friend) at the Bigelow Society


Black Rain

Today, August 6, is the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It happened at 08:15 Japan time. The Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, released a bomb named Little Boy containing 64 kg (141 lb) of uranium-235 over the city. It took Little Boy 44.4 seconds to drop from 31,000 feet (9,400 m) to a height of about 1,900 feet (580 m) where it detonated.

hiroshima-damage4.7 square miles (12 km2) of the city was destroyed. Within seconds, 75,000 people were killed or fatally injured. 65% of the casualties nine years of age and younger. Beneath the epicenter of the explosion temperatures were hot enough to melt concrete and steel. 69% of the city’s buildings were destroyed. The bomb started fires that spread rapidly through wood and paper homes.

The blast released nearly 200 different kinds of radioactive isotopes (nuclear fission particles of uranium and plutonium that escaped fission). These particles and other materials irradiated by the bomb’s neutrons were carried high into the atmosphere.

The mix of massive amounts of airborne irradiated materials merged with heat and thermal currents from the firestorms caused it to rain within an hour of the bombing. Fallout particles mixed with carbon residue from fires created the deadly “black rain” reported by many eyewitnesses.

On that day, Hiromu Morishita was 14 years old and in the ninth grade. He survived. He became a calligrapher and teacher. He was president of the Senior High School Teachers’ Society and the Hiroshima Peace Education Institute in Japan. He wrote a poem:


MorishitaWatch dutifully
with your eyes.

Here, something happened that shouldn’t have.
Here now, something irreparable continues.
Here tomorrow, signs of everyone’s destruction
may appear.

Don’t watch with one eye.
Don’t watch with your arm or with your head.

With the heart of one who endures despair.

– – – – – – – – – –

“Hiroshima” (Morishita, Bradley, and Dougherty 14) Memories of the Future: The Poetry of Sadako Kurihara and Hiromu Morishita Commentary by Edward A Dougherty