Nukes and the Pro-Life Christian

Svjatogor / Shutterstock

Svjatogor / Shutterstock

A conservative takes a second look at the morality of nuclear weapons and discovers that there's more than one way to choose life.

Karen Swallow Prior, a professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., is the author most recently of Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist and a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Pope Francis on the Anniversary of the Bomb: ‘A Lasting Warning to Humanity’

REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

Pope Francis waves as he leads the Angelus prayer from the window of the Apostolic Palace in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican August 9, 2015. Photo courtesy REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

Seventy years after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, Pope Francis on Aug. 9 described the bomb as a “lasting warning to humanity.”

Speaking to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Francis recalled the “horror and repulsion” aroused by the twin bombings of Nagasaki on Aug. 9 1945, and Hiroshima, three days earlier.

“This (event) has become the symbol of mankind’s enormous destructive power when it makes a distorted use of scientific and technical progress,” he said.

Weekly Wrap 8.7.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. WATCH: Jon Stewart and ‘The Daily Show:’ 9 Essential Moments

The New York Times offers this great video retrospective from 16 years of Jon Stewart nailing it four nights a week. He will be missed. #JonVoyage

2. The Women of the Protest Line

Almost a year after Michael Brown’s death, Amy Pedersen writes on how the movement in Ferguson, Mo., and beyond is largely a movement of women. “When you watch this weekend from afar, know that you are watching the movement of women; that we are on the street because that is where God is moving. … We are women and because we are women, we know how to be brave.”

3. A Haunting Timelapse of the 2,058 Nuclear Detonations from 1945 to 1998

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ushering in the Nuclear Age. Popular Mechanics provides this arresting visual of detonations since then. Note: Keep an eye on the tickers for Russia and the U.S.

The Day the World Changed

Hiroshima, Japan after the atomic bomb was dropped. Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com

The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by any civilized standards, represented one of the moral low-points in human history. After all, by very conservative estimates, 135,000 people died from the atomic blasts—most of them civilians, the victims of the intentional targeting of cities. Think about that—these weren’t military targets, but cities full of men, women, and children, going about their lives, destroyed in seconds by the most destructive weapons ever invented.

But the point of memorializing isn’t about the past. It’s about ensuring such things happen “never again.”

10 Things We've Learned about Nukes Since Hiroshima

natrot / Shutterstock

natrot / Shutterstock

Like many of my millennial peers, I was barely in diapers when the Cold War ended, never practiced fallout drills in school, and only recently learned what those yellow-and-black signs on old buildings meant. As a kid, if I thought about nukes at all, it was in a passive tense, World War II-history sort of way. In other words: not my problem.

But as we mark the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — when U.S. aircrafts dropped bombs on two Japanese cities, killing 135,000 people, by conservative estimates — I spent some time in the Sojourners archives trying to fill the gaps in my nuclear education. Here’s what I found.

'I Was Told It Was Necessary'

In August, 1945, Fr. George Zabelka, a Catholic chaplain with the U.S. Army air force, was stationed on Tinian Island in the South Pacific. He served as priest and pastor for the airmen who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During the next 20 years he gradually began to realize that what he had done and believed during the war was wrong, and that the only way he could be a Christian was to be a pacifist. Some time later, Zabelka reached the conclusion that the use of violence under any circumstances was incompatible with his understanding of the gospel of Christ.

When this article appeared, Fr. Zabelka was retired, gave workshops on nonviolence, and assisted in diocesan work in Lansing, Mich. The following is a 1980 interview with Zabelka, conducted by McCarthy for our August 1980 issue. — The Editors, August 2015

#BlackLivesMatter and the Bomb

As we mark the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world waits to see if the Iran deal will come to fruition and thus avoid war. Once again, the debate about nuclear weapons appears at the forefront. At the same time, inside the U.S., the #BlackLivesMatter movement continues to make clear it will no longer be politics as usual as activists organize, protest, and fight every day to destroy institutional racism. However, it is no coincidence that these events are all happening simultaneously as they have always been and continue to be inextricably linked.

Nuclear Weapons: Time for Abolition

IMAGINE IF YOU will a world in which the most destructive weapons were “conventional” explosives. These bombs, often with nicknames such as “Daisy Cutter” or “bunker buster” or even the “Mother of All Bombs,” have enormous power: The Vietnam-era Daisy Cutter, one of the largest conventional weapons ever used, was designed to flatten a forest into a helicopter landing zone with a blast equal to about 15,000 pounds of TNT. 

Now imagine that someone says, “Those conventional bombs aren’t destructive enough. Let’s invent a weapon a million times more powerful, one that releases radiation that magnifies the killing effects for generations. And let’s make 16,000 of those weapons.”

A sane world would respond, “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

But in the real world, it’s no joke.

Today, 70 years after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world has 16,400 nuclear weapons—93 percent of them in the arsenals of the U.S. and Russia. The first H-bomb had the force of around 10 million tons of TNT, more than a million times as powerful as the worst conventional weapons.

So in some ways it comes as no surprise that first responders—groups on the front lines of dealing with disasters—have become leaders in the movement to abolish nuclear weapons. For organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the reasoning is clear: There simply is no way to adequately respond in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. Thus the Red Cross has called for legally binding steps toward the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

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'War is Terrorism'

ONE DAY, WHEN I was a student at Christ the King Elementary School in my hometown of Richland, Wash., the nuns gathered all the kids, two by two, and walked us outside to the parking lot. There sat a mobile van emblazoned with the logo of the Atomic Energy Commission and the words “Whole Body Scanner.”

One at a time, we were led into the van, where we laid on a white-sheathed table beneath a large, (scary), medical-looking machine. There was a whirring sound, and after a minute or two we were told to get up and make room for the next child. We weren’t told what the process was for, but it’s safe to assume that the government was interested in the effects of radiation on those of us who were “downwinders” from one of the nation’s largest nuclear complexes.

Richland was (and is) the bedroom community for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Hanford was built in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project, the massive wartime program that led to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Hanford’s role was the production of plutonium for the world’s first nuclear weapon, the “test” bomb detonated in New Mexico a few weeks before Hiroshima, and for the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki three days later.

Those weapons were dropped 69 years ago, but the debate about their morality continues. It emerged again this spring when the two Missouri senators proposed renaming D.C.’s Union Station after Harry S. Truman, who authorized history’s only nuclear attack on people. One commenter in a related discussion wrote, “I have a problem with judging past cultures by today's standards. To end WWII we dropped bombs on cities filled with innocent civilians. By today's standards that would be condemned. Are you willing to say we should not have done that to end WWII?”

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