hiroshima

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.

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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Shane Claiborne: Of Slingshots, Plowshares, and Kitchen Hammers

The Y-12 Three: Michael R. Walli, Sister Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed.

The Y-12 Three: Michael R. Walli, Sister Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed.

I just arrived in Tennessee for a little sabbatical in the hills where I grew up. As I settled into my old childhood room again for a week or so of rest, I noticed a pile of newspaper articles my mom placed by the toilet. She's gotten into the habit of putting clippings of articles there that she thinks I'll enjoy reading while having my special time in the bathroom.

One of the articles was an extraordinary front-page story in the Knoxville News Sentinel about three peace activists who shut down the Y-12 nuclear plant last month in Oak Ridge for more than weeks.

In the predawn hours of July 28, three unarmed peace activists entered the Y-12 nuclear plant and, over a matter of hours, made their unprecedented way through the layers of security to the very heart of the facility, where they performed a prayerful service, hung "crime-scene" tape and poured human blood as a symbol of the violence of nuclear weapons. One of the intruders was an 82-year-old nun who is now an international celebrity. It's a contemporary story of David and Goliath, the shepherd boy who took on a giant with nothing but a slingshot.

The article makes a spectacle of how these three folks, whose average age was 67, managed to mosey into one of the most highly secure and potentially deadly facilities in the world. But they chose the spot for a reason.

The Oak Ridge Y-12 plant was responsible for the explosives of the Hiroshima bomb. It has been called "the Fort Knox of Uranium." The Y-12 plant is the nation's primary supplier of bomb-grade uranium, and has played a role in the manufacture of every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, which now flaunts the capacity of more than 50,000 Hiroshima-size bombs.

Freedom from Nuclear Weapons

Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

Paper lanterns float on the Motoyasu River in front of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

Sixty-seven years ago today, at 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, it was a sunny morning in Hiroshima, Japan, a city of more than 300,000 people. Some were on their way to work, children were playing in the streets. Suddenly the sky exploded in a brilliant and hellish flash of light as a 15 kiloton nuclear bomb was dropped from a U.S. plane in the sky overhead. More than 70,000 people were instantly killed, some with their bodies etched into the pavement like eerie shadows. By the end of the year, as many as 140,000 had died, after five years, the toll was estimated as high as 200,000. Three days after Hiroshima, on August 9, 1945, a second nuclear bomb was used against Nagasaki, Japan. An estimated 75,000 people were killed in that explosion.

Today, according to the Associated Press, the annual ceremonies held in Hiroshima’s peace park to commemorate the bombing were attended by 50,000 people, including representatives from 70 countries. Two Americans with family ties to the bombings also attended.

Armistice Day/Veteran's Day: 11/11/11

Crowds gather at the Subtreasury building on Wall Street for Armistice Day 1918

"Thousands gather at the Subtreasury Building on Wall Street during Armistice Day, 1918."

Before Veteran’s Day was Veteran’s Day, it was Armistice Day.

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the cessation of hostilities of World War I took effect.

It was supposed to be the end of the "war to end all wars."

In 1926, Congress passed a resolution to commemorate the day “with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding.”  

In 1938 the day became known as “Armistice Day” with the intent that it would be a day dedicated to the world peace.

In 1954, after World War II, when the world stood in horror at the sight of the Nazi genocide machine and ghastly bombings of civilian populations culminating in the first ever deployment of nuclear bombs, the day became known as Veteran’s Day — a day to honor military service.

I say if we are to truly honor veterans, we ought to remember and honor Armistice Day with the hope that we can bring an end to violent conflict within and between nations.

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