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Nukes and the Pro-Life Christian

Svjatogor / Shutterstock

Svjatogor / Shutterstock

I WAS SITTING in the wrong end of a police wagon the first time I questioned nuclear weapons. Technically, it was a school bus, but it served the same purpose: hauling scores of protesters to the county holding center where we would await booking for our trespasses.

We had been protesting abortion. I was thinking about nuclear weapons because a couple of those in the bus were peace activists who had long rap sheets from years of anti-war protests. I, on the other hand, was a Republican-voting, independent Baptist church-attending, conservative-leaning, law-abiding (well, until now) kind of Christian. I was awed—and grateful—that these peaceniks would join the likes of me in common cause against another kind of violence.

My new friends adhered to the “seamless garment” philosophy, also called the consistent life ethic, one committed to the protection of all human life, whether from war, poverty, racism, capital punishment, euthanasia, or abortion. One of them gave me a button that read “Peace begins in the womb,” and I pinned it to the bottom of the black leather motorcycle jacket I used to wear in those days.

A few years and many more abortion protests later, I was starting a local chapter of Feminists for Life, attending an Episcopal church, heading up a small private school in the inner city, teaching at a Jesuit college, and reading the poetry of Father Daniel Berrigan, the famous Vietnam-era anti-war activist who was now being arrested for protesting abortion.

But I wasn’t thinking much more about nuclear bombs.

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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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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.

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