A conservative takes a second look at the morality of nuclear weapons and discovers that there's more than one way to choose life.
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.
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.”
Later this week, President Obama will deliver a major speech promoting the Iran nuclear agreement at American University. I’m looking forward to the speech, both as an AU alum and someone closely following the upcoming Senate vote on the nuclear agreement. We know President Obama will make the strategic and scientific cases for the deal; I hope he makes the moral case as well.
President Obama has twice chosen the university in northwest D.C. to deliver major speeches, but it was also the site of President Kennedy’s landmark speech on peace and nuclear disarmament in 1963, where he declared, “While we proceed to safeguard our national interests, let us also safeguard human interests” and “the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both.”
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.
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
If politicians are letting one person trump the tone of politics, just to go up in the polls or get on the debate stage, that’s very bad news for our nation’s civil discourse.
It certainly isn’t serious talk. Serious talk is “Hard work.” “Difficult negotiations.” “Competing interests.” “Coalitions and diplomacy.” Serious talk recognizes that no agreement, no matter how diligently negotiated, is perfect.
Iran is an enemy – an enemy of America, an enemy of Israel, and an enemy of peace. I believe that. But you need to find ways to make peace with your enemies in order to reduce potential conflict. Choosing war with our enemies as our first option since 9/11 has just made us more enemies.
The question is: what we should do about Iran?
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.
We have a deal. And many of us in the faith community are relieved.
After months of negotiations, missing deadlines, and many stressful final days in Vienna, Iran has agreed to halt its nuclear weapons program for a decade or more, and allow credible international agencies to significantly monitor its behavior. In return, sanctions against Iran will be lifted once it demonstrates compliance on its end. Meanwhile, the West is hopeful that a younger Iranian generation might begin to liberalize the country, prompting a fuller entry into the modern world over the next 10 years. That hope remains to be seen.
Many of us in the faith community have called for diplomacy instead of the only plausible alternative: war with Iran.