Pope Francis is not an innovator in his approach to the topic of nuclear weapons (though he did extend the logic of earlier ethical thought). The consistent teaching of the Roman Catholic Church since Pope John XXIII has been that the use of nuclear weapons in war is immoral because it conflicts with the principles of just war theory. Problematically for the principles, the violence wrought through nuclear war is extensive enough that there can be plausible victor in a nuclear exchange, and no chance to protect noncombatants from becoming involved. In short, the church teaches, the use of nuclear weapons is indiscriminate and always disproportionate to the good that can be hoped to be achieved.
Pope Francis' whole papal agenda was brought into focus by Dr. Love when she summarized his mission as care for the three 'P's — his concern for the poor, for the planet, and for peace. Various elements of this are obvious from his Laudato Si', among other addresses and initiatives, but all three of these come together in Francis' concern to see a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons and potential of nuclear catastrophe.
Here are the politics of the Iran nuclear deal: Congress returns next week from its summer recess, and among the first orders of business will be taking up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program, recently negotiated with Iran in Vienna by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.
Opponents of the agreement had hoped to use the August break to sway undecided members of Congress. It didn’t happen. Instead, yesterday, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland became the 34th senator to publicly support the accord— meaning there are enough votes to sustain a presidential veto of any bill intended to kill it.
Now, here is a faith perspective: For Christians, this is a victory for peace and diplomacy over another bloody and destructive war. It is a time when common sense wins over bombast — when reality wins over rhetoric.
President Obama has secured the votes required to pass the Iran nuclear deal, reports The New York Times.
Senator Barbara Mikulski became the 34th Democrat in favor of the deal one day after Senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania pledged their support.
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.
FOR NUCLEAR-WEAPONS watchers, the promise of the 2008 presidential campaign feels like a lifetime ago. Both Barack Obama and John McCain had endorsed the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. They were bolstered in doing so by the nonpartisan gravitas of four Cold War éminences grises who had rocked the foreign-policy establishment by arguing in The Wall Street Journal that nuclear deterrence couldn’t be trusted to keep the peace in the post-Cold War era. Instead, complete elimination of all nuclear weapons was the only way to ensure they would never again be used.
The promise of the campaign seemed to be confirmed by President Obama’s decision to declare, in a major speech in Prague within his first 100 days in office, that he “sought the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” His subsequent Nobel Peace Prize was awarded, in no small part, for the promise of the Prague address.
It’s basically been downhill from that speech.
Yes, the 2010 New START agreement ensured continued bilateral reductions by the U.S. and Russia, which together possess more than 90 percent of global nuclear stockpiles (down to 16,000 from a peak of 65,000 in 1986). But New START didn’t change the fact that both countries still have enough weapons on high alert to devastate all life on the planet.
OVER THE LAST 14 months, I visited Nagasaki six times to prepare for and then participate in the Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia, along with 60 Christian leaders from Japan, the U.S., China, and South and North Korea.
Following the forum, I attended the International Symposium for Peacemaking in Northeast Asia, held at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. These events gave me much opportunity to think about nuclear weapons and peacemaking, alone and together with a peaceable community of believers.
The devastating power unleashed on Nagasaki and Hiroshima 70 years ago shocked the human community. I have friends whose families suffered when atomic bombs fell on those two Japanese cities. But Japan was not simply a victim. The Pacific War started with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And if the Japanese military had then had an atomic bomb, I am quite certain they would have used it.
Today, many are working to abolish nuclear weapons as inhumane and unacceptable. I am convinced that nuclear weapons cannot be justified. But the question “Why should we abolish nuclear weapons?” leads to additional questions: How do we think about wars, about killing and violence, in general? While seeking to abolish nuclear weapons, should we keep on making, selling, and using other kinds of weapons?
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.
Iranians tend to trust religion far more than they do politics. Accordingly, it could be helpful to formulate a potentially helpful Track Two initiative around Iran’s openness to religion as a precursor to discussing important secular issues. One possibility that comes to mind, especially if the current negotiations lead to further openness, is what one might call a “peace game.” Since Iran has been the focus of any number of war games, this would represent a peacemaking counterpart. However, rather than a scenario-driven exercise as most war games tend to be, a peace game would be more akin to facilitated brainstorming.
The basic concept would call for bringing participants from Iran and the United States together for a week to discuss what the Iranians proposed earlier, i.e. how to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of a cooperative relationship. Participants for the game would be chosen from the ranks of respected religious, political, academic, and professional figures who (1) are not in government, (2) are known to be spiritually minded, and (3) have views that would command serious consideration by their respective governments. A religious framework for the discussions would be established at the outset, a world-class expert on negotiations would facilitate the “game,” and the final recommendations would be presented to both governments for appropriate consideration.
After a decades-long standoff, Iran and the West (plus China and Russia) have signed an interim agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions relief. While some are calling it a historic breakthrough along the lines of Nixon’s visit to China, the U.S. media has been mostly skeptical. And in a rare display of bipartisanship, Congress is already looking for ways to derail the deal by passing legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran and tie the President’s hands for future negotiations. Despite the fact that President Obama has successfully passed tougher sanctions on Iran than any previous administration, the U.S. media in lockstep with Congress continue to thumb their noses at anything that resembles diplomacy when it comes to Iran. And while other U.S. allies in the region — primarily the Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia — have expressed their concerns over this deal, few Americans care about what the Saudis think. As representatives of the American people, what Congress really cares about is what Israel thinks.
That’s where things get dicey.
The deal is one of the many triumphs that have resulted from the great American tradition of negotiating with adversaries to advance U.S. interests. President Kennedy's talks with Premier Khrushchev delivered the world from the brink of nuclear war. Ten years later, President Nixon's visit to Mao's China revolutionized the U.S. role in Asia, and the world. A decade later, President Reagan's diplomatic engagement of President Gorbachev achieved historic nuclear arms reductions.
UN weapons inspectors are now on track to peacefully disarm Syria of its chemical weapons because Washington was willing to engage the Syrian regime through diplomacy with Moscow, rather than through Tomahawk cruise missiles. And under the deal reached in Geneva this weekend, Iran will stop advancing its nuclear program for the first time in nearly a decade.
Iran's nuclear program will now be under an expanded inspections regime to help ensure that Iran's nuclear program is used for purely peaceful purposes. In exchange, Iran will receive modest sanctions relief.
Make no mistake: this is a good deal, and it should be protected so that our diplomats have the space to negotiate a final agreement to prevent war and a nuclear-armed Iran once and for all.