As Father Richard McSorley of Georgetown University wrote years ago, “It’s a sin to build a nuclear weapon.” We once put that on a poster. Perhaps it’s time to put the poster back up.
The point is not that North Korea should be given free-reign by the international community to develop any and all weapons that it so chooses. But Gollwitzer would have American Christians remember that they are called to be a political influence in the service of peace. For Gollwitzer, you can tell whether Christians have understood the gospel by whether they reject war under nuclear conditions: “the ‘Yes’ to the Gospel and the ‘No’ to war today must go together — or both will be lost” (Demands of Freedom, p. 136.).
OF THE MORE than 60 countries I have visited as a journalist, North Korea is by far the strangest.
As part of a five-person delegation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I visited North Korea for one week in spring 2010 at the invitation of the Korean Christian Federation, the government-sanctioned Protestant denomination in North Korea.
From the moment we touched down in Pyongyang, we were “minded” 18 hours a day by two leaders of the KCF. We saw only what they wanted us to see and spoke only with those who were part of our official itinerary. North Koreans are forbidden to speak—or even make eye contact—with foreign visitors.
One morning before our minders showed up, I went for a short walk with another delegation member. I carried my camera and took a few photos. When we returned to the hotel, our minders were waiting for us in the lobby with several government officials. I was instructed to scroll through all my photos and was told which ones I could keep and which were to be erased on the spot.
Pope Francis urged the United Nations on March 28 to seek the "total elimination" of nuclear weapons, speaking as the United States and some other major powers boycotted a conference considering a global ban.
In a message to the conference that started in New York on March 27, Francis called on nations to "go beyond nuclear deterrence" and have the courage to overcome the "fear and isolationism" he said was prevalent in many countries today.
Ten days before Donald Trump's inauguration, the former mayor of Hiroshima sent the president-elect a letter calling on the incoming U.S. administration to lead on nuclear non-use in Northeast Asia.
"Keenly aware that your decisions on matters related to nuclear weapons will affect everybody in the world and especially those of us living in Hiroshima, we, Hiroshima citizens and hibakusha (A-bomb survivors), expect these decisions to be wise and peaceable," Tadatoshi Akiba, Hiroshima's former mayor, wrote.
DAN ZAK WAS FIRST struck by the absurdity of it all. As a reporter for The Washington Post, he was fascinated to learn that Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli, and Greg Boertje-Obed had crossed forested hills in the middle of the night in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and reached the center of a government complex where possibly the most dangerous material in the world is enriched and stored.
Then Zak was captured by what was behind their action—the dramatic secrecy in the development of the first atomic bomb, the tragedy of its testing on U.S. soldiers and on the unsuspecting inhabitants of the Marshall Islands, the bungling bureaucracy surrounding the entire nuclear industry, and finally the hope and resilience of the resisters who work to eliminate these perilous weapons. His book Almighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age (Blue Rider Press) is the result.
Rice, Walli, and Boertje-Obed called their action the Transform Now Plowshares, following a tradition of serious faith-inspired nonviolent actions dating back to 1980, actions often successful in reaching their nuclear targets and resulting in prison terms.
In July 2012, the trio cut through several fences—aided by malfunctioning motion sensors—at times moving through bright floodlight and past signs warning, “Deadly force authorized.” They hung a banner on one fence that proclaimed the words that were the source of their action, the injunction from Isaiah to “hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (2:4).
They arrived at Y-12, a building that stores 800,000 pounds of weapons-grade uranium, the material that undergoes fusion when a nuclear bomb is detonated. Using traditional Plowshares action symbols, they streaked the white walls with the blood of activists, spurted from baby bottles they carried in their backpacks. They painted the building with the phrases “Woe to the empire of blood” and “The fruit of justice is peace.” They chipped away at the concrete walls with small hammers, and they waited.
In the historic port city of Yalta, located on the Crimean Peninsula, I visited the site where Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin, in February of 1945, concluded negotiations ending World War II.
These leaders and their top advisers were also present at the creation of the United Nations and other instruments of international negotiation and non-military cooperation. Tragically, the creation of the “Cold War” was underway soon after.
Confessing our own violence would not deny violence committed against us. Rather, an apology could call attention to war atrocities of the past and present on all sides. Admitting that the deadliest bombings in history had selfish strategic motivations, admitting that life was so thoroughly devalued and destroyed for no greater good (as if a greater good could exist) could force people on all sides to rethink the “necessities” of other wars past and present. Debunking one war lie could lead to the debunking of many war lies. And governments built on violence, powers upheld and strengthened by the looming threat of death, seek to extinguish the light of truth.
Pope Francis and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met for talks on Jan. 26 — the first such encounter since 1999 — in a private meeting in which the pontiff pressed Rouhani on fostering Middle East peace and countering terrorism and arms trafficking.
The 39-minute meeting in the apostolic palace also touched on the landmark deal on Iran’s nuclear capacity that has been praised by the pontiff, and the two leaders discussed the situation of the church in Iran and interreligious dialogue.
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.”
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.
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?
Divestment by a few institutions based on the same ethical objection can have a significant impact on a company's strategic direction.
As Israelis mark Holocaust Memorial Day on April 15, a study by researchers at Bar-Ilan University has found that the adult children of Holocaust survivors are more fearful than their mainstream peers about the threat of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.
Given that many studies over the decades have found that children of Holocaust survivors are deeply affected by their parents’ traumatic experiences, Amit Shrira, the study’s author, set out to discover whether these second-generation survivors were more anxious over a potential Iranian bomb than others of their generation. His study was published in Psychological Trauma, a journal of the American Psychological Association.
Shrira compared the feelings of 63 children of Holocaust survivors whose parents lived under a Nazi or pro-Nazi regime to those of 43 children whose parents either fled to unoccupied countries or immigrated to Israel.
The study found that second-generation survivors “exhibit greater preoccupation with the Iranian nuclear threat” than the comparison group.
For Christians, Easter is not just a day — it is a season, and, indeed, a way of life. This week is Easter: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and so on. Likewise, hope — the message of Easter — is not a feeling, but rather a decision — a choice we make day after day. Hope isn’t easy, but the decision to hope keeps the world going.
Now we have a choice to make: a decision whether to pursue a tough diplomatic process for peace to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The United States and Iran — along with the U.K., Germany, France, Russia, and China — now have the beginning framework of a deal that could accomplish just that. But we would have to give it a chance. Much has to be worked out by the June 30 deadline, and it won’t be easy.
Should we give this hope for peace a chance? I believe Christians should answer yes. Here’s why.