Nuclear Weapons

Rosalie G. Riegle 07-29-2016
Illustration by Jeffrey Smith

Illustration by Jeffrey Smith

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.

Kathy Kelly 07-07-2016

Image via  /

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.

Lindsey Paris-Lopez 05-13-2016

Image via /

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.

REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

Pope Francis waves as he leads the Angelus prayer from the window of the Apostolic Palace in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican August 9, 2015. Photo courtesy REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

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.

Jim Rice 08-06-2015

Hiroshima, Japan after the atomic bomb was dropped. Everett Historical /

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.”

Jim Wallis 07-15-2015

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. 

Atsuyoshi Fujiwara 07-10-2015
Image of Urakami Cathedral

KPG_Payless / Shutterstock 

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. 

A sweeping coalition of Catholic leaders is calling on lawmakers to embrace Obama’s proposed deal with Iran to scale back the country’s nuclear program, insisting the plan is a good one and asking Congress to back off attempts to kill the agreement.
Over 50 Christian leaders voiced their support for the recently agreed framework of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the Group 5+1.
More than 50 Christian leaders voiced our support for the framework of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany) concerning Iran's nuclear program.
Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Baz Ratner / RNS

Ultra-orthodox Jews visit Yad Vashem’s Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Baz Ratner / RNS

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.

Patience, persistence, and wisdom are now required of us all. It's a season of hope. It's time for a choice to "hope but verify."
Jim Wallis 04-07-2015

Agreement announcement on Iran nuclear talks April 2 in Laussane. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

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.

Gas masks of World War II. Image via RNS/

Gas masks of World War II. Image via RNS/

Setsuko Thurlow was 13 when “progress” came to Hiroshima in a white-hot flash. In the dark silence following the nuclear bomb blast, Thurlow recalls children crying, “Mama, help me. God, help me.”

Her sister lived for four days. Many of her 351 dying schoolmates “looked like skeletons with skin hanging from their bones.”

They perished in agony.

Today, Thurlow and other survivors travel the globe, sharing their stories with a new generation for which nuclear weapons are an afterthought — seemingly a hypothetical and abstract threat.

The end of the Cold War had a mixed effect on the nuclear equation. Through dogged diplomacy and effective institutions, disarmament continues, though at a slower pace in recent years. There are now 10,000 operational nuclear warheads in the world, down from a high of 64,000 in 1986.

But the specter of nuclear terrorism and regional conflicts between nuclear weapons states makes nuclear weapons even more dangerous in our international system. Deterrence theory, which governed strategic thinking during the Cold War, is a much less compelling framework today.

Thankfully, most states have forsworn these armaments. Nuclear weapons are not vital to any state’s legitimate security interest. No state or NGO has the capacity to respond to the unfathomable humanitarian crisis that would follow an accidental or intentional use of a nuclear weapon.

Thus a growing global consensus now acknowledges the extreme risk nuclear weapons pose.

Pope John XXIII stated unequivocally in his 1963 encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” “Nuclear weapons must be banned.”

Jim Rice 02-05-2015

According to the Vatican, “The very possession of nuclear weapons, even for purposes of deterrence, is morally problematic.”

Joseph Gerson 12-08-2014

This Spring, thousands will gather in New York to say no to nuclear weapons. 

Jim Rice 07-09-2014

The targeting of tens of thousands of civilians was a barbaric act.

Rosalie G. Riegle 07-09-2014

Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom. W.W. Norton and Company.