I pulled out this old “historic” poster and put it up on our refrigerator today, after the false alarm went out to Hawaiians that an incoming (presumably nuclear) missile was on its way. My grown children will recognize the poster, because it was on our refrigerator for years. I began my career as an activist in 1979, when I realized the extent of the very real danger of nuclear war. I was engaged in the peace and anti-nuclear movement the whole time they were growing up. They remember carrying candles and walking from Pioneer Park to the Broad Street Bridge in Nevada City each year on August 6, Hiroshima Day. During the election year of 1984, I was a paid organizer for the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign’s Political Action Committee (PAC), Freeze Voter ’84, which I worked on here in Nevada County. (Read here about The Nuclear Freeze and its Impact.)
One morning, I was at home by myself, cleaning house while I listened to a tape of Helen Caldicott talking about the psychological effects of nuclear war on the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, known as hibakusha. Listening to their stories about what they had suffered over the years, I imagined my own family going through what they had gone through and I began to weep.
Suddenly, I was struck with the thought: How must God feel about all this? How must God feel about what we human beings have done to each other, and about what we intend to do, as we stockpile nuclear weapons? I fell to my knees, praying for forgiveness, overcome with a sense of the depth of pain that God must bear because of the horrors we human beings create for each other. To this day, I believe that God weeps for the harm we do and prepare for each other.
When the Cold War finally ended, people around the world heaved a sigh of relief, believing that it signaled the end of the nuclear arms race and the possibility of world peace. Instead, the danger of nuclear war, while less visible in the public eye than during the Cold War, continues to threaten humanity. In recent years, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the time on its “Doomsday Clock” closer and closer to midnight, that is, “doomsday.” They warn of a “Second Nuclear Age,”with increasing vulnerability to global catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and other harmful emerging technologies. In January 2017, soon after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Scientists moved the time on the Doomsday Clock to 2 1/2 minutes to midnight. In addition to unchecked climate change, growing disputes among nuclear-armed nations, nuclear weapons modernization programs, and lack of serious arms-control negotiations, they cited Donald Trump’s statements about using nuclear weapons and about doubting the scientific consensus on climate change.
Now the Trump Administration is planning to take actions that will make the world even more vulnerable to nuclear war. The Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review includes plans to develop new, more usable nuclear weapons and to “expand the circumstances in which the U.S. might use its nuclear arsenal,” even in response to a non-nuclear attack. (See Rising Concerns about Nuclear War as Trump Prepares to Loosen Constraints on Weapons.) This plan heightens global tensions and raises the dangers of a deliberate or accidental nuclear war.
Donald Trump, however, did not bring us to this pass. The United States has never pledged to refrain from launching a nuclear first strike, and it is the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons against another nation. Although President Obama spoke early in his presidency about eventually ridding the world of the nuclear threat, his administration initiated a trillion-dollar program to upgrade and modernize the US nuclear arsenal. The plan called for creating modernized nuclear weapons that will be smaller, stealthy, maneuverable, and highly accurate. These features will make them more likely to be used, but there is no coherent strategy for avoiding escalation if they are launched.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has been the only remaining superpower. Why, then, has this country not led a major diplomatic effort toward disarmament, peacemaking, and sustainable development in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere? Would this not create a far more secure world? Why do we continue developing increasingly accurate and usable first-strike nuclear weapons, and why are our nuclear weapons still on high alert? Why are we selling advanced war-fighting weapons on the open market and opposing treaties that limit the global arms trade? Why are we launching drone attacks that kill civilians, fuel hatred, and provide a recruiting tool for terrorists? Why not instead institute a Global Marshall Plan to alleviate suffering and create international goodwill? Such a policy would go a long way toward creating security for the United States and for the world.
It’s time for a renewal of the peace movement! I hope that the many people who are actively resisting the harms caused by the Trump Administration will include the challenging work of peacemaking as a priority. This is certainly a practical issue, for the sake of the world, but it is also a spiritual issue. I am complicit if I don’t speak out and take action to resist the violent, unjust, and yes, sinful actions of my government. God weeps at the harm we do and prepare for each other. “It’s a sin to build a nuclear weapon.” Another world is possible.
This post includes an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado. An updated Second Edition will be released by Fortress Press in the fall of 2018.
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