It’s a Sin to Build a Nuclear Weapon

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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Why We Can’t Wait to Take Action Until Our Kids are Grown

Sharon and friend at the Nevada Test Site on Good Friday, early 1980s

I’ve been a part of conversations lately about whether parents should wait to take action for peace, justice, and the environment until their children are older, or even until they are grown.  Although I understand how busy the lives of modern parents can be, I have come to the conclusion that postponing involvement in the great social issues that face humanity is not in the best interests of either parents or children.  Caring for our children doesn’t have to shut us down or make our life smaller or keep us from taking a stand or from working to bring about social change.  In fact, concern for our children can motivate us to work to solve the very real challenges of our world today.

I first became involved in working for peace when I became aware of some very real threats to my children.  It was 1979, and Congress was debating whether to re-institute draft registration.  I had preteen and teenage children who would have been required to register when they turned eighteen, and I was totally opposed to that happening (although ultimately it did).  I had lived through the Vietnam War, and many of my peers had been drafted.  The first social justice meeting I attended was the newly formed Nevada County Anti-Draft Coalition.  I was so glad to discover like-minded friends.

I also started learning more about the threat of nuclear war, as the United States competed with the Soviet Union in building more and more nuclear weapons and changed its official nuclear policy from deterrence through Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) to “first strike” or Counterforce.  This strategy put nukes in both countries on hair-trigger alert.

I was not the only parent whose fear for their children kept them up nights, and many of us joined more seasoned peace activists in calling for an end to the insanity of the nuclear arms race.  Because (in the words of Joan Baez) “action is the antidote to despair,” I worked with another concerned mother to form a local “World Peacemakers” group, which had a spiritual component (“journey inward, journey outward”), and we got to work on the national and ultimately successful Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.

I know now that if I hadn’t responded to the inner urgings to get involved during the time I was raising my children, my “world” would have been much smaller.   If I had stayed in the limited role that society assigns to young mothers, I wouldn’t have become the person I am today.

Also, I would  have missed so many opportunities to take action for a better future, which is our responsibility as parents and grandparents.   We can’t wait five or ten or twenty years to start protecting our children from the larger challenges that threaten them:  climate change, loss of jobs and opportunities, increasing poverty and inequity, economic or social collapse, violence, terror, war.  They will ask us someday what we were doing during this critical time in the history of the earth.  What will we tell them?

This doesn’t mean that we need to stay busy all the time working for peace and justice, or that we can’t take time off, take care of ourselves, or enjoy life.  But it’s important to stay aware of and connected to the larger patterns of history, to listen for God’s call (which may surprise us), and be ready to respond.

It’s a joyful thing to be part of a community of people who are working together to build a better society and world, where all children can be cared for.  I am so glad I haven’t missed the great joy of making good friends and working with kindred spirits who care as much as I do and who have faith in “the power of the people” to bring social and global transformation.  I believe that this is God working through us limited (and sometimes remarkably gifted) human beings.  As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Together we can do so much more than we can do alone.