Two of the overlooked anniversaries in the United States are those of the atomic bomb attacks made by our country against the Empire of Japan on August 6 and 9, 1945. At the time of this writing, these anniversaries have come and gone. As in prior years, I lament that very little reflection on the role and place of nuclear weapons has occurred.
Recently, President Obama became the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima. While he did not formally apologize for the attacks which killed tens of thousands of civilians, he did hold out the vision of a world without nuclear weapons.
On June 14, 1982, I was arrested in an act of civil disobedience in New York City along with 1600 other people, where we sat in prison cells because we demanded nuclear disarmament. There were those, of course, who frowned on our protest and cited Romans 13 when they said we shouldn’t disobey authorities. Most of those folks believe nuclear weapons were, and are a necessity. I have always been amused that Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome from his prison cell — in which he sat because he had gone to the temple in Jerusalem with a Gentile, Trophimus, in protest of the notion that Jews and Gentiles should not mix.
In any event, we have a long way to go to rid the world of nuclear weapons. When the Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1968, the idea was this: those nations that did not have nuclear weapons would not acquire any and those that did have them would get rid of them. It didn’t work.
More nations now possess nuclear weapons. The United States plans to spend $1 trillion to “modernize” its arsenal. The danger to the world remains high. Nuclear tensions exist in the Middle East, between India and Pakistan, and on the Korean Peninsula.
As I have mentioned in previous columns, it bears reminding that on August 9, 1945, the general secretary of the Federal Council of Churches, Samuel McCrea Cavert, sent a telegram to President Harry Truman to beg for no further use of atomic bombs on the Japanese people. Truman replied with evident anger and justified the use of the bombs by citing Pearl Harbor and Japanese mistreatment of American prisoners of war. He said the Japanese only understood the use of force and that a beast must be treated like a beast.
It seems little has changed over the decades. The myth of redemptive violence continues to hold sway. A few years ago, the National Council of Churches renewed its commitment to a world without nuclear weapons. The conclusion of that statement remains powerful and timely:
The prospect of what might happen if we do not act is too terrible to contemplate: nuclear winter, the end of all human life on earth, and the transformation of much or all of our planet into a radioactive hell. This far outstrips the potential damage that could be done by any other environmental threat.
The end of the Cold War did not make the world safer; quite the opposite. It is time to finish what Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev began in Reykjavik. It is time to realize that we cannot ensure our own security by force of arms, even if they are the most powerful weapons ever created. Our lives are in God’s hands. For once, let us put our trust in those hands as well. “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”