Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Remembrance Days

On 06 and 09 August, respectively, will be the 64th anniversaries of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,  Japan. Many churches use the Sunday nearest these anniversaries for a peace emphasis.  Here in Louisville, there is an annual service of remembrance for those who died in all the wars of America on Hiroshima Remembrance Day at Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal). It is an ecumenical/interfaith service sponsored by Interfaith Paths to Peace.

I think these anniversaries are excellent opportunities to rededicate ourselves to working for a world without nuclear weapons–even a world without war.

August 5, 2009 Posted by | interfaith, nuclear weapons, peacemaking | 6 Comments

U.S./Russia Nuclear Disarmament Talks: A Matter for Prayer

Next week, the U.S. and Russia  begin our first serious talks about nuclear disarmament since the end of the Cold War.  Both sides want to make deep cuts in nuclear arsenals–perhaps getting to under 1,000 warheads each. (Then we’d go from being able  to blow up the world several thousand times over to being able to blow it up “only” several hundred times over.)   Together, the U.S. and Russia account for over half of all the nuclear weapons worldwide.  That’s why nuclear disarmament must begin with us–the nuclear arms race began with us. 

This is huge.  1. That’s a lot fewer nuclear weapons that could be stolen or targetted by terrorists.  2.  It shows a serious desire to get to a non-nuclear world.  It’s MUCH easier to convince, say, India and Pakistan, that their nuclear arsenals threaten the  subcontinent and make both LESS safe when it doesn’t just look like the U.S. wants all the nukes for itself.  Our moral leverage vs. the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and  Iran increases (although, for Iran, it would also help if we forced Israel to declare its nukes–it has about 30–and start giving them up, too).  3.It saves money–not the most important thing from a peace perspective, but it may be that the economic downturn actually helps the forces of peace.

For readers who are persons of faith, I urge that we all pray that more than talk happens. Pray for a strong and binding treaty that makes deep cuts (with promises of more as these are made) and gets quickly ratified. (The GOP will definitely try to filibuster ratification of any meaningful treaty. There used to be anti-nuclear Republicans, including, during his last 3 years of office, Ronald Reagan–persuaded by the Australian medical doctor and anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott and by his Secretary of Defense, William Cohen.  And the first Pres. Bush took unilateral steps after the end of the Cold War to get us going in this direction, too.  But, so far as I can tell, only Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) is left of the anti-nuke Republicans in political office.)

Share your hopes for these talks with your elected officials (of any party) and with the press. We need to show massive public support for the success of these talks.  I want to especially urge this for Republican readers who may not like Obama.  I was never a Ronald Reagan fan. But when he went to Iceland to meet Gorbachev and try to get disarmament, I prayed for success. It was hard for the Democratic partisan in me because I knew that if those talks were successful, Reagan would get the credit and Republicans would win more public approval.  But I had to put the welfare of the planet ahead of my partisan desires.  We Christians are always told to pray for public officials–whether we voted for them or not. (And if you think of some politician as your enemy, as I came to think of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, then Jesus gave us specific orders to pray for our enemies.) I have to say that I prayed harder for Reagan–and Gorbachev–during that time than ever before or after.

Readers in other nations, especially if your nation also has nukes (U.K., France, China, India, Pakistan, possibly North Korea, Israel), please do what you can to support this process, too.  Tell your officials that you want your nation to support this process by also beginning to disarm your nukes.  It would REALLY help if, after the U.S. and Russia agree to this first round of massive cuts, one of the Western powers like France or the UK could simply go for the zero option.  Can we have a contest for which nation will be the first since South Africa to completely give up its nuclear weapons program and invite international inspectors to verify this?  Imagine the moral leverage that would give the world with Iran and North Korea.  The new message,  even from generals, is that we are safer the FEWER nukes exist.

We also need you international readers to urge your governments to keep up the pressure on the U.S. and Russia:  No matter how deep, a first round of nuclear cuts should not be the last.

We cannot un-invent the technology.  So, there will always be the threat of nuclear terrorism.  But a nuclear arsenal is no deterrent to terrorists. And if we cannot completely erase the threat of nuclear terrorism, we can erase the threat of nuclear war. 

From a global perspective, if these talks are successful and lead to a new nuclear DIS-armament race, they will be the most important initiatives of the Obama presidency (and Medvedev presidency!).

Please pray–and put your prayers into  action with letters to editors and phone calls, letters,  and emails to elected officials  (of any party).  Next week’s negotiators need to know that the world has their backs on this one.

April 18, 2009 Posted by | nuclear weapons, peacemaking, prayer | 6 Comments

Hiroshima Remembrance Day

hiroshima.jpg  06 August 1945 the world was forever changed as U.S. bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan, a city with very little military value.  This was the first time that any nation used nuclear weapons against another.  The initial explosion devastated 5 square miles (a small fraction of what later nuclear weapons could do) and destroyed more than 60% of the buildings of the city.  Initial Japanese count put the casualties at 118, 661, but later understandings of radiation sickness and related deaths led to international estimates that 140,000 of Hiroshima’s 350,000 population were killed. This does not count injuries and later cancers that cut short life expectancies.

President Harry Truman justified the bombing by claiming that it saved millions of lives that would have been lost in an invasion of Japan, but this belies alternate plans to demonstrate the bomb for the Japanese on an uninhabited atoll or (not knowing then about radioactive fallout) detonating the bomb a mile up and over the ocean in front of Tokyo where it could be seen. (As it was, it took days for Tokyo to hear and confirm what had been done to Hiroshima.) It also belies the fact that the Japanese had been trying to surrender and use the Soviets as go-betweens with the U.S.

As my friend, Dan Trabue, has noted, opposition to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima did not just come from liberals or pacifists at the time, but from within the military establishment and with prominent conservative leaders:

“…in [July] 1945… Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. …the Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent.

“During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude…” General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces of Europe and later U.S. President.

“It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

“The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”  Admiral William Leahy, Secretary of the U.S. Navy in 1945.

In our Peace Sunday service, yesterday, Dan and his wife, Rev. Donna Trabue, sang the following song of grief and hope and I leave it as a prayer.

1,000 Candles, 1,000 Cranes
by Rich Prezioso

My grandmother had three sons
She dreamed about her children’s children
Then came 1941
Only one son would see the war end

Joseph died marching in Bataan
Frank on the sands of Iwo Jima
The day the bomb destroyed Japan
She thanked God and Harry Truman

She blamed the godless Japanese
For having crushed her sweetest dreams
One thousand candles for my sons
Every day I will remember

In Illinois, far from her past
Miss Nakamura still remembers
She was six when she saw the flash
That turned the world to smoke and ashes

Mother taught her daughter well
Run from the fire to the river
There she found a living hell
But not a mother or a father

Though she survived with just a scrape
Her family vanished into space
One thousand suns, a thousand cranes
Everyday I will remember

My grandmother had three sons
She never dreamed she’d have a daughter
But at the age of eighty-one
She met a nurse named Nakamura

 It was a question only meant
To make some talk and pass the hours
About a picture by the bed
A photograph of two young soldiers

Hatred and anger stored for years
Slowly melted into tears
One thousand candles, a thousand cranes
Everyday I will remember

 I’ve a picture in my mind
Of two women slowly walking
August 6th, 1985
Walking to church to light a candle

And they once asked me to explain
Why grown men play such foolish games
One thousand candles, a thousand cranes
Everyday I will remember


August 6, 2007 Posted by | nonviolence, nuclear weapons, peacemaking | 3 Comments

From the West Bank: Friday Nonviolent Protests Continue/Israeli Violence Increases

On Sami Awad’s wonderful blog, Never Give Up, you can find a description and photos of the nonviolent protest in Bethlehem at the apartheid wall this past Friday.  Sami Awad, a Palestinian Christian, runs Holy Land Trust which uses socially responsible tourism to raise money to grow the nonviolent resistance movement in Palestine.  Holy Land Trust also runs the web-based Palestinian News Service, to which anyone who wants to get past the mainstream media garbage, should subscribe.

July 17, 2007 Posted by | Israel-Palestine, nuclear weapons | Comments Off on From the West Bank: Friday Nonviolent Protests Continue/Israeli Violence Increases

Sometimes I Hate Being Right

The Neo-Cons are getting too predictable. I wish I had blogged this as proof. On Tuesday, I said to a friend at work that, because of the quagmire in Iraq, it was not likely that the Neo-Con hawks would push the Bush admin. to go to war with North Korea over their recent nuclear test (if there was one–scientists are still divided). Instead, I said, the NeoCons will push for putting U.S. nuclear weapons in Japan aimed at North Korea and then work with intelligence services to try to create an indigenous North Korean coup against the Kim Jong Il government. Sure enough, they are urging exactly that. Additionally, they are urging U. S. nuclear tests (breaking a moratorium imposed by Pres. George H. W. Bush in 1992) and the development of mini-nukes for use in “conventional wars,” refusal of renewed calls for direct bi-lateral talks with Pyongyang, and other steps that might ultimately lead to a U.S./North Korean war.

Never mind that it would take a change in the Japanese constitution to place nuclear weapons there. These folk play fast and loose with the U.S. constitution, so they aren’t going to respect “junior partners” on the world stage. (They have made it clear often that the role of U.S. allies is to take orders, period.) Nor do they care about China’s reaction to such a move or to U. S. attempts to start a military coup in North Korea, both of which could be severe. (China, which would surely see such moves as threatening, could call in all the U.S. debt it is financing, which would collapse our economy overnight.) The disastrous U.S. record of backing coup attempts is also no deterrent to the NeoCons.

If we want a sane foreign policy, characterized by just peacemaking processes that rejects the NeoCon ideology, we are going to need some regime change here at home. Step one happens on 07 Nov. 2006.

October 13, 2006 Posted by | nuclear weapons | 5 Comments

Renewed Nuclear Danger: Respond in Faith, Not Fear

There is no doubt that North Korea’s test of a nuclear weapon today increases the nuclear danger. North Korea is not likely to start a nuclear war. They clearly developed these weapons as a deterrent against perceived U.S. aggression after Bush named them as part of an “Axis of Evil,” and then invaded Iraq. The third member of the supposed “Axis,” Iran, is pursuing nuclear weapons (probably; it says it is only pursuing peaceful nuclear energy, but others have said the same while developing nuclear weapons) for the same reason. But the more nations with nuclear weapons, the greater the danger of accidental nuclear war. And, although Bush’s speeches about North Korea possibly selling nuclear weapons to terrorists is mostly election rhetoric, that danger, however remote, remains a possibility that cannot be ignored.

There are two paths of response: One is fear-based and leads to new nuclear arms races, preemptive wars with North Korea & Iran, and increases the danger to the entire world. As Norman Solomon points out, the attempt to control nuclear weapons by the hypocrisy of “we can have them, but you can’t” isn’t working. And, North Korea’s nuclear test is more a sign of its own weakness and fear than of strength. Weapons experts point out that Pentagon projects encouraged by Bush, to build smaller nuclear weapons for use in conventional wars, is leading us down a path to nuclear war. And Chris Hedges notes that the apocalyptic “rapture” eschatology embraced by Bush makes nuclear Armaggeddon a sign of Christ’s return rather than a blasphemy against Creation. The fear-based path will lead to a cycle of destruction.

A faith-based response places our trust in God, not in weapons. It opposes nuclear weapons for EVERYONE, including the U.S., UK, France, India, Pakistan, Israel (an undeclared nuclear power)–and not just those like North Korea and Iran whom we deem unworthy of the “nuclear club.” If we get rid of the nukes, terrorists cannot use them. Since nukes violate the JWT principles of discrimination (between soldiers and civilians) and proportionality, Just War folk ought to join with pacifists in working to abolish nuclear weapons. The technology cannot be unlearned, but we can refuse to build, keep, or use nuclear weapons. A good place to begin is for individuals and their faith groups to join Faithful Security: The National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Weapons Danger and work on their campaigns. We should respond to this crisis not as Americans (or Britons, etc.), but as persons of faith. Trusting in “horses and chariots,” as the prophets saw long ago, doesn’t lead to greater security, but to more war. Let’s renounce the nuclear idolatry.

October 9, 2006 Posted by | nuclear weapons, peacemaking | 11 Comments

5 Former Soviet Republics Give Up Nukes

A groundbreaking treaty negotiated by Russia with Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, commits these former republics of the old USSR to never produce, buy, or allow nuclear weapons to be placed on their soil. This is quite an achievement since this is an area of the world where terrorists would most likely try to acquire nuclear weapons. The world rejoices.

Except the Bush administration. As reported here, the Bush administration is actually opposing this treaty. The Bush admin. claims that it is worried that “other international treaties could take precedence over the provisions of this treaty, and thus obviate the central objective of creating a zone free of nuclear weapons.” to quote the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan.

But arms control groups are suspicious that the real reason for the Bush admin. objection is that it wants to be able to deploy nukes on U.S. bases in the region.

Hmm. What a choice: Make it harder for terrorists to get nuclear weapons, but give up imperial aims and using nukes in “conventional” wars. To anyone but the current U.S. administration that choice would seem a no brainer, but “the Decider,” we’ve seen these past 5 years, doesn’t like any obstacles to his imperial designs.

September 13, 2006 Posted by | nuclear weapons, peacemaking | 2 Comments

Nagasaki Mayor Warns Against Nuclear Arms on 61st A-Bomb Anniversary

As reported by Agence France Press, the mayor of Nagasaki, Japan rebuked the world’s nuclear powers for not doing more to disarm and to prevent nuclear proliferation. “What is the human race doing?” he said in his address. “The world’s nuclear non-proliferation regime faces the risk of collapsing.”
“Sixty-one years since the bombing, the city of Nagasaki is filled with anger and frustration,” Ito said. “The nuclear powers are not making sincere efforts for nuclear arms reduction.”

Read the rest of the article here.

August 9, 2006 Posted by | just peacemaking, nuclear weapons, the tragic | Comments Off on Nagasaki Mayor Warns Against Nuclear Arms on 61st A-Bomb Anniversary

The Nagasaki Principle

Writing in the Boston Globe, historian James Caroll talks about “the Nagasaki Principle.” On 06 August 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. No matter whether we believe that act was justified or not, there was NO excuse or justification for dropping an additional nuclear weapon on Nagasaki three days later. We had seen what happened to Hiroshima. On 07 August 1945, 61 years ago today, we could have called off the strike on Nagasaki, but we went ahead as scheduled on 09 August 1945. Caroll refers to this kind of momentum in war, which we are seeing now in several wars around the world, as “the Nagasaki Principle.” Here’s a brief excerpt:

It is commonly said that war operates by the law of unintended consequences, but another, less-noted law operates as well. War creates momentum that barrels through normally restraining barriers of moral and practical choice. Decision makers begin wars, whether aggressively or defensively, in contexts that are well understood, and with purposes that seem proportionate and able to be accomplished. When destruction and hurt follow the outbreak of violence, however, and then when that destruction and hurt become extreme, the context within which war is begun changes radically. First assumptions no longer apply, and original purposes can become impossible. When that happens, what began as destruction for a goal becomes destruction for its own sake. War generates its own force in which everyone loses. This might be called the Nagasaki principle.

The Nagasaki principle comes in two parts. It can operate at the level of close combat, driving fighters to commit atrocities that, in normal conditions, they would abhor. It operates equally at the level of the commanders, leading them to order strikes out of desperation, frustration, or merely for the sake of “doing something.” Such strikes draw equivalent responses from the other side until the destruction is complete. After the fact, massive carnage can seem to have been an act for which no one is responsible, like the result of a natural disaster.

That’s when a second aspect of the Nagasaki principle comes into play — the refusal to undertake a moral reckoning with what has been done.

Read the rest of the essay here, before renewing efforts to work for peace. Call the White House Comment Line 202-456-1111 and urge them to try harder for an unconditional ceasefire in the Middle East and to call for a Middle East Peace Summit. We’ve seen the unintended consequences of the Nagasaki principle far too much recently.

August 7, 2006 Posted by | nuclear weapons, peacemaking, the tragic | Comments Off on The Nagasaki Principle

Renouncing the Nuclear Idolatry: No More Gods of Metal!

06 August 1945, the day that death rained from the sky on Hiroshima, Japan. 09 August 1945, a second atomic bomb of a different design (might as well test out both models) was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The first city had little military significance and the second had none. Nagasaki had the largest Christian population in Japan, including a large Catholic monastery and convent. Ground Zero was the Catholic Cathedral. The pilot, bombadeer, and even the chaplain, were all Catholics. [See the excellent post on this over at Payne Hollow under my “Kindred Spirits” links.]

These two “weapons of mass destruction” ended the Second World War–and have threatened the annihilation of the human species, and perhaps all life on the planet, ever since. Tomorrow is Hiroshima Day, the 61st anniversary of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima. It is also Peace Sunday, commemorated by churches throughout the world each year on the Sunday closest to Hiroshima Day. Given the events of this last month, our focus tomorrow at Jeff Street Baptist Community will not be primarily on the resurgent nuclear threat. But with Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal of around 30 warheads, George W. Bush’s doctrine of “preemptive war” and desire to use “mini-nukes” in conventional wars, and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the mushroom cloud shadow hangs over the current Middle East violence in Iraq, Gaza, and Lebanon, too.

During the Cold War, I was one of many who realized that the possession of nuclear weapons, even as a deterrent, was a form of idolatry–trusting in the ability to threaten God’s creation for our security, rather than in the living God. The religious dimensions of the Bomb have been there from the begining: refrring to the original testsite as “Trinity,” Oppenheimer’s quotation from the Hindu Bhaghavad Gita (“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”), and the pervasive naming of the nuclear weapons and systems for delivering them after pagan gods (e.g., Nike missiles, Poseiden nuclear submarines, Titan rockets, etc.). Gods of Metal indeed.

Further, like the Greek story of Prometheus or the Genesis narrative of the Fall, the advent of the nuclear age meant a deep realization (at least for a time) of usurped power and loss of human innocence. The power of life and death on a vast scale has been stolen from God and humans living afterward are East of Eden, cast out of any garden of innocence. Clearly this is blasphemy.

Yet, more than a decade after the end of Cold War’s “justification” for these abominations, there has been little nuclear disarmament from the nuclear nations, and now more and more nations scramble to join the “nuclear club.” The fevered dreams of the Dispensationalist heresy that grips so many U.S. churches has a large (and politically influential!) minority of U.S. Christians praying and working for global thermonuclear annihilation as the fulfillment of their apocalyptic expectations.

We must meet this threat with the weapons of faith: unilaterally disarming our hearts and trusting God alone for our security. I have for years admired those whose faith has led them to “Plowshares Actions,” radical forms of civil disobedience where these individuals break into sites which make or store nuclear weapons in the U.S. and in literal reinactment of Micah 4:3 and Isaiah 2:4, use hammers to destroy the function of a nuclear warhead (and sometimes pour their own blood on the vile things, too), before calmly waiting to be arrested. Such Christians have usually had stiff jail sentences for their civil disobedience, but have been able to use their arrests and trials to raise awareness of the blasphemous danger of these gods of metal. If we understood their courage and faith, we would be offering such witnesses medals instead of jail cells. I know that if I were single and without children, I would have joined them–and for the sake of all the world’s children God may yet call me to such action.

Short of a plowshares action, what witness might God be calling on us to make in the face of the nuclear blasphemy? In the last year of his life (2005), the late Rev. Dr. William Sloan Coffin, Jr. of blessed memory, former Protestant chaplain at Yale and later Senior Minister at Riverside Church, NYC, and a longtime Christian peacemaker, helped form a new interfaith response to the resurgent nuclear danger. It is called Faithful Security: The National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Danger. If you click here http://www.faithfulsecurity.org/html/resources.html
you can find their new organizing kit, “Breaking Faith with Nuclear Weapons: A Guide for Religious Communities.” I urge you to check it out and bring it to the attention of your local church and your denominational leaders.

In 1948, only 3 years after the advent of the nuclear age, General Omar Bradley, the last surviving U.S. 5-Star military officer from World War II, said:
We live in a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants, in a world that has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. We have solved the mystery of the atom and forgotten the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about dying than about living.”

God have mercy.

August 5, 2006 Posted by | nuclear weapons, the tragic | Comments Off on Renouncing the Nuclear Idolatry: No More Gods of Metal!