Facing Nuclear War

facing-nuclear-warI’ve heard many arguments about the morality of nuclear weapons, and I decided to read this book that presents a Christian viewpoint. The book (published in 1982) opens with the statement that, “Nuclear War has emerged as the chief moral issue of our time.” The author states that he is a social scientist, but he “…wrote this primarily as a Christian pacifist…I simply plead for God’s children to come halfway from wherever they are and at least agree on nuclear pacifism.” I appreciated the upfront declaration of where the author stands.

There is a question about why the author thinks this time is crucial, since it was more than three decades from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to when the book was published. He answers that the huge increases in stockpiles of nuclear weapons and deliverable weapons with the Multiple Independently-Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) had changed everything. The Soviets were soon also “MIRVing” their missiles. The MIRVs allowed the targets for U.S. missiles to increase to 1650 cities and military targets from the previous 550 targets without adding more missiles. Perhaps even more troubling to the author was that the missiles had become much more accurate. The U.S. missiles were said to be able to hit a target within 300 feet, which would equate to a bull’s eye with a nuclear weapon. That increased accuracy, the author believed, might lure one side into making a first strike with the hope of wiping out the others silos and missiles. Such a first strike could therefore overcome the restraint imposed by Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). “The U.S. policy of a counterforce or first-strike option gradually emerged over several years and was confirmed by Presidential Directive 59 issued by President Carter in August 1980.” Instead of MAD, planners began to talk about “…fighting small or limited nuclear wars.” Vice-President George H.W. Bush “…said a nuclear war could be fought and won.”

The book presents various scenarios that could have resulted in a nuclear war. “A nuclear war probably won’t just drop out of the blue. It’s more likely to come after days of rising international conflict when one of the superpowers is threatened or embarrassed by a smaller incident.” It would become tempting to both sides to consider a first strike if the crisis grows and each side decides the other is considering a first strike. The nuclear holocaust also could be ignited by conventional war that has backed one of the superpowers into a corner. The author makes the point that there are more possibilities of failure as technology becomes more complex. Of course there is the possibility of an insane leader ordering a strike. That might be even more likely with a smaller country that has nuclear weapons and a history of revolution or terrorism.

A comment in the book that gave me pause to reflect was that the bomb was our savior from the fear of communism. “Our government told us that the bomb would protect us and save us from a communist takeover. The bomb provided security and made religious freedom possible.” I agreed with that, but the book then gives lengthy descriptions of why the bomb is bad, and I don’t intend to argue with any of that.  Nuclear war would have been terrible, and the prospect of nuclear war continues to be terrible!

One thought on “Facing Nuclear War

  1. Associating morality with pacifism has been attempted with limited success since most writers were authoring their works in Greek and Latin. Given that in today’s world there are people, even nations, who believe that mass murder in the name of their religion is the highest form of moral adherence, the idea that having, let alone using, nuclear weapons is morally suspect seems rather outdated, perhaps even quaint.

    The implication that nuclear pacifism occupies a higher stratum of morality than ordinary pacifism strikes me as pure egoism on the author’s part. Without reading the book I can’t say with any certainty, but I suspect that somewhere among the pages he criticizes the use of nukes on Japan by the US as an immoral act. Moral absolutists (and nations without nuclear arsenals) continue trying to make that case. I wonder if the survivors of the firebombing of Tokyo felt less moral outrage than those who lived through Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    Is it immoral to defend your country and your way of life from the quantifiable evil that was WWII Japan by any means available? And does anybody, even doctrinaire Pacifists, really think that philosophy has anything to offer as we deal with a worldwide movement that holds as its primary goal our absolute destruction?

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