I have been a committed opponent of nuclear weapons for many years but the recent fire and brimstone of President Donald Trump has for me strengthened the case against holding a nuclear arsenal. There is of course a strong moral argument against building, maintaining and upgrading nuclear weapons that are capable of killing millions of people. But the argument becomes even more compelling when such weapons are in the hands of a new generation of world leaders whose vulnerability to vanity, grandstanding and irascibility runs so deep.
I’ve been reading this week about some of the people involved in the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The original air crews were blessed by Christian military chaplains, though these chaplains came to change their minds over the years. Father George Zabelka, the Catholic Chaplain of the American Air Force Group which delivered the bombs, became a pacifist after the full results of the explosions became clear. William Downey, a Lutheran pastor, also changed his mind. As early as 1954, Pope Pius XII wrote of a time when ‘the evil consequences of adopting this method of warfare’ would ‘pass entirely beyond the control of man.’
The shadow of these changes of mind deepens when you remember that Nagasaki was the main centre of Japanese Christianity in the 20th century. Christians there had survived harsh persecution between 1600 and 1850 but had begun to thrive and Nagasaki was home to the Ukrami Cathedral with 12,000 members. It’s estimated that 8,500 of those faithful worshippers died as a result of the bomb. The American pilots, many of whom were also Christians, and whose mission had been blessed by their chaplains, reportedly used the Cathedral as a useful landmark for the bombing run, raining down hell on all below, including their fellow Christians.
This is an eerie repeat of the photos taken from the air during the First World War which revealed troops from both sides of the conflict holding services at the same time, praying to the same God for victory, safety and stamina. As we stumble into the 100th anniversary of that war of annihilation it is terrible to contemplate that we have stockpiled weapons of such indiscriminate and shocking power. When and how did we drown out the voices of those have seen nuclear destruction at first hand? Why are so few 21st century Christians scandalised at the expense, potential and ultimate suffering offered by our nuclear arsenals? I for one feel it is time to restate the case against and to unpick the lazy consensus accepting ‘the bomb’ as a guarantor of safety and peace.