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Editorial: Archbishop’s nuclear weapons view needs a homily on reality

A world without nuclear weapons. For that matter a world without war – “a world grounded not in fear and distrust, but in mutual respect for the life and dignity of all.”

That idyllic goal for the planet Earth and the 7.6 billion people who inhabit it was front and center in the message from Archbishop of Santa Fe John Wester last week marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima that ushered in an age of nuclear weapons that endures to this day.

The U.S. Conference of Bishops, he said, reminds us that the United States has a responsibility to reverse the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and quotes Pope Francis as saying that money spent on such things in the name of national defense when millions live in inhumane conditions is “an affront crying out to heaven.”

His comments were in a program put together by peace activist Fr. John Dear, who says that unlike Pope John Paul II, Francis believes nuclear weapons can no longer be justified as a deterrent. “Deterrence has nothing to do with Jesus,” he said. You must love your enemy, and a nation that builds or maintains nuclear weapons is “all the same pure level of evil.”

While Wester acknowledges two of the nation’s pre-eminent nuclear weapons labs are located in New Mexico – he says the 20,000 plus employees at Sandia and Los Alamos should work on other, more morally acceptable, projects – he and Dear appear to be living in a world that sounds lovely but will never exist.

Neither Wester nor Dear appear to accept the premise there is any deterrent benefit to the nuclear arsenal – even though the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have kept a nuclear peace since 1945 even as nations like Pakistan and North Korea have developed nuclear weapons. And they don’t acknowledge that use of the weapons by President Truman saved hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers, sailors and Marines and millions of Japanese because they forced Japan to surrender rather than fight to the last man.

Horrific? Yes. Estimates of the death toll from the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki range from 120,000 to 230,000. But war is horrific. World War II claimed 60 million lives.

In an interesting juxtaposition, the archdiocese vicar general took a more balanced approach in a piece he wrote for the August edition of the People of God newsletter for Catholics in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. “Many criticize the U.S. use of the atomic bomb to end WWII, but war pursued in ANY manner is a horror,” the Very Rev. Glennon Jones writes. “It plagues humanity regardless.”

He argues firebombing in Japanese and German cities killed at least as many as the atomic bombs. And that bombing would have continued along with an invasion of Japan.

“Only the shock of the immense power contained in a single bomb – and the uncertainty about how many such bombs the U.S. possessed – convinced the Japanese emperor to break the ruling council’s deadlock in favor of surrender and peace.” Japan today is a key U.S. ally.

As for unilateral disarmament as some propose? While other nuclear-capable nations would not likely be impressed, Jones writes, “it’s entirely likely a worldwide nuclear free-for-all might ensue.” And as for pacifistic wholesale surrender to “save lives?” “It might do so for time but … history shows genocide becomes a real possibility when rulers weary of the powerless ruled.”

So much for loving your enemy.

The ideal, Jones writes, may be “No Nukes!”

“But until the day arrives in which such disarmament and its absolute verification is possible, the mission of the Los Alamos and Sandia labs is not only valid but essential in maintaining the (admittedly tense) nuclear restraint through the world,” Jones writes. “There is a vital difference, between the promotion of an ideal and being naively idealistic.”

To which we would add, “Amen.”

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.



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