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Don’t preach nuclear arms to archbishop

In response to (the Aug. 13) editorial “Archbishop’s nuclear weapons view needs a homily on reality,” I was one of the speakers at the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, organized by Fr. John Dear, at which Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester eloquently spoke. The editorial declared “neither Wester nor Dear appear to accept the premise there is any deterrent benefit to the nuclear arsenal.”

To the contrary, the Journal perpetuates the delusion that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is just for deterrence, a premise fed to American taxpayers since the beginning of the Cold War. Instead, the U.S. arsenal has always been about nuclear warfighting, starting with the simple fact that we were the first to use it. This continues to this day, as the Pentagon made clear in a 2013 nuclear policy declaration: “The new guidance requires the United States to maintain significant counterforce capabilities against potential adversaries. The new guidance does not rely on a ‘counter-value’ or ‘minimum deterrence’ strategy.”

“Counterforce” is Pentagon jargon for attacking the military assets and leadership of your adversary, in other words nuclear war. Ronald Reagan famously said, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used.” But the U.S. and Russia each have thousands of nuclear weapons, many on hair-trigger alert, to fight a nuclear war instead of just the few hundred needed for deterrence.

Nuclear warfighting capability is why the U.S. is now implementing a $2 trillion “modernization” program enriching the usual fat-cat contractors while robbing resources from the poor, which is one of the Vatican’s main objections. Our own President Eisenhower said “every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed.”

That $2 trillion nuclear weapons modernization will do nothing to protect us against the global pandemic impacting Americans now. Further, the Sandia and Los Alamos labs may actually degrade national security with planned new nuclear weapons designs that can’t be tested because of the global testing moratorium. Or worse yet, this may prompt the U.S. back into testing, throwing more gas on the fire of the new nuclear arms race.

The Journal’s own homily ignores reality, the real harm done to New Mexicans by the nuclear weapons industry, disproportionally impacting people of color – the uncompensated Trinity Test downwinders, sick Diné uranium miners, contaminated nuclear weapons workers and deep groundwater contamination under Los Alamos Laboratory.

The Journal ignores the reality that sheer luck has kept us from nuclear catastrophe. In 1957 an H-bomb was accidentally dropped 4.5 miles south of the Albuquerque airport. If fully armed, it would have destroyed central New Mexico. We were lucky that one of three Soviet submarine officers vetoed using a nuclear torpedo against a U.S destroyer during the Cuban missile crisis. Robert McNamara said, “At the end, we lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war.” In 1983, we were lucky to have a Russian officer follow his instincts that a radar blip was not incoming ballistic missiles, again preventing nuclear war. There are many other documented near-misses.

With escalating tensions, the possible end of arms control, new low-yield nukes, stealthy cruise missiles and bombers and future cyber and hypersonic weapons, we are now facing the greatest nuclear risks since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. How long can we count on luck? Being real demands multilaterally, verifiably getting rid of nuclear weapons before they get rid of us.

The U.S. should lead in honoring the mandate to do just that, agreed to long ago in the 1970 NonProliferation Treaty. Embarking upon a $2 trillion nuclear weapons-forever program is the wrong direction. The Albuquerque Journal should be exposing that instead of preaching the delusion of “deterrence” to the Santa Fe archbishop.

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