by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
The conviction that violence produces and underlies practically every situation of evil in the human experience centers this week on armaments – more precisely the possession of armaments.
Let me begin with a personal experience which will serve as the backdrop for what follows. During my years in Peru, the military purchased twelve supersonic jet fighter airplanes from France. Each plane cost $12 million – a total of $144 million. It was abundantly clear that such sophisticated aircraft would have had absolutely no usefulness in case of war. They were playthings for the military establishment there.
One day around that same time, I stood in a long line outside of Lima’s Childrens’ Hospital with a dying baby and her mother, hoping to receive desperately needed medical attention. We never did get into the emergency room and the child died there in its mother’s arms.
The contrast and connection between useless military expenditures and the desperate need for medical personnel and equipment in that country was stark! How many hospitals, medical personnel and medicines could have been available with the millions wasted on supersonic airplanes! The experience has served as a vivid example of the awful violence which the very possession of modern weaponry represents.
Now a reflection around such inhuman – violent – situations on a much larger and more ominous scale.
The costs of nuclear weapons and upgrading them is astounding. According to one report the United State alone has spent an incredible $9.6 trillion on them over several decades. The Obama Administration, while encouraging nuclear disarmament, retained the process of replacing, modernizing and developing new classes of “nukes”. The price tag for the continuation of this trillion-dollar upgrade over the next decade is estimated to be something in the range of $500 billion.
The “logic” used to explain ever increasing nuclear competition among the “Club” is circular and insane. It goes something like this: the eight or nine nuclear armed countries must continue to race each other for nuclear parity so as not to fall behind in the possession of bombs which none of them dare to use. Deterrence is the “reason”. But why cannot countries which possess these monsters so that others won’t use theirs see this colossal fallacy, negotiate a nonviolent action and destroy them all?
Alongside this incredible insanity is the bottomless chasm of inequity, and physical, emotional and spiritual harm that is poverty. Here in summary form is an overview of this dreadful phenomenon. According to the respected Our World in Data Institute, 85% of the world lives on less than $30 per day; two-thirds live on less than $10 per day and one in ten on less than $1.90 per day. Those statistics alongside expenditures for nuclear arms (not mentioning so called conventional weapons) is violence written in large letters!
Enter Pope Francis with a plea for sanity. On various occasions during his still relatively short pontificate the Holy Father has called for reasonableness. On January 20th of this year he urged nations to eliminate nuclear weapons. Prior to that the Pope said that the non-use or even the POSSESSION of nuclear arms will be added to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. [As an aside, where does this papal condemnation leave those who rightly oppose abortion but support our country’s overwhelming nuclear arsenal?] The Pope in 2019 stood on the sites of Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the United States in 1945 killed over 100,000 civilians and called for a world free of nuclear weapons. That of course means non-possession.
This is the “impossible dream” which the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative is pursuing. They are in good company with Pope Francis, but his and their resolution of this indescribable paradox – nuclear weapons viz a viz global poverty – seems unattainable. It will take generations for humanity to right this awful wrong.
But humanity must begin. If not now, when; if not with us, with whom; if not here, where?
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.