by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

August 7, 2022 — Providentially and no doubt intentionally the Pax Christi USA 50th anniversary assembly takes place on the dates in 1945 when the United States launched nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan – August 6 and 9. This is providential for many reasons, especially as a recall of those awful events 77 years ago.

There could be a certain complacency after all these years in the fact that those unconscionable attacks have never happened again. But recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin, faced with NATO/US military support for Ukraine, alluded to the real possibility of using nuclear weapons in his war there. This is just one of many such threats on the part of world leaders over these years. In addition, the “doctrine” of Mutual Assured Destruction (aptly known by its acronym, MAD), referring to the possibility of collateral nuclear attacks between the United States and Russia, remains operative today.

Despite continued efforts to reduce the number of these monstrous weapons, an estimated 13,073 of them still exist among nine countries. Russia and the United States possess most of them: 6,257 and 5,500 respectively. What is equally disturbing and disheartening is the fact that our country continues to be engaged in modernizing its nuclear arsenal and will spend a staggering $1.2 trillion on this endeavor over the next three decades. We stand before a truly insane and ominous reality here, all the more as we realize that very possession of such armaments almost surely will result in their use – or an “unintended accident” with equally disastrous effects.

No wonder Pope Francis has increasingly condemned even the possession of nuclear weapons. As recently as this past June 21, he wrote to the president of the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons: “I wish to reaffirm that the use of nuclear weapons, as well as their mere possession, is immoral.”

The Holy Father in that same message directed his comments not only to leaders of nations but to every person, “as an individual, a member of the same family of nations, as people of good will – whatever our role or status may be – each of us bears various degrees of responsibility.”

This brings us back to this week’s Pax Christi USA conference and the action planned as it ends. Participants will walk the short distance from the conference venue to the Pentagon carrying pieces of ribbon. The action will recall the huge event in August 1985, the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima/Nagasaki, when 15,000 people encircled the Pentagon with ribbons, then continued, wrapping them around the Congress and the White House. Each ribbon was a square cloth with creative artistry portraying “what I cannot bear to think of as lost forever in a nuclear war.”

Today’s action will not only commemorate that massive outcry over the continuation of nuclear “defense.” More importantly it will continue the vital work of “never forgetting.”

  • Never forgetting the 66,000 civilians killed in Hiroshima and 39,00 killed in Nagasaki on those two infamous days.
  • Never forgetting the 94,000 Japanese who would live the rest of their lives suffering from the effects of nuclear fallout.
  • Never forgetting the justification our country held onto for decades that the bombing saved U.S. American lives.
  • Never forgetting that the United States is the only country to have employed nuclear weapons.
  • Never forgetting the imperial attitude of the United States then as the sole possessor of these “ultimate weapons.”
  • Never forgetting the nuclear arms race which will continue into the future.
  • Never forgetting the absolute insanity of nuclear weapons.

These are the reasons for what might be seen in this Pentagon action as much too little and entirely too late. Pope Francis doesn’t seem to think so, however. Like him we are called to be prophets of a future not our own.

Photo of Pope Francis in Hiroshima, 2019, Vatican Media

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.

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