There were some sights and sounds that will always stick with me. They enter my consciousness whenever I hear government officials talk about nuclear weapons and their possible use.
It’s been estimated by scientists at Los Alamos since shortly after World War II, that it would only take in the neighborhood of 10 to 100 of the types of nuclear weapons held by the U.S. and Russia, to destroy the entire planet. That’s an amazing statistic seeing that one estimate is the U.S. in 2021 had 3,750 nuclear weapons; 4,178 with the U.K. and France. It’s estimated Russia has more, perhaps as many as 6,000.
The U.S. has enabled several countries to “deploy” nuclear weapons: Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. Since the Ukraine invasion, Poland wants to be included, although the U.N. treaty outlaws the transfer of nuclear weapons and forbids signatories from allowing any nuclear explosive device to be stationed, installed or deployed in their territory.
The Pentagon calls all these European deployments “defensive” theatre nuclear weapons. They only have 11.3 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb. If the U.S. was ready to face Armageddon because of the threat of Russian missiles in Cuba back in the Kennedy era, we must recognize Russians might feel a bit nervous about all those nukes we’ve placed in their neighborhood.
Of course, no nuclear weapons state has signed on to the U.N. Treaty and already since its passage Russia has threatened to use nuclear weapons and the U.S. has come close in response. The President recently declared: “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis. We’ve got a guy I know fairly well. He’s not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons.”
Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned that the globe sat at “dooms’ doorstep.” The Doomsday Clock is at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has been to “doomsday” since the creation of the clock in 1947.
The military budget request for 2023 is $813.3 billion. $50.9 billion in the bill is earmarked for nuclear weapons. In 2021, the total budget for the State Department and USAid was 58.5 billion. Obviously, talking, listening, negotiating, working out our differences and aiding those who suffer, is less critical to our “security” than updating our nuclear weapons systems. As Wendell Berry writes, “We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means for war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness.” What if we put our money where our mouth is, when we talk peace?
MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) has been our nuclear weapons policy now for most of my lifetime. Some would claim it has kept us from armageddon. Clearly, MAD has not deterred hot wars in places like Vietnam and Ukraine. MAD has not deterred authoritarian rulers, at home and abroad, from sending a clear message nuclear weapons are acceptable and usable in their ‘defense;” even first use. For myself, MAD has not deterred anything. For me, it is only the grace of a loving God that has saved us from destroying ourselves.
Pope Francis, speaking as Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West he was not bluffing about possibly using nuclear weapons, said on Wednesday that thinking of such an act was "madness". “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is today, more than ever, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home. The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possession of atomic weapons is immoral.”