The Journey Beyond Mutually Assured Destruction
by Paul Chaffee
Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is a military term referring to opposing nations each having nuclear weapons. The argument for maintaining nuclear weapons is that the destruction of both nations, assured if they fling nuclear weapons at each other, will keep either one of them from pulling the trigger. Unhappily, as the record shows, accidents, aggressive leaders who could decide they can get away with a first strike, escalating conflicts where using the nuclear option is eventually considered … these possibilities make the gamble that ‘you don’t mess with me and I won’t mess with you’ an increasingly dangerous policy. The very idea of MAD is madness in the long run, say the peacemakers, a risk that sooner or later humankind as we know it will end, along with the health and fruitfulness of the Earth. It is the ultimate climate changer, mutually assured destruction.
Let me confess that I’ve always opposed nuclear weapons but been generally ignorant about what that means, how to end their tyranny, the multiple dimensions of the struggle, what it will take to turn the tide of ignorance into an adequately active group – in the billions – who insist to the financial barons and governing leaders that nukes must go. This month’s TIO has much to frighten, even terrify us, important information if we’re to understand the real terms of the nuclear gamble.
How This Can Become a Good-News Story
On the up side, however, has been discovering that thousands of organizations and millions of activists of all stripes are learning to connect and collaborate within the general public and the halls of power to end the nuclear horror show otherwise lurking in our future. Hibakushas are survivors of atomic weapons. Japanese Hibakushas today are mostly in their eighties and nineties and have chosen a final global project titled Hibakusha Appeal to End Nuclear Weapons Now! Their goal: to get a billion signatures calling for an end to the weapons. So far they have more than eight million. You can sign your name here.
The Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was passed by the UN General Assembly in 2017. It requires ratification by 50 nations in order to be put in force. Nineteen have done so to date, with promising new decisions likely this year. That seems slow? It is, but similar treaties regarding biological weapons, nuclear testing, and chemical weapons took much longer to ratify before finally succeeding. ICAN is working particularly hard on urging countries to ratify the Treaty.
A growing global tide of poets, musicians, artists, dancers, and social justice activists are opening their eyes to the risks of nuclear weapons and the present need for peacemaking. They are joining a globally growing community.
City governments are paying attention more seriously than many national governments. Los Angeles, Melbourne, Manchester, and Toronto are among the first to have joined ICAN’s Cities Appeal, and Mayors for Peace, a network of 7,675 cities in 163 countries, has signed on. It seems that municipal leaders have thought through the risks and consequences of nuclear conflict more clearly than national and military leaders. But be assured, organizations like the ones profiled here this month – the Global Security Network, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the William J. Perry Project, and Abolition 2000, along with multiple collaborators, are bringing a laser focus on parliamentarians – those who govern our countries.
Every one of us, by picking up the cause, adds a bit of optimism in this moment of radical risk. Faith and interfaith leaders, it seems from where I sit, are among the most important voices in this struggle. They can draw on the forgotten, neglected moral and ethical values found in spiritual, indigenous, and religious traditions everywhere, values that cry out against mutually assured destruction.
This issue of TIO aims to be a primer, an introduction to an enormously complicated set of issues. It’s all linked to the discovery that we can take a few pounds of uranium and generate a level of destructive energy that threatens all that lives.
The issue begins with a scorching call to action from an 18-year-old woman who electrified the United Nations High Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament two years ago. TIO concludes this month with a poignant, personal poem about what we risk until we succeed in this campaign. In between these contributions from Kehkashan Basu and Dorianne Laux, you’ll find historical perspective, signposts for getting up to speed on the issues, personal experiences, spiritual perspectives, and a sampling of the welcome abundance of resources.
My own wake-up call was at a panel presentation on the matter at the Toronto Parliament of the World’s Religions last November. I was stunned by what I heard and knew I had to get involved. Three of the presenters that day have contributed to this issue. Being there led to a relationship with Voices for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons, one of more than a thousand interfaith groups in the United Religions Initiative (URI) network. Voices is a collection of distinguished leaders and interfaith activists assembled by William Swing, founder of URI. Whenever the group gathers, they begin by praying the “Nuclear Prayer,” written by Rt. Rev. Swing.
Several of the group participated in a video-recording of the prayer embedded here. You’ll see that they are mostly older white men. (Thank you Monica Willard for being an exception!) Before making any judgments though, know that these leaders have had an unparalleled inside view of the history of nuclear weapons and been engaged in international negotiations for half a century to reduce the risk. They were among the many who helped assemble TIO this month. Like the Hibakushas, they are doing everything they know how to attract the rest of us to this effort, women, children and men, of all colors, backgrounds, and persuasions, for the sake of our survival. They are doing this work on behalf of us and their grandchildren. You may want to read the prayer before you listen to it, to understand its import before hearing it recited.
The Nuclear Prayer
The Beginning and the End are in your hands, O Creator of the Universe. And in our hands you have placed the fate of this planet. We, who are tested by having both creative and destructive power in our free will, turn to you in sober fear and in intoxicating hope.
We ask for your guidance and to share in your imagination in our deliberations about the use of nuclear force. Help us to lift the fog of atomic darkness that hovers so pervasively over our Earth, Your earth, so that soon all eyes may see life magnified by your pure light.
Bless all of us who wait today for your Presence and who dedicate ourselves to achieve your intended peace and rightful equilibrium on Earth. In the Name of all that is holy and all that is hoped. Amen.