Each year, in early August, debate reemerges over the use of atomic weapons to end World War II. Some historians justify their use given the prospects for a long, bloody invasion of Japan. Conversely, other historians, along with liberal theologians, decry the bombing. Those historians argue Japan, near collapse, would have fallen soon.
Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, director of the Two Futures Project, offers a good example of the religiously driven argument in a thoughtful article published in Christianity Today. He concludes, “Those who … defend nuclear weaponry are forced to adopt a … celebratory triumphalism about massive, indiscriminate killing of civilians, contravening every principle of Christian just war theory.”
Wigg-Stevenson, along with the Obama administration, advocates a nuclear-free world. In his article, Mr. Wigg-Stevenson posits three reasons for totally eliminating nukes: First, nine nations currently possess approximately 20,000 nuclear weapons, and any use of them risks “sparking a chain reaction.” Second, the international situation since 1945 has changed: “We are now blessedly free of any global struggle—like World War II, or the Cold War—that would justify … such massive loss of life.” And third, today’s world is so economically interdependent that any nuclear war, even a limited one, might prove globally devastating.
At the risk of sounding “celebratoriously triumphant,” I, as both a historian and a Christian, laud the Truman administration for using atomic weapons to force Japan’s surrender. I also believe that the mere presence of nukes is not the problem.
Either way, regardless of the arguments, current arsenals can be reduced. Major powers each possessing 200 nuclear weapons should suffice to keep one another from going to war. The Obama administration should suggest that the United States, Russia, and the European Union share a common missile-defense system; one designed to prevent attacks by rogue nations like North Korea and Iran (soon to join the nuclear club), and protect against accidental release of nuclear missiles. To be sure, there are numerous ways to deliver nukes: aircraft, submarines, fishing boats, panel trucks, and donkey carts. An anti-missile shield, however, might keep the unintended from becoming the unthinkable.
Fat Man and Little Boy, the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did not invent themselves and then attack Japan on their own. The necessities of war drove well-intended humans to invent and use them. In addition to ending World War II, nuclear weapons kept the Cold War cold. After 1950, the major industrial powers, those accounting for nearly 100 million wartime deaths between 1914 and 1945, risked their own annihilation by going to war. In the afterglow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world’s major powers have enjoyed 64 years of relative peace and prosperity, eclipsing the previous record of 55 years, between the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 and the start of the Franco Prussian War in 1870.
Nuclear weapons aren’t the problem. People are. The beauty of nuclear weapons is that they put this doomed species at risk of an early demise. From a Christian perspective, war results from mankind’s innate depravity. Weapons, of whatever sort, are simply a means to an end. Some might date violence between humans to when Cain slew Able. That act was a symptom of our condition, one issuing from the tempting of Eve and Adam. Consequently, humanity gained access to god-like knowledge, without the Divine love and wisdom of God’s spiritual perfection.
Subsequently, humans turned the resources of a fallen earth into weaponry. Uranium and plutonium weapons, therefore, are the direct descendents of the Bronze Age.
Eliminating categories of weapons changes the how; not the why nor the result. Humans will continue to kill humans. Nuclear weapons killed far fewer people than other major weapons’ categories used in World War II. Furthermore, the advent of nuclear weapons changed the post-war strategic paradigm from one focused on preparing for war to one employing strategies of deterrence.
From a Christian perspective, the problem is not the weaponry; it’s not even the weapon wielders, because in many cases, they prevent wars. The problem is our human nature. For that the only answer, for the Christian, is Christ.
In the end, when the old order passes away, a redeemed humanity finally will see the end of war. It is not the curse of Cain that brought us death, it is the curse mankind brought upon himself through disobedience to God.
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