By Norman Jameson
Remember when you had to duck under your school desk for a nuclear attack drill? It made me wonder what all the fuss a nuclear bomb was about if hiding under my desk would protect me from one.
We could tell even Mr. Hanson, our teacher, coach and the coolest guy in town didn’t take it seriously. He sure didn’t crawl under his desk.
A question in our Weekly Reader asked if we as young people felt secure in our daily life, or if we lived with the sense of threat over our heads. It was the 1960s and the talk was of cold war; saber rattling; nuclear proliferation; dominos falling and a military industrial complex at the trough who never heard “No” from the Pentagon.
I was surprised when classmate Debbie Shew said she actually felt insecure; felt that today a bomb might drop on our heads and kill all the cows in southern Wisconsin. That would certainly curdle the cheese.
I confessed to no such anxiety. I had confidence that wise heads would prevail. Besides that we were 30 miles from the capital city, the nearest likely target, and our own government probably thought of dropping a bomb on Madison to rid the university of all the anti-war demonstrators.
Numbers can get so big they lose meaning. Atomic nations had large enough bomb stockpiles to kill everything on earth 20 times over; or 40 times or 100 times. Still we made more bombs, as if we might actually “win” a nuclear war if we killed them 30 times and they could only kill us 20 times.
Movies like “Doctor Strangelove” and “Fail Safe,” made us feel the peace was fragile, tentative. Thousands of our soldiers were dying in swamps halfway around the world in a place few of us could find on the globe. But we somehow felt we were “winning” if the daily body count tilted in our favor.
When people are afraid, any action seems better than no action. So we built more nuclear weapons; stored them in silos in the Midwestern plains and stationed soldiers to watch over them around the clock. Thanks be to God, no one has ever used them.
And now, with so many thousands of nuclear weapons stored, the real threat is not between nation states but that rogues and terrorists will siphon the parts and pieces necessary from an inventory impossible to keep track of to build a bomb and hold the world hostage.
The more of these bombs and bomb material that exist, the greater the chance for that to happen. Now, some young evangelicals are trying to mobilize American Christians to lead the world to eliminate nuclear weapons. Bless them.
While nuclear disarmament has been off the popular radar for decades, young Christians are engaging politics in a new way “defying easy political categorization and breaking through theological division,” says one of the organizers, Katie Paris of Faith in Public Life.
Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, a member of First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., is the founding director of the Two Futures Project. He said, “In a post 9/11 era the weapons that we relied upon as our ultimate ace in the hole have in fact become the greatest threat to us all.”
“A two-tiered world of nuclear haves and have-nots will eventually lead to uncontrollable proliferation and an un-deterrable terrorist bomb,” he said.
There is no way to imagine the destruction caused by a nuclear bomb. The pictures you see of underground test explosions seem almost pristine: a white mushroom cloud rising majestically into the sky. We don’t feel the power that scrapes the life off many square miles instantly, dooms those on the fringe to suffer burns, blindness and radiation sickness and make them wish they had evaporated at ground zero.
This scene from the 1983 movie “The Day After” might give you some sense of it.
“Who do we think we are to claim authority over life itself and the welfare of future generations?” Wigg-Stevenson asked. “That power belongs to God alone.”
Jonathan Merritt, national spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, said, “Nuclear weapons are not only unacceptable, they are un-Christian. As followers of Jesus we serve a God that abhors the shedding of innocent blood.”
The 2000 Baptist Faith & Message calls it the duty of Christians to seek peace and do all in their power to end war. I doubt nuclear disarmament is what the writers had in mind, but their sentiment is honorable and true.
I can hear the naysayers now, because I hear these words in many different contexts. “Maybe that’s the way it should be,” they will say to discount any such efforts for disarmament. “But that’s just not the way it is.”
Until those who know the way it should be act with courage unconstrained by the way it is, the way it is will never become the way it should be.