Essays by Georgia Walker
To: Judge Ardie Bland of Municipal Court, Kansas City, Mo.
From: Georgia Walker of Kansas City, Mo.
1. If North Korea, China, or one of the Mideast countries dropped a nuclear bomb on a U.S. city tomorrow, would that change your opinion?
This question seems to suggest that my opposition to nuclear weapons might be altered if another country utilized a nuclear weapon against a city in the United States. In that case, might I be persuaded to seek revenge against the aggressor nation in retaliation by sending a nuclear attack back against the citizens in that country? Emphatically, I would answer that I would not change my opposition to nuclear arms. On the contrary, it would intensify my efforts to work for the abolition of all nuclear armaments for several very definite reasons.
First, despite all of the American cultural messages that attempt to persuade us that we can win peace and safety by responding to violent actions by engaging in further violence, I am quite sure that revenge of this type never works. As Gandhi asserted, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…just leaves us all blind and toothless.” Revenge does not lead to a resolution of problems and disagreements. It leads to an escalation of more violence. Whatever the cause of the deep-seated hatred, animosity, desperation and break in human relationships that led to the initial act of violence, a violent response will not resolve the situation or eliminate the bitterness that fueled the violent aggression in the first place. My faith tradition as a Christian compels me to search for creative ways to respond nonviolently to such acts. The futile unsuccessful attempt to reduce the violent acts of “terrorists” in the so-called “war on terrorism” should demonstrate the simple truth that responding to violence with further violence simply does not work…it leads to the production of more enemies with an even greater level of determination to hurt us back. The cycle of violence only continues to intensify and spiral beyond all expectations.
Second, by virtue of the technology of the modern media the mere fact that all of the world would immediately witness in real time the unspeakable human tragedy and devastation that would be caused by the use of a nuclear weapon on a city would surely cause me to intensify my resolve to eliminate this threat of mass destruction. A cataclysmic event of such destruction would completely eclipse the capacity of emergency responders and institutions to effectively handle the scale of human suffering and misery that would be produced. Nuclear bombs are now capable of causing far more damage than the atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Furthermore, we now know that the spread of radiation around the world would produce long-lasting detrimental effects on the environment and genetically affect generations of human survivors. Any use of atomic weapons could have a deleterious effect on the populations of both the aggressor nation and the victim nation. Surely, we would be even more resolved to eliminate these weapons of mass destruction when confronted by the results of their utilization!
Third, I would continue to believe that it is morally wrong to utilize weapons of mass destruction to murder innocent civilian populations. There really is no such thing as a “just war” or a “good war” for the “right reasons.” War is simply murder writ large. A nuclear war would cause so much destruction and human misery that it should be unthinkable. In a world of hatred, bitterness and resentment and violent “solutions,” it is only love and creative nonviolent responses that will have any hope of healing and mending the broken human relationships between people and nations which find themselves at odds with one another. Witnessing the murder of people, creatures and creation itself would increase my resolve to oppose the continued presence of nuclear weapons on our planet.
2. If Germany or Japan had used nuclear weapons first in World War II, would your opinion change?
Fortunately for the world, the United States (the so-called “good guys”) is the only aggressor nation that has ever utilized the atomic bomb. For this unnecessary and inexcusable act, every American should feel shame and regret. This question seems to suggest that if the “bad guys” had used nuclear weapons first then we would have been justified in retaliating with our nuclear arsenal. My opposition to nuclear weapons would not have been diminished if any other country had been the first to use them. The point is that using devastating weapons of mass destruction against any country is a crime not because of who perpetrated the act but because of what the act accomplished. Vaporizing humans and all living things with an atomic bomb is an act of moral depravity no matter which country does it or for what reasons it is executed. A crime is a crime.
A recent documentary video called “The Ultimate Wish: Ending the Nuclear Age” movingly illustrates the intrinsic immorality of using weapons of mass destruction, no matter who uses them. The video is the story of Nagasaki survivors of the 1945 atomic bomb and Fukushima evacuees from the meltdown of the nuclear power plants in 2011. In one particularly dramatic portion of the video, a Japanese survivor of Nagasaki discusses her experiences with a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz. It becomes very apparent in their interaction that sharing the horrors of experiencing and surviving such events has much less to do with the “who committed the act” and everything to do with the galvanizing effect that such experiences had on their resolve to spend the rest of their lives trying to convince the world that such horrors should never happen again. I too would commit myself to a focus preventing the consequences of such acts rather than being preoccupied with determining whether it can ever be justified for one nation/group to pursue such violent aggression on another nation/group. In my opinion, the use of weapons of mass destruction like nuclear weapons can never be a justified action no matter who utilizes them. Nuclear holocaust has the potential to destroy all life in its wake and the very foundations for life itself. The special legacy of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been to send an urgent message to humankind to abolish all nuclear weapons forever…no matter which country or group currently possess them.
As the members of the only nation to experience the direct effects of an atomic bomb, the Japanese provide us with an outstanding model for the response to the use of nuclear arms. According to Article 9 of Japan’s Peace Constitution, “The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” Before his death in 1951, Dr. Takashi Nagai, a medical doctor in Nagasaki who was a Hibakusha (survivor), said: “Nuclear war is not at all beautiful or interesting. It is the most disappointing, most brutal and most complete form of destruction. Only ashes and bones remain: nothing touches the heart…Whether it be a fight, a struggle or a war, all that remains afterward is regret…Nuclear war ended in Nagasaki: Nagasaki is the period: Peace starts from Nagasaki!”
My Catholic faith tradition asserts that not only should nations not use or produce nuclear weapons, but that it is absolutely essential that nations and human communities should make all efforts to rid the world of the evil that they represent. I would like to think that my own response to such brutality would be as gracious, forgiving and insightful as the Hibakusha of Japan. My opinion would not be different even if Japan or Germany had been first users.
3. What would you say to those who say, “If we (the USA) do not have the big stick, that is, if we get rid of our nuclear weapons, and other countries develop nuclear weapons, then we do not have the opportunity to fight back”?
The question appears to advance the argument that it is necessary for the nations which possess nuclear weapons to keep them so as to create a structural deterrent for any nation to actually use their nuclear weapons. Of course, this is based on the global policy and strategy known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)…the strategy that fully recognizes that no nation or group can actually “win” a thermonuclear war and that all life would be harmed by the use. Therefore, no “rational” and “logical” party would want to risk such a catastrophic event. Supporters of the “big stick” would be inclined to say that the policy strategy has worked thus far and that we should continue to support it and the continued expenditure of exorbitant sums of resources to maintain our nuclear arsenal. I would take an opposing point of view.
When the Cold War ended between the United States and the Soviet Union, some of the worry about nuclear weapons began to decrease. However, many did begin to wonder why if we were no longer in this arms race, why we were still keeping our nuclear weapons on high alert. A documentary called “The Forgotten Bomb” sought to explain why the posture of MAD still exists. Through the historical analysis of the development of this instrument of warfare and the evolution of the political and legal implications of nuclear weapons, Bud Ryan, the filmmaker, demonstrates the psychological and cultural reasons that are deeply embedded in the American psyche. Operating out of deep-seated fear of the immense powers of destruction that we unleashed on the world, we find ourselves trapped in the pursuit to stay in the superior position in the arms race. A cultural set of myths has been developed to support this pursuit of global superiority. Both the psychological and cultural dimensions serve to reinforce the maintenance of the very profitable “military-industrial complex” that President Dwight Eisenhower warned us of in his Farewell Address at the end of his presidency.
From the earliest years of the nuclear age, the United States has pursued a bifurcated strategy. On the one hand we have consistently engaged in diplomatic efforts and agreements to eliminate nuclear weapons. On the other hand we have spent billions of dollars building up our nuclear arsenal with no end in sight. In a 1963 address to the students and faculty of American University, President John F. Kennedy claimed that “peace is basically a human right–the right to live out our lives without fear of devastation–the right to breathe air as nature provided it–the right of future generations to a healthy existence…not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war…not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave…I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living.” In his presidency he began to resist the power and influence of the military-industrial complex to pursue continued development of disastrous nuclear weapons and expenditures.
There is an emerging organization called “World Beyond War” which describes itself as a “global movement to end all war.” Their major assertion is that “we can either eliminate all nuclear weapons or we can watch them proliferate. There’s no middle way. We can either have no nuclear weapons states, or we can have many. This is not a moral or a logical point, but a practical observation backed up by solid research…as long as some states have nuclear weapons others will desire them, and the more that have them the more easily they will spread to others still…If nuclear weapons continue to exist, there will very likely be a nuclear catastrophe, and the more the weapons have proliferated, the sooner it will come. Hundreds of incidents have nearly destroyed our world through accident, confusion, misunderstanding, and extremely irrational machismo. When you add in the quite real and increasing possibility of non-state terrorists acquiring and using nuclear weapons, the danger grows dramatically–and is only increased by the policies of nuclear states that react to terrorism in ways that seem designed to recruit more terrorists.”
Furthermore, they assert, “On the other side of the equation, possessing nuclear weapons does absolutely nothing to keep us safe, so that there is really no trade-off involved in eliminating them. They do not deter terrorist attacks by non-state actors in any way. Nor do they add an iota to a military’s ability to deter nations from attacking, given the United States’ ability to destroy anything anywhere at any time with non-nuclear weapons. Nukes also don’t win wars, and the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China have all lost wars against non-nuclear powers while possessing nukes. Nor, in the event of global nuclear war, can any outrageous quantity of weaponry protect a nation in any way from apocalypse.”
So I would recommend that the advocates of the “big stick” approach should do some reading of the documents of the international coalition of non-nuclear states which are begging the United States and other nuclear states to begin working on serious plans to ban the existence of the bomb. The countries which possess nuclear weapons are holding the whole world hostage with the fear and trembling that these weapons could destroy the entire planet through evil intent or careless accident. This is a great injustice which must be resisted with every ounce of courage that we can muster!
4. You defendants say you are Christians and one is a Buddhist. Father Kabat says you disobey a law that is ungodly. How do you respond to someone who believes there is no God? Who is to say what God believes, for slavery and the Crusades killed millions?
In reality, there is no way that I can answer for the millions of casualties and injustices that have been perpetrated in the name of God. The God that I know and strive to follow is a God of love who wants only the best for all of us and all of creation. Most of the defendants who appeared before you in this case operate on the basis of that same understanding of God. There are several underlying questions here, really. First, how is conscience formed? Second, how does one determine whether one’s conscience matches one’s understanding of God? Third, what is the relationship between individual conscience and the law?
First of all, I agree with Victor Hugo that “conscience is God present in each human.” That is, we each are born with the divine spark of God within us. That is not to say that we always recognize our own divinity or act in accordance with that divine spark. However, we at all times have the capacity to grow and develop an awareness of that goodness within us. Some call it our heart or our innermost truth or our innate nature as creatures created in the image of God. Although we do not all share the same religion or faith or awareness of the divine within us…we all develop a moral compass or sense of what is morally right and wrong. Pope Francis I recently said in a gathering of people of diverse faiths: “Since many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church and others are non-believers, from the bottom of my heart I give this silent blessing to each and every one of you, respecting the conscience that is within each one of you but knowing that each one of you is a child of God.” As children of God, we all share in the possession of a conscience, the only guide we have to follow in order to be true to ourselves.
But secondly, as Karl Jung asserted: “Through pride, we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune.” It is up to each individual to listen to that voice. Our journey to grow and develop our conscience cannot possibly be effective without some testing and discerning with others in a community of believers and/or non-believers. I must discern the soundness of the truth as I understand it in reference to documents that purport to be the “word of God,” the scholarly writers who have interpreted that word and a shared community who discern the movement of God in our lives together and strive to live out of their faith together.
Third and most importantly to this case and this assignment, I take my inspiration on this subject from other great practitioners of civil disobedience. Henry David Thoreau asserted that “only the individual is the final judge of right and wrong for his/her own life… since only individuals act, only individuals can act justly or unjustly.” We each have to make that final decision for ourselves. Mahatma Gandhi argued that “there is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience…it supersedes all other courts.” It is a moral imperative to act in the final analysis according to one’s own conscience. Martin Luther King also argued for the primacy of individual conscience over the law. He said: “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.” So I would recommend that persons refer to what others of many faiths have said about conscience and how to develop and test it and how to live in accordance with it in their daily life.
5. How do you respond to those who have a God different from you when they argue their religion is to crush others into dust with nuclear devices?
A question such as this one seems to suggest that there are actually major world religions that call for the systematic elimination of people who worship a God different from theirs. Most scholars who have comparatively studied the religious documents of all the world’s major religions seem to refute this. Comparing the world views and written holy documents of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Baha’i reveals an inherent common thread of a preference for peace and toleration for humans of diverse faiths. I personally do not accept the view that any of those major religions promote the idea of annihilating those who worship a God different from their own.
However, most of these great religions have developed radical and fundamentalist sub-groups which have advanced movements of hatred and intolerance of difference that have used their religion in extremist ways to foster destructive and intolerant behaviors. Unfortunately, attitudes and prejudices develop which would lump all members of a given religion together in the same stereotypes so that beliefs in response to the actions of religious and political extremists begin to be applied to all members of their given religion. Since the events of September 11, 2001, it has become commonplace for individuals and organizations to rise up and promote xenophobic attitudes and behaviors directed against Muslims and Arabs. Many of the Christian leaders of fundamentalist Christian denominations are embarrassingly complicit with promoting outright falsehoods about the Islamic faith tradition and its practitioners. I personally reject the idea that we can hold all the members of a religious tradition responsible for the small minority of extremists who have committed heinous criminal acts in the name of their religion. I also reject the Christian political extremists that promote hatred, misunderstandings and intolerance of Muslims or any other religion.
Ronaldo Cruz, the Director for Institutional Advancement at Pax Christi USA, asserted that “as the national Catholic Peace movement, Pax Christi believes in the freedom of religion and in countering systematic and perpetual deep spiritual and social brokenness. Catholic Social Teaching tells us that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society…and we claim that attacks on Muslims is behavior which is contrary to our Christian values…Pax Christi USA stands in solidarity with interfaith organizations committed to constitutional and civil rights for all people, no matter what faith tradition they claim.”
With Pax Christi, I would proclaim to those who narrowly condemn others because of their faith preference that they should take responsibility for seeking the truth about persons of other faiths and refuse to accept stereotypical and ill-informed proclamations of those among us who are the intolerant and bigoted persons who espouse such vile misinformation. My own faith tradition would not permit me to stereotypically view all Muslims or all of the adherents of any given religion as a threat to the peace and security of my country or world. I do not think that there is anything inherently violent about Muslims and we have yet to see them developing or testing nuclear bombs. If a country such as Iran would develop their capacity to produce a nuclear weapon to protect themselves from their hostile enemies, they would be joining the exclusive list of those countries possessing nuclear weapons and holding the whole world hostage, as our own country has done for almost 70 years. Just as I abhor the nuclear arsenal of my own country, I would hope that Iran does not join the infamous nuclear club.
6. Who determines what God’s Law is, given the history of Christianity in the USA and the world?
I cannot possibly answer for all of the bad things which have been perpetrated in the name of God in the USA and in the world. However, my faith tradition does contain a clear proclamation of the foundation of God’s law. In Scripture we are told the following clear message about God’s law:
Matthew 22:36-40 (New International Version)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In my mind this is a very clear measuring stick for me to utilize to judge whether a law, a practice, or a belief reflects God’s law or not. Of course this judgment would not be done without consultation with a community of believers with whom I share faith. In their 2011 Ecumenical Call to Just Peace, the World Council of Churches invites Christians of every stripe, flavor and denomination to commit themselves to what they have called the “Way of Just Peace.” Churches and believers are called to be peacemakers, unifiers and countercultural advocates of acceptance and inclusion.
According to the call to become advocates of “Just Peace,” churches become builders of a culture of peace as they engage, cooperate and learn from one another. Members, families, parishes and communities will all be involved. The tasks include learning to prevent conflicts and transform them; to protect and empower those who are marginalized; to affirm the role of women in resolving conflict and building peace and include them in all initiatives; to support and participate in nonviolence movements for justice and human rights; and to give peace education its rightful place in churches and schools. A culture of peace requires churches and other faith and community groups to challenge violence wherever it happens: this concerns structural and habitual violence as well as the violence that pervades media entertainment, games and music. Cultures of peace are realized when all, especially women and children, are safe from sexual violence and protected from armed conflict, when deadly weapons are banned and removed from communities, and domestic violence is addressed and stopped.”
If all Christians became engaged in this movement, we would have all the tools we would need to advance peace in our world. We would be operating within the clear framework of God’s Law, as we understand it. According to Lisa Schirch who has written Strategic Peacebuilding: A Vision and Framework for Peace with Justice, “Strategic peacebuilding supports the development of relationships at all levels of society: between individuals and within families; communities; organizations; businesses; governments; and cultural, religious, economic and political institutions and movements. Relationships are a form of power or social capital. When people connect and form relationships they are more likely to cooperate together to constructively address conflict.” Within the context of respectful relationships with one another, even those with the greatest disparities of beliefs could come to the table to build peace and respect.