NCC: A Nuclear Iran
Written by Jim Winkler, General Secretary and President
National Council of Churches in the USA
The first time I was arrested was through an act of civil disobedience on June 14, 1982 at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Two days earlier, I had participated in the great march for a Nuclear Freeze in Central Park attended by more than one million people.
That civil disobedience action took place simultaneously outside the UN missions of the five permanent members of the Security Council—the U.S., the USSR, the United Kingdom, France, and the People’s Republic of China. We called for a freeze on the production of nuclear weapons.
The commitment to seeking an end of nuclear weapons has been a big part of my life and of the National Council of Churches. This year we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the only two nuclear weapon attacks in human history—those carried out by the United States against the people of Japan in which more than 250,000 people died.
One of my predecessors, Samuel McCrea Cavert, served as general secretary of the Federal Council of Churches during World War II. He incurred the displeasure of President Harry Truman after he wrote to the President on August 9 following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to request of Truman that he, “Respectfully urge that ample opportunity to be given Japan to reconsider ultimatum before any further devastation by atomic bomb is visited upon her people.”
Truman wrote, “Nobody is more disturbed over the use of atomic bombs than I am but I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true.”
Indeed, it is and always has been necessary to dehumanize one’s opponents in order to justify mass slaughter. Such has been the case throughout human history.
We must not become complacent about the presence of nuclear weapons anywhere. Regularly, I receive a “Nuclear Calendar” email listing events taking place around the nation. This week, for example, David Culp of the Friends Committee on National Legislation will be speaking in New Mexico on preventing a second nuclear age; a briefing on the current state of nuclear weapons will be held by the San Jose Peace and Justice Center; the Group of Eminent Persons will push for support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; and numerous conferences and seminars will highlight the proposed agreement with Iran.
An intense debate is underway over this proposed agreement. Two former heads of the Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency, a former director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, numerous Israeli generals, scientists, and diplomats have expressed support the agreement with Iran. In the U.S., 340 rabbis have signed a statement of support for the nuclear accord with Iran, as have 36 retired generals and admirals and 29 leading scientists, among many others, including faith leaders.
Many of the arguments are overheated, such as claims that President Obama is sending Jews ‘to the ovens.’ Others argue that because numerous nations have obtained nuclear weapons over the years without the knowledge of the United States including the Soviet Union, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Israel, and North Korea, there can be no certainty that Iran will not violate the agreement and proceed to develop a nuclear weapon.
Christians have stepped out on faith countless times. Indeed, one of the most famous verses of scripture states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And, as Ronald Reagan once said, “Trust, but verify.”
So the agreement with Iran, like all international agreements, I suppose, requires us to step out on faith to a certain degree, but this one is also supplemented by verification measures. Our next step will be to eliminate all nuclear weapons.