I Hope the Russians Love their Children Too

September 4, 2018

Religious Leader Advocacy for Nuclear Disarmament

On February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School a lone gunman shot and killed 17 people and wounded 17 more. School shootings like these are a semi-regular event in the United States, but the incident in Parkland, Florida ignited national outrage which was shared by both people and leaders on the left and the right of the political spectrum. It was a moment in the political discourse where people joined together, lead by students and young people in general, to say “Enough is Enough.”

I remember vividly the shooting at Columbine High School. I was in sixth grade. I asked my mother why someone would do that and she did not know what to say. Instead, she told me about her own experience as a child during the late 1950s and early 1960s. She explained that they were under constant threat of nuclear bombs and were instructed how to brace for impact should such an event take place. She told me it was terrifying, and that even in spite of the preparations schools would instruct them in, it was unlikely anyone would survive.

Ever since then, I have always wondered about the gun and the bomb together. Why should kids have to fear either of these things at all? Is it normal for children of yesterday to fear the bomb and children today to fear the gun? What about the children tomorrow? I am having my first child—a daughter—in November this year. What will I tell her when she inevitably asks me something similar?

The current geopolitical world order ushers up much to the imagination. A lot could go wrong. But a lot could go right too. President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal makes us fearsome of a nuclear Iran. President Trump’s negotiations with North Korea makes us hopeful for a denuclearized peninsula. While President Trump maintains that his relations with Russia will or at least could result in a renewed friendship, it is hard to believe either side of the story because of the swirling accusations of election meddling and the sowing of discord in democracies all around the world. Cold wars could easily become hot ones if we are not careful.

These things in mind, all is not doom and gloom. In January 2007, George Schultz, William Perry, Sam Nunn, and Henry Kissinger made a strong appeal for a “World Free of Nuclear Weapons.” This has been echoed by many, including President Barack Obama who in March 2009 advocated for the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons in total. Further, the United Nations initiated a treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July 2017. Today, it has been signed by at least 50 states. Both the United States and Russia are absent. There is, however, a political position emerging amongst both progressives and conservatives which see nuclear weapons as plausibly one of the greatest geopolitical threats facing the world, despite it not appearing commonly in the public discourse.

Fifty years ago, the American Catholic bishops released the letter The Challenge of Peace, which condemned nuclear warfare and labeled it a threat to civilization in an unprecedented way. Since then, the Vatican has made their position even clearer. As of November 2017, Pope Francis roundly condemned not only the usage of nuclear weapons, but also their possession. The point is strong: we need not only nuclear deterrence, we need complete nuclear disarmament and ultimately nuclear abolition. Leaders, both secular and religious, both progressive and conservative, need to synthesize issues and galvanize people.

The political will raised by the Parkland school shooting put disarmament on the table, but it was focused on assault rifles particularly and guns in general. Might religious and secular leaders be able to put nuclear disarmament on that agenda as well? I know full well that both the gun and the bomb are symbols of national sovereignty. These are both things that cannot be dis-invented. But they can, I believe, become connected issues. Might those who were children in the 1950s and 1960s remember how frightening it was and join the youth of today in solidarity?

The threat of nuclear weapons, of nuclear war, is a larger and more dangerous version of the threat many of us roundly understand with school shootings and other incidents of mass violence. It is not just a threat to specific nations, schools, or events at specific times. It is a threat to human civilization and the future for all our children. I think back on that popular song from Sting when he said,

We share the same biology, regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you,
I hope the Russians love their children too…

The truth? They do. And that is why we all need to heed the words of Pope Francis and move toward integral disarmament. Toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

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