In This Nuclear World, I Am My Brother’s Keeper

By: Annie Ortega-Shyne

August 5, 2020

Keeping Faith in Nuclear Disarmament

The seventy-fifth anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has led me to introspection. As a child of the Cold War living in Florida, a mere 90 miles from Cuba, I remember always being conscious of fallout shelter signs. After START and the dismantling of the USSR, nuclear weapons became an afterthought. Only those on the frontlines of disarmament knew better. I was too young to be among them. Now that I am involved, what is my role? Should I care about the fate of people a world away?

My perspective is that of an outsider, but I consider that an advantage: I observe from a different vantage point. When I began working with the Project on Revitalizing Catholic Engagement on Nuclear Disarmament, I dedicated myself to learning as much as possible. I began my journey of discovery with three church documents that address nuclear weapons and disarmament. They were instrumental in providing a lens through which to view the need for the abolition of nuclear weapons: a) papal encyclicals, Pacem in Terris (Pope John XXIII) and Laudato Si (Pope Francis); and b) the pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace (USCCB). 

Given the current state of arms control, I can say that as a newcomer in the field, it is disheartening. What I have learned is astounding and truthfully, some days I think, why bother? But there is a light that is stronger than doubt, fear, or overwhelming odds: the hope, mercy, and grace that Christ freely gives to each of us. He died an excruciating death on the cross and rose again for the joy set before him. We are that joy! In good conscience, how can I give up on nuclear disarmament when he did not give up on me? Christ understands our pain and suffering. He conquered sin and death that we may claim the spoils of his victory. Has he then not already equipped us to carry on this battle? I know that we are God’s image bearers on earth. As such, we have the intrinsic right to live, to be treated with respect and dignity, and it is our duty to care for and love one another. We are to carry the peace and love of Christ in word, thought, and deed, and bring his love and peace to the world.

Nuclear weapons are an obstacle to Christ’s peace, to life, and to justice. The devastation and destruction caused is not a discriminate nor proportionate use of force. Instantly and completely, nuclear weapons obliterate both people and the infrastructure essential for survival. Crops, water, animals—domesticated and wild, the air, and even our climate suffer. Furthermore, the nuclear fallout following a detonation can expose surrounding areas to radiation and condemn thousands of innocent men, women, and children to extreme suffering and death over days, weeks, and even years. Most insidious is that there is no real effective way to clean up the radiation. The long-term harm remains for decades, perhaps centuries—Japan, the American Southwest, the Marshall Islands, and Semipalatinsk still suffer from radiation decades later. The physical and environmental effects cause a type of “generational bondage” and demonstrate the unspeakable depravity in the human heart that willingly harms human beings. “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si, no. 2). Only the love and peace of Christ can conquer the heart. 

My motivation? To move forward for Christ. He wants us to be free and live a full life. The Apostle Paul said, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey...?” (Romans 6:17). Are we not then slaves to nuclear weapons and to the unsustainable strategy of fear that we call deterrence? How can we be free or by extension, be good stewards of our earthly home, while nuclear weapons exist? In looking at the nuclear issue, I try to follow God’s lead on this issue and pray that the seeds that are sown toward achieving disarmament fall on fertile ground. All I have to do is heed the call and move forward. The rest is up to him.

The Catholic Church has addressed the moral implications of nuclear weapons since the inception of the atom bomb continually calling for disarmament. I believe that the Church has a unique and important role yet to play. The worldwide reach of the Church and collaboration with religious, scientific, advocacy, and education communities can help to multiply the numbers of those working for nuclear disarmament and abolition. This leads me to hope that we can prevail, for if God is with us, who can be against us? I also believe that education of young people is key. We need more effective messaging to engage them on the topic of nuclear weapons and their effects on the environment. 

Human history shows us that if nuclear weapons did not exist, humanity certainly would have conceived an equally devastating weapon to take its place. I believe that only the saving grace of Jesus Christ has the power to transform the human heart and mind, to bring forth compassion for one another, and to bring his transformative peace and justice to our world. In the end, as a child of God I am called to strive toward that goal—to care for and love others as myself. So despite the odds, I move forward to play my small part in nuclear disarmament. As Fyodor Dostoevsky postulates in The Brothers Karamazov, I am my brother’s keeper. I must do my part to ensure that we are not, as stated by my mentor Gerard Powers, both the victims and the perpetrators.

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