Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Catholics Against Nukes: Archbishop Wester’s Hiroshima Vigil

In what is a turn-up for the books, a senior voice of the Catholic Church made something of an impression this month that did not incite scandal, hot rage, or the commencement of an investigation. It did, however, agitate a few editors. Archbishop John C. Wester of San Fe, in speaking at the online Hiroshima Day vigil, had put up his hand to defy the validity and morality of nuclear weapons and, along with them, the idea of nuclear deterrence. One of the organisers of the event, the veteran peace activist Rev. John Dear, claimed it had “never happened before.”

Dear had a point. There has been a shift within Catholic ranks urged along by Pope Francis on that most fatuous of strategic doctrines, nuclear deterrence. Before the United Nations General Assembly in June 1982, Pope John Paul II chose to argue that nuclear “‘deterrence’ based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable.”

At a Vatican symposium in November 2017, the current pontiff acknowledged concern for “the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices.” Given the risk of accidental detonation occasioned by error, “the threat of their use, as well as their possession, is to be firmly condemned.”

In November 2019 in Nagasaki, the pontiff expressed the view that peace and international stability were incompatible objects “with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual assured destruction, or the threat of total annihilation.” Such weapons could not “protect us from current threats to national and international security”. Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops was of similar view in his recent commemorative remarks, at one with the Pope and calling “on our national and world leaders to persevere in their efforts to abolish these weapons of mass destruction, which threaten the existence of the human race and our planet.”

Archbishop Wester reminded his listeners of the stance taken by the US Conference of Bishops: that Washington has a pressing obligation to reverse the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and “reduce its own reliance on weapons of mass destruction by pursuing progressive disarmament.” He spoke of the “fear, a dread and a sorrow” when visiting Nagasaki in September 2017. “It reminded me a little bit of those days during the Cuban missile crisis when I would walk home from school having been instructed what to do in the event of a nuclear attack within a few thousand yards of a Nike missile site in San Francisco.”

The travails and challenges caused by COVID-19 might have forced social distance between people but, according to the Archbishop, “we’re united in our resolve to eliminate nuclear weapons and build a world that is grounded, not in fear and distrust, but in mutual respect for the life and dignity for all.” He quoted Pope Francis’s Nagasaki remarks about such instruments of death being an “affront crying out to heaven”, developed even as people continued to live in miserable conditions.

Support was also given to the efforts made by the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, co-founded by Tina Cordova and Fred Tyler in 2005 with the express purpose of drawing attention to the health effects of the Trinity test of July 16, 1945. Their aim is compensation and health coverage for victims of the radioactive fallout drawn from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

It stands to reason that Archbishop Wester is concerned. Two of the US’s three nuclear weapons laboratories are to be found in the dioceses of Sandia and Los Alamos. “In fact,” observes Nuclear Watch New Mexico executive director Jay Coghlan, “there are probably more nuclear warheads in his dioceses – some 2,500 stored in reserve at the Kirtland Air Force Base at Albuquerque.” The Los Alamos National Laboratory is also intending to expand plutonium pit production, but not, according to Coghlan, to maintain “the already extensively tested and reliable stockpile.” The future lies in dangerously “speculative new designs” that will be untested because of the global testing moratorium unless the US recklessly decides to get back into the testing game.

The laboratories do come with their biting paradox. Wester is aware that an enterprise involving such weapons of mass lethality has other aspects, those incremental, even accidental benefits drawn from the inventive drive to kill. Scientists, for instance, were turning their minds to “research that envelops energy and environmental programs, computing science, bio science, engineering science, materials science and micro-systems, as well as advances in medicine, and lately, helping in fighting COVID-19.”

The editors of the Albuquerque Journal were unimpressed by the Archbishop and the organisers. Wester and Dear inhabited “a world that sounds lovely but will never exist.” They had erred in not recognising the “deterrent benefit of the nuclear arsenal” which had “kept a nuclear peace since 1945 even as nations like Pakistan and North Korea have developed nuclear weapons.” They slipped up in not accepting that using atomic weapons on Japan saved the lives of Allied soldiers and millions of Japanese. Horrific as those weapons were, war was horrific. “World War II claimed 60 million lives.”

For the editors, it was far better to endorse the somewhat darker view of the Very Rev. Glennon Jones, whose piece for the August edition of the People of God newsletter for Catholics in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe impressed. “There is a vital difference between the promotion of an ideal and being naively idealistic.”

And so, we return to the historical reasoning that justified virtuous butcheries, the war is terrible argument, ignoring the obvious contention that such weapons are themselves potential incitements to error, lunacy and existential deletion. As long as nuclear deterrence, that most unmeasured of strategies, remains, it keeps company with the prospect of use and annihilation. Coghlan, in his rebuke to the editors also penned in the Albuquerque Journal, gave an acid summation: “the US arsenal has always been about nuclear war fighting, starting with the simple fact that we were the first to use it.” Only “sheer luck has kept us from nuclear catastrophe.”

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at SelwynCollege, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Reese Erlich: Foreign Correspondent: Trump Plays Both Sides Against The Middle

Is he a hawk? Is he a peacenik? The President keeps us guessing . By Reese Erlich President Donald Trump has convinced Republican isolationists and hawks that he supports their views. That’s a neat trick, since the two groups hold opposing positions. ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Waiting For The Old Bailey: Julian Assange And Britain’s Judicial Establishment

On September 7, Julian Assange will be facing another round of gruelling extradition proceedings, in the Old Bailey, part of a process that has become a form of gradual state-sanctioned torture. The US Department of Justice hungers for their man. The More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Sorry Plight Of The International Education Sector

Tourism and international education have been two of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. They’re both key export industries. Yet the government response to them has been strikingly different. There has been nothing beyond a few words of ministerial condolence and a $51.6 million package (details below) to get the sector through the pandemic...

Binoy Kampmark: Google’s Open Letter: Fighting Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code

Tech giants tend to cast thin veils over threats regarding government regulations. They are also particularly concerned by those more public spirited ones, the sort supposedly made for the broader interest. Google has given us an example of this ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Trump’s Current Chances Of Re-Election

By now it seems clear that National have no fresh ideas to offer for how New Zealand could avoid the Covid-19 economic crisis. As in the past, National has set an arbitrary 30% ratio of government debt to GDP that it aims to achieve “in a decade or so,” ... More>>

The Conversation: Rogue Poll Or Not, All The Signs Point To A Tectonic Shift In New Zealand Politics

Richard Shaw AAP(various)/NZ Greens (CC-BY-SA)/The Conversation Strong team. More jobs. Better economy. So say the National Party’s campaign hoardings. Only thing is, last Sunday’s Newshub-Reid Research poll – which had support for the Labour ... More>>

The Coronavirus Republic: Three Million Infections And Rising

The United States is famed for doing things, not to scale, but off it. Size is the be-all and end-all, and the coronavirus is now doing its bit to assure that the country remains unrivalled in the charts of infection . In time, other unfortunates may well ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Altars Of Hypocrisy: George Floyd, Protest And Black Face

Be wary what you protest about. The modern moral constabulary are out, and they are assisted by their Silicon Valley friends in the Social Media club. Should you dare take a stand on anything, especially in a dramatic way, you will be found out ... More>>