Traveling south on Route 95 entering Providence, R.I., for many years, there was graffiti written on the side of an overpass. In enormous letters it said, “It is a sin to build a nuclear weapon.” I was doubly intrigued by the facts that it was written there and that it stayed then for years. I eventually found the source of the quote. It was from a book on the Gospel and nonviolence by Fr. Richard McSorley, S.J. I wish the sentence was still there.
This past month we remembered the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Seventy-five years ago they became the first cities to suffer nuclear annihilation. The first atomic bomb was detonated as a test in the New Mexico desert three weeks before Hiroshima. Many scientists who worked on The Manhattan Project, which built the bomb, resigned after seeing the effects of the test. Robert Oppenheimer, the head of The Manhattan Project which built the bomb said after the explosion: “We have become death.” He was one of the scientists who tried to stop the bombings in Japan.
Four atomic bombs were made under his direction. One tested in New Mexico, one dropped on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki. The fourth one became the first bomb in our nuclear stockpile of weapons. We have enough now to destroy the entire world many times over.
Since that horrible beginning of the nuclear age, more people have died in the production and testing of these weapons than in their first use in Japan. The United States tested in the fifties in the South Pacific, rendering Bikini Island unlivable, our naval ships unusable and the men and women who were on them ill from radiation. Testing above ground in the western states ravaged children if they happened to live downwind of a test. Underground testing in Nevada has permanently poisoned the water table for Las Vegas.
Those are just the verifiable facts surrounding the nuclear weaponry. The moral question is entirely another matter. Was the statement on the Rhode Island bridge true?
For Catholics, we go to our sources. Pope John Paul II said, “The moral code of the Catholic Church is the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.” (Veritatis Splendor) Jesus Christ is perfectly clear. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” There is no indecision on where Jesus stands with regard to any act of violence. His life justifies no war.
The Vatican Council II had only one condemnation in all its documents. That one was to say no Catholic could ever use a weapon that would indiscriminately harm entire populations. So, if it is a sin to use such a weapon, then it must be a sin to build one with the intent of using it. No one since the beginning of time has ever designed and built a weapon that has not been used.
We remember with sorrow the twin bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago. We mourn those who were killed then and all who have suffered since those days. We ask forgiveness for ever using atomic weapons. We pray to never use them again.
“I know the plans I have in mind for you — it is the Lord who speaks — plans for peace, not disaster, reserving a future full of hope for you.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Working for peace is an imperative of duty; it is a requirement of love.” (Saint Pope John XXIII)
Editor’s Note: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, God’s fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life through war, with the stipulation that “as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.”
Sister Patricia McCarthy currently teaches Math at a Catholic School. For many years she taught troubled children and victims of abuse.