Sorting out a wide range of opinion about nuclear disarmament.

Americans generally, and evangelicals particularly, are confused and troubled by the debate over nuclear armament and the threat of nuclear war. And well they might be! In World War I, 15 million people died. In World War II, 51 million people died. With proportional increases for World War III, 150 million will die, and many Americans will be in that number. Such a dreadful prospect surely demands clear, hard-headed thinking with a heart-felt appeal to a merciful God for wisdom and guidance.

War As A Last Resort

Long ago, the vast majority of evangelicals became convinced that war is not always wrong. Drawing on the clear teaching of both Testaments, they concluded that there is such a thing as a moral right—even duty—to serve as a soldier. The biblical evidence is set forth in such passages as Romans 13. There the apostle Paul teaches that civil authority functions as “the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.” Thus, when a government uses force to defend the rights of its citizens, it is doing “good” and is approved by God himself. Throughout both Old and New Testaments, the taking of life under certain circumstances is approved.

The Hebrew word used in the commandment, “You shall not murder,” forbids premeditated murder and manslaughter but not killing as punishment or in warfare. The larger context of God’s commands about war and criminal punishment in the Old Testament also confirms this view. Jesus’ teaching about loving our enemies and his warning against personal vengeance were intended to guide personal relations but not to deny governments the right to use force. For example, it would be wrong for me to kill another or to take his property. But it is right for the government to use the sword to apprehend and punish criminals or to collect taxes from its citizens by force. It is difficult to take seriously the Book of Revelation (interpreted literally or figuratively) and fail to see that it is right to restrain the awful wickedness of this world by force. Some wars are right. In World War II, 51 million people died in a tragedy so terrible that our minds can scarcely take it in, but it was right to battle against Hitler and a world dominated by the Nazis. Biblical revelation concurs with an instructed, intelligently directed love (by contrast with an unbiblical, sticky sentimentalism that often gets confused with biblical love). Accordingly, the church has seen fit not to rule out all war as wrong but to stress its moral parameters and to struggle desperately for peace.

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Complicating Factor: Nuclear War

Today many evangelicals are asking whether modern nuclear warfare does not make just wars impossible. The fact is, they say, nuclear war cannot be limited; so, ipso facto, there can be no just war.

Nuclear warfare, for example, is essentially indiscriminate, but to some extent so is all warfare. The siege of a nation’s city brought starvation to all within its walls, and invariably the women and children died first. And the military has often sought to safeguard its forces by identification with civilian population. But the principle is right. We must never aim to kill innocent people; we must protect them from harm as much as possible. This parameter of conventional warfare ought to be insisted on in all nuclear engagement. Therefore, we should pledge that we will not aim our nuclear warheads at civilian populations—no matter what the provocation. Naturally, this will no more guarantee that civilians will remain unharmed than it has in the past. But it will limit civilian losses to attacks directed against military establishments. We should renounce any retaliations in kind, even for an opponent’s bombing of our civilian population. It is always wrong to intend to kill the innocent.

Again, it is often argued that in the event of nuclear war we have no guarantee against ultimate escalation. Each side will seek to guarantee its victories by larger and larger threats and greater and greater reprisals until the ultimate destruction of an entire population is certain to be the end result. Naturally, we cannot determine what our opponents will do, but we can at least determine what we will not do. It is conceivable that a Khomeini or another Stalin will seek victory by threatening to bomb indiscriminately our civilian population; but that does not mean that we must do it too.

Finally, will the end justify going to war in a nuclear exchange when so many millions will almost certainly be destroyed? Here everything hangs on our relative values. We do not have many Patrick Henrys who prefer liberty to death. If physical human life is our highest value, then certainly we must abjure not only nuclear war, but also conventional war.

But the evangelical is not committed to human physical life as the highest value. As he contemplates what it will mean to live in the Gulag societies described by Solzhenitsyn, 100 million deaths may not be too great a price to pay. That depends on how much we value the freedom to rear our children in religious faith and to preserve for some a measure of political and social freedom.

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What Will We Die For?

Where does this leave us? Certainly the evangelical and every principled person should commit himself resolutely to the attainment of peace. Yet advocating a strong military defense is not the same as callousness to human life or indifference to peace. Evangelicals have always been at the forefront in defending the sacredness of human life and the right to life of unborn humans. It is not that they think less of life but that they value other things even more than life itself—namely, their religious and political freedoms.

Humans, so evangelicals hold, were created in the image of God and bear his stamp. Their life is sacred and must be protected by great sacrifice. Peace—yes. But not peace at any price. I value my freedoms of speech and press and religion more than life. To teach my children about God is more important to me than life itself. I would rather not bring children into the world than to give them birth only to have them reared as Marxist atheists. I am happy to die for the right to teach my children to love God and their fellow humans.

The question, rather, concerns the best means of securing peace. And here we must beware of fads. I lived through and participated in a time of easy, faddish pacifism during the 1930s. I shudder to think of the tragedy that would be ours if we of this movement had eroded the will of the populace to fight Hitler. Thank God. Thank God for the moral toughness of Reinhold Niebuhr and Winston Churchill. Yes, that war needed to be fought—even at the cost of 51 million lives.

What then is the best way to preserve our political, social, and religious freedoms and at the same time give us the best possibility for peace on earth with the least human suffering and death? It is not nuclear pacifism and the unilateral renunciation of the use of all nuclear weapons! Here, especially, our thinking can get fuzzy. Those who argue for this position rarely point out its consequences.

But first we must dispose of the proposal that we may threaten nuclear retaliation as a deterrent, but morally we must not use it. This would require our national leaders, and, indeed, our population, to live a continuous lie as a basis for our national policy. But in any case, it would be useless. Such moral and spiritual disarmament would lead only to physical disarmament, and the bluff would soon be recognized for what it is—only a bluff. Nuclear deterrence is effective only to the degree that our opponent knows we have weapons and are able and willing to use them. Sooner or later a mere bluff would be called. The logic of this position is that of really unilateral disarmament, and it ought to be stated honestly and the consequences of that position faced.

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Alternative: Universal Conscription

Fact is, the free world has inadequate nonnuclear deterrents to Soviet expansionism. To renounce all use of nuclear weapons, therefore, is to leave just two options: (1) “The Great Surrender,” involving absolute capitulation; or (2) immediate universal conscription and the buildup of conventional arms, an enormous expense that would transform the United States into a military state more like the Soviet Union. This could be done. The Swiss people have done it for many decades. They allocate over a third of their national budget for military expenses and support universal conscription with regular military stints each year required of all males to the age of 47.

Do we want this? The rejection of all nuclear weapons must be faced forthrightly. If its proponents are really advocating capitulation and the loss of our basic freedoms, they should say so. If they would “rather be Red than dead,” it is their privilege in a free society to say so. Or, if they really would prefer to have universal conscription in America, with an immense buildup of conventional arms, radical transformation of our whole economy, and the threat of a nearly Russian-like poverty, that too is their privilege. But the alternatives should be faced openly and debated without subterfuge. At the present time, tactical nuclear weapons are the only deterrent against the vast and impressive Russian military establishment.

Sometimes the objection to tactical nuclear warheads seems to rest on a careless disregard of the awfulness of conventional warfare. But past history warns us that even a conventional war might destroy a quarter of a billion people. Western Europe in particular is much better protected by the nuclear umbrella that prevents its destruction by conventional weapons.

Necessity For Deterrence

But even a commitment to conscription and the building up of conventional weapons would not be enough. Opponents of the free world have never renounced the use of atomic weapons. And every bit of evidence shows that they would use them—even if they promised not to. The Soviets promised not to use chemical warfare, but almost incontrovertible evidence indicates that they have done so in both Southeast Asia and in Afghanistan. And who believes that a Mao (China), Zia (Pakistan), or Qaddafi (Libya) would choose on his own not to employ nuclear weapons, should the allies renounce unilaterally all such dependence? Might not a Stalin then build up sufficient conventional arms to the point where, by nonnuclear weapons, they could crush the threat of any attack? Khomeini values his “Islamic fundamentalism” more than life. He has told us so many times, and proved it by his actions. Stalin valued Marxist-Russian dictatorship more than life, and proved it by his willingness to sacrifice tens of millions of lives to preserve it. Have we any rational grounds for believing that the sacrifice of a few more millions would be too great a price in his eyes?

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Some object that a limited nuclear deterrent will simply not deter. But it has! As Churchill wisely noted, atomic weapons have brought us a measure of peace. That peace has now stretched out for over 30 years. Under God, such a deterrent has alone kept the peace. Pray God that it may buy us time while we work sincerely and desperately for a more firm basis for peace.

Moreover, a similar situation worked in the Second World War. Each side possessed a huge stockpile of poison gas. Neither side employed it because each knew that the other side would certainly reply in kind. Even in his final days Hitler was not able effectively to turn to gas warfare as a last desperate recourse.

What Agreements Must We Seek?

Meanwhile, our Christian duty is clear. People of principle must renounce nuclear warfare and work desperately for bilateral verifiable agreements. We must begin by firmly repudiating the policy of mutual assured destruction (MAD). We simply will not threaten to bomb civilian population centers indiscriminately as a deterrent. It is wrong to murder innocent people; and if it is wrong to do it, it is also wrong even to threaten to do it. No military value would be achieved by such bombing. It would be only an empty gesture of hate unworthy of a follower of Christ.

Yet we must bend every effort to seek agreement with the Soviet Union: First, to freeze the nuclear arms at the present level (and this must be done immediately, before continuing Soviet increases (in the view of Americans) or American increases (in the view of the Soviets) render the imbalance too far out of line). Second, to cut nuclear armaments back step by step. Third, to outlaw nuclear armaments altogether either as tactical or strategic weapons. And fourth, to reduce and then ultimately to outlaw conventional weapons in warfare.

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That Knotty Problem: Verification

Essential to this whole process, of course, is verification. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to check the buildup of atomic weaponry. Many nations have the capability of building atomic warheads. Both Russia and the United States as well as other nations have vast supplies of materials from which warheads could easily be made. The only real limit on major power production of nuclear warheads is national bankruptcy.

And no detection system has yet been devised. India was able to produce a bomb while no one knew it was doing so. Most military analysts believe that Israel already has the bomb, but nobody knows because it cannot be detected. We talk about aerial inspection of nuclear stockpiles, but as a matter of fact, we are able to inspect only a country’s delivery systems. We must depend upon what it tells us concerning the number and types of warhead. And even the counting of delivery systems is extremely tricky. Any weapons delivery system that could carry a payload six inches in diameter weighing no more than 75 to 100 pounds is for all practical purposes adequate for nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union would need only to substitute nuclear warheads (completely undetectable) for conventional weapons and, relying on its conventional system, could greatly expand its nuclear strike force almost overnight.

Reliable verification is possible only by technicians investigating on site. And they would need free access to every part of a country. We may well believe that a Begin (Israel) or a Gandhi (India) would not permit this sort of inspection. Yet it is our duty to seek aggressively for just this sort of agreement. Meanwhile, we must maintain a balance of weapons—a minimum balance that will enable us to make military attacks unprofitable. Our choice is whether to build conventional weapons and adopt universal conscription or rely on nuclear tactical weapons and limited retaliation for Soviet attacks through a nuclear deterrent. The former choice is replete with a vast reshuffling of national resources for military purposes and the transformation of Western Europe and the United States into a Soviet-style armed military camp. In addition to conventional weapons, there must be an adequate stockpile of nuclear weapons so as to deter Russia from resorting to its nuclear arsenal in case it finds itself in desperate circumstances, overpowered by conventional armament and about to be conquered by allied armies.

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Limited Nuclear Defense

It would seem to me, therefore, that we really have only one moral and rational choice. That is to rely upon a strictly limited nuclear defense while at the same time working desperately toward the goal of a nuclear freeze—and then a nuclear cutback, and then an outlawing of nuclear weapons; the ultimate goal would be the destruction of conventional weapons. But those who pray that they will never have to use nuclear weapons must be willing to use them if necessary. Otherwise, there is no deterrent, but only a unilateral disarmament leading through appeasement and surrender to slavery.

We must beware of those who cry, “Peace, peace!” but who would only lead us down a primrose path to slavery or poverty and, in the end, war. Freedom and peace are precious pearls of great price. But they come only to those who are willing to fight for them—and who pray that by God’s grace they will not have to.


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