THREE STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT: Toward a Legal Philosophy and Spiritual Approach for the Pro-life (.i.e., anti-nuclear war) Movement
(Homily prepared to kick off the establishment of the Burlington Northern Project and delivered at the Burlington Northern Railroad Company's corporate headquarters [which used to be in downtown Saint Paul, MN] on Sunday afternoon, August 5, 1984 with the title “CONNECTIONS: Past, Present, and Future”. In memory of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings of World War II, we stayed up all night, taking turns reading through John Hersey's Hiroshima and folding hundreds of origami cranes (see the story of Sadako Sasaki) before passing them out to Burlington Northern employees as they entered the building for work on Monday morning.)
It was a little over a year ago that the seed for the Burlington Northern Project was planted by my reading an article on the “white death train” and seeing the picture of the big green Burlington Northern locomotive pulling it in the Fellowship of Reconciliation magazine. But the events leading up to the formation of the Burlington Northern Project really began with our government's use of nuclear weapons beginning on August 6, 1945. President Truman justified the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the claim that by forcing the Japanese to surrender without having to invade the home islands, he saved the lives of a million GIs (an invasion was planned for Nov. 1, 1945).
However, Japan had sued for peace fully six weeks before the dropping of the atomic bomb. In mid-June they requested not only the USSR, but also Switzerland and Sweden to open negotiations for surrender. U. S. officials, including the President, were well aware that Japan's surrender was at most a matter of months away, regardless of any invasion. Yet the United States acted as if nothing was happening, and issued an ultimatum along with China and Britain to the Japanese on July 26, 1945. The ultimatum was issued during the Potsdam conference and called upon the Japanese to surrender unconditionally or face “prompt and utter destruction”.
Japan was beaten and suing for peace. No invasion of the Japanese home islands was scheduled until November. Why, then, did the United States choose to obliterate the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
The answer is given in the diary of Admiral James Forrestal, who recorded a conversation with Secretary of State James Byrnes on July 28, two days after the ultimatum to Japan. “Byrnes said that he was most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians get in . . . . Once in there, he felt it would not be easy to get them out . . . .” The U. S. was determined to force the surrender at once - without any prolonged negotiations. This was to ensure that the Soviet Union would not be involved in the negotiations and would have no role in Japan following the war. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki represented the opening salvo of the cold war - an example of the fate that awaited any people or power that dared stand in the way of American domination of Asia.
As we continue our journey on the way of peace, we place ourselves in a position of psychological disadvantage by referring to “first strike” capabilities. While this terminology may be useful in describing countries which have not yet gone insane and actually used these weapons, as we have seen, our government continues in its insane hope that their “third strike” will bring peace to the world. No matter how you visualize it, more and more of the world's population is coming to see that that “third strike” means we are all out.
In fact, this is the same conclusion reached by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal after World War II and reiterated in the whole series of treaties and conventions on the rules of war since that time - most notably the Geneva Protocols concluded in 1977.
In essence, planning, preparing, and initiating war is a crime against humanity and anyone who is aware that crimes of state are being committed has an obligation to take what action they can to prevent those crimes from occurring.
In response to the excesses of the Nazi regime, to the fact that the death trains went by - nobody looked, nobody saw - that there was a tremendous silence, and that the assembly line of death, destruction, and dehumanization in Nazi Germany was furthered by many and protested by few, the Nuremberg Tribunal placed responsibility upon individuals to refrain from committing an act which violated the principles of international law, even though commanded by their country to do it. So, we have a principle adopted which says that you have to interpose your estimate of the conduct, and not simply obey.
Our constitution says that international law is the supreme law of the land. This has been affirmed by the Supreme Court with regard not only to treaties, but also to so-called customary international law which includes the law of war. If you take the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and match them up against the prohibitions for their use, you will find that nuclear weapons are outlawed for a variety of reasons.
When it comes to its nuclear strategy, “third strike” weapons, and the war plans that have recently been published, it is a reasonable thing for reasonable people to believe that our government is in violation of international law in a Nuremberg sense. In other words, that it is planning in some way to wage aggressive war. If that is the case, then individuals who are aware of this situation, if anything, are not doing enough, given the gravity of the evil that is involved and the danger, and given the understanding at Nuremberg that everyone has a responsibility to the enforcement of international law.
In this situation, the churches and synagogues, because they are the repositories of long term values, have a particularly important role. Unfortunately, that role for the most part has been abdicated. As Americans with various religious tradition or belief systems, we find that we are part of a people who have been seduced into idolatry. Our idol is a rebellious system, a legitimate governmental service to its citizens which has gathered its own momentum, gone out of control, and now demands sacrificial obedience and promises security and benevolence. We are part of a nation that has come to worship power, especially as that power is manifested in nuclear weapons.
How can we give up our reliance on militarism? We first have to realize that if we give up our reliance upon militarism and begin instead to resist it, we will not only lose its protection, but will eventually become its victims - not in the relatively short and voluntary periods allowed by our current non-violent direct actions, but in more serious ways, ways which we will no longer control.
In preparation for that time - a time of loving acceptance of the violence that will be necessary to bring about this fundamental change - we will need to look to our belief systems and develop out of them a disciplined non-violence rooted in that power of love that wells up from our hearts. Only then will we be able to go beyond our own needs for security and our own fears and allow the power of love to work through us.
Beyond examining our lives for continuing reliance on the fruits of militarism, and taking as many steps as possible to reduce our complicity, Shelley Douglass from Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action suggests a modification of the Buddhist Karuna meditation to help us reach our goal:
We might sit in stillness and visualize the person whom we most love in the world. We surround that person with our love and care, praying for them or holding them in our hearts. Then we invite into that caring the people next closest to us and surround them with the same love and care. We move out with our invitations, out to an ever- widening circle of people, inviting them all into the same warmth of love that enveloped the most beloved. At the end of our medi- tation we invite into our love the people from whom we feel most estranged, those whom we dislike, fear, or hate. We invite them into our love and keep them there in prayer .... [s]uch constant practice in love can help us to become more deeply loving people.