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Back to Los Alamos

Posted by Erin Bechtol

by John Dear


This Saturday, August 5th, my friends and I will once again climb the mountain of Los Alamos, New Mexico, for our annual sackcloth and ashes peace vigil to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the U.S. atomic terrorist attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where we vaporized two hundred thousand sisters and brothers, injured many more, and launched the nuclear age.

Today we are as close to nuclear war as ever, with a demogogue as president and a military war machine that is ready at a moment’s notice to unleash hell on earth. Business at Los Alamos is booming, and it’s Christians who spend their days building nuclear weapons.

We go to pray, repent and speak out in a spirit of Gospel nonviolence. Of course, our vigil looks ridiculous, but prayer and public action for peace are requirements of discipleship to the nonviolent Jesus. In such a time, at such a place, I’m not sure what else we can do. But I do trust that our prayer for nuclear disarmament will be heard.

The good news is that last month, the United Nations launched a new movement to outlaw nuclear weapons. “The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” was passed at the U.N. on July 7th, with 122 votes in favor and one abstention, Singapore. 69 countries—all the nuclear weapons states and all NATO members except the Netherlands, did not vote.

This movement to ban nuclear weapons started with a series of three international conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. The first was held in Oslo, Norway, in March 2013. Martin Sheen and I were invited by ICANW, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, to be the opening keynote speakers at a public event the night before the global gathering started. We called for a new law outlawing nuclear weapons, told stories of our efforts to support nuclear disarmament, and even recounted the many times we had both been arrested in anti-nuclear protests. That evening was one of the highlights of both our lives.

Two other conferences followed, one in Nayarit, Mexico in February 2014, and one in Vienna, Austria, in December, 2014. After the Vienna conference, 127 states formally endorsed a humanitarian pledge, with 23 more voting to approve a resolution in its favor. The pledge called on all nuclear powers to take concrete measures to reduce preparations for nuclear war.

In September, a UN vote will be held that will make the resolution law. It is expected to pass.

In Norway, government officials told us that the goal was to set the process for a new law and a global legal movement that would eventually wear down the nuclear weapons states until they get rid of their nuclear weapons. That Norway has brought the movement this far is an extraordinary achievement.

In support of this development, Pope Francis has announced that he is organizing an international conference at the Vatican on nuclear disarmament to be held November 10-11. In a statement, the Vatican said it wants to help push global opinion to realize that “the world is safer without nuclear weapons than with them.”

The U.N. effort to outlaw nuclear weapons is a sign of hope in our time of darkness and global injustice. It is the fruit of decades of hard work by unsung heroes who have quietly insisted that we can get rid of nuclear weapons. This work is as important as ever today.

I hope everyone will pray for the miracle of nuclear disarmament and humanity’s conversion to Jesus’ way of total nonviolence. I hope too that as we take to the streets in September for our Campaign Nonviolence national week of action, we can support this U.N. movement and speak out to for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

On August 9th, hundreds will gather at the gates of Livermore Labs in Livermore, California, to commemorate Nagasaki Day and continue the call for nuclear disarmament. I’ve decided to go there, too, and take a stand. Hope to see you there!

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