Reacting in part to recent missile tests by Iran and North Korea, President Obama and a unanimous UN Security Council last week endorsed a sweeping strategy to halt the spread of nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminate them.
Is nuclear disarmament a religious issue? Is it a pro-life issue? Is support for nuclear disarmament a moral imperative? Should we pray for nuclear disarmament?
The Blessed Lord said: If hundreds of thousands of suns rose up at once into the sky, they might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal form.
Bhagvad Gita, Chapter 11, Verse 12
Robert Oppenheimer, none other than the head of the Manhattan Project and the father of the atom bomb, recalled later that these were the words that came to his lips as he watched the awesome spectacle of his theoretical experimentations unfold into a cataclysmic cloud in 1945
Nuclear weaponry–nearly infinite destructive energy evinced only twice before in Nagasaki and Hiroshima–is capable of global destruction over and over. But Armageddon conceptually is nothing new. All religious traditions speak of this potential, and certainly Hindus subscribe to the concept that this age of Kali will end with pralaya — a sort of Armageddon sans a second coming, but where humanity’s collective karmic credits and debits are balanced out. As lower tendencies in humans predominate, pralaya will usher in another Age of Great Awakening. Divine armaments, such as the Bramastra of Hindu scripture predestined the advent of nuclear weapons, and now, of course, they are here.
Growing up in South Florida, in the shadows of missile launchers hastily built during the Cuban missile crisis a decade before and the frost of a lingering Cold War, we watched “The Day After” and “Red Dawn” and wondered what if. But at some level, we believed as Sting famously sang:
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is that the Russians love their children too
As a Hindu, the Divine in me instructs me to see the Divine in them and think that the democracies of Great Britain, America, France and India-well, they love their children. But does a Godless despot in North Korea, a proliferating regime in Pakistan, an extremist, ideological lunatic in Iran love their children too? We know that the fear of mutual destruction conceptually constrains Armageddon today. But if the cults-of-death that are the Taliban or al-Qaeda were to gain control in Pakistan, where would India be? If an Ahmedinijadi Iranian regime, openly committed to the destruction of Israel, successfully went nuclear, a threat existential is theoretical no more.
Many faiths, including dharmic religions, promote peace, non-violence and tolerance; but we are not told to accept an existential threat with cowardly serenity–it must be countered by all means. And while our humanitarian impulse will aspire to a world free of nuclear weapons, we must live in a world where that impulse is not universally shared. Nothing can be more immoral than capitulating to terror in our own search for peace.
President Obama promotes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that the U.S. Senate has not even ratified–so his clarion call to others to sign on sounds hollow indeed. Even the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) from the 1960’s was deeply flawed–how can five countries that happen to make up the UN’s Security Council deem themselves responsible nuclear states and impose a moratorium on all other countries? Imperialistic asymmetry, a nuclear apartheid is bound to be rejected and India, Pakistan, Israel and now North Korea and Iran are testaments to this failure. A club with limited membership, but exclusive no more. Can’t keep the riffraff out…
There is no question that we must strive for the nuclear weapon-free utopia that is the only sure way to avoid our mutual annihilation. It is most certainly a moral imperative. The nuclear weapon states that are excessively armed would be exemplars of this morality if they were to shed their redundant weaponry and maintain a minimal deterrent as long as necessary. Our own American-style hypocrisy will sink us if we do not take the lead and call on others to follow.
But we must have simultaneously the moral courage and fortitude to declaw Iran and North Korea as nations whose leaders do not share our thirst for peace. Will we rein in the A.Q. Khan’s and punish a Pakistan that tacitly celebrates such merchants and proliferators of destruction? If the answer is a resounding yes, then the United Nations podium will one day mean more than a perch for poetic reflections on disarmament.
We must pray for peace and disarmament, but as the same Gita that Oppenheimer recalled implores: pitiful yearnings without dharmic–right and strong action fulfilling one’s duty–is no prayer at all.
Views expressed here are the personal views of Dr. Aseem Shukla, and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Minnesota or Hindu American Foundation.