In the years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki there has been no more eloquent response to our nuclear predicament than Dale Aukerman’s terrifying Darkening Valley: A biblical perspective on nuclear weapons (Seabury Press, 1981).
The book was published four years before Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Aukerman’s prose has weathered well, but thirty years of political turbulence has been less kind to the anti-nuclear movement. In 1981 it was meaningful to read the situation as a double-handed conflict:
In the East-West struggle there are two sides. As each side seeks the status of Abel – what Cain sought – it becomes Cain.
In 1981 the bomb was still centre stage. It had been a progressive lightning rod; a defining moral challenge for a generation.
Now there are many sides. In the UK, support for CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) suffered after the end of the Cold war. Despite periodic revivals of public concern backing for unilateralism fell from 31 per cent in September 1982 to 21 per cent in January 1983 and 19 per cent in May 1983.
Today, it is not clear whether the threat comes from Russia, or China, Islam or anywhere. The prospect of nuclear terrorism and a bevy of aspirant nuclear states make the picture considerably more complex than the world Dale Aukerman contemplated in 1981. For many people the ecological crisis has replaced nuclear holocaust as the Armageddon of choice.
Yet, the weapons are still there. It is all too easy to let the mind slide around our nuclear vulnerability. Despite the formal end of the Cold war in 1991 Russia and the United States maintain an arsenal of around 20000 warheads between them.
The increasing sophistication of potential individual or state sponsored terrorism adds another dimension to the equation. The introduction of false data into command and control systems is a chilling possibility.
It was the Marxist historian E. P. Thompson who said in 1980, "We must protest if we are to survive". He described the immobilism of the left in the face of "exterminism" The left does not have a monopoly on immobility. The charter statement of the ‘two futures project’ which exists to rally support amongst American Christians for nuclear weapons abolition contains a note of repentance:
We repent of apathy towards devices that cause indiscriminate destruction.
The recent launch by Iran of a Safir rocket, ostensibly in relation to a domestic space programme, concentrates the mind. “It is capable of photographing the Earth”, said Iranian TV. Successive generations of the technology may be capable of doing rather more.
In a thank-you speech to Strategic Arms Reduction staff delivered in July 2010, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said: “I am personally very grateful for everything you’ve done to move us toward our goal of a world someday, in some century, free of nuclear weapons”.
Someday, in some century hardly seems soon enough.
(c) Phil Wood has a varied background uniting community development, social entrepreneurship, housing and Christian mission. Phil is a Mennonite but has a Methodist background. His blog, from which this is adapted, is at: http://radref.blogspot.com/