Pope Francis used the first papal visit to Japan in nearly 40 years to push for a world free of destructive and "immoral" nuclear weapons.
The pontiff visited the Japanese cities razed by two US nuclear bombs dropped three days apart in 1945; massive uranium and plutonium bombs that wiped out nearly 200,000 victims and left generations of survivors to battle cancer and radiation poisoning.
Stories of Survival
In Hiroshima, he listened quietly as survivor Yoshiko Kajimoto described walking out of a collapsed factory on that terrible day to see “people walking side by side like ghosts...people whose whole body was so burned that I could not tell the difference between men and women, their hair standing on end, their faces swollen to double size, their lips hanging loose, with both hands held out with burned skin hanging from them.”
Later, after laying a wreath for victims in the pouring Nagasaki rain, standing next to an enlarged black and white photograph of a Japanese boy carrying his dead younger brother on his back, Pope Francis spoke.
“In a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, the money that is squandered and the fortunes made through the manufacture, upgrading, maintenance, and sale of evermore destructive weapons are an affront crying out to heaven. Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction.”
When Pope John Paul II visited Japan during the Cold War, he insisted stockpiling such weapons for mutual deterrence could be “morally acceptable” as a logical step toward eventual disarmament. But Pope Francis has hardened the Vatican's stance, arguing these weapons only create a false sense of security in today's current “climate of distrust”.
This message comes amid perpetual nuclear-program standoffs with both Iran and North Korea and waning progress in international arms control negotiations.
The Trump administration recently decided to pull the United States out of a Cold War-era non-proliferation pact, pointing the finger at Moscow for allegedly violating the terms of the agreement. And most major countries have still not signed a United Nations treaty dedicated to the complete elimination of nuclear arms - including Japan. While the mayors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima have called on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to reconsider that stance, Japan’s own Catholic bishops have called for the abolition of nuclear arms altogether.
It's clear that Pope Francis is playing the morality card in an effort to convince world leaders to abandon these deadly weapons. But what kind of weight do the Pope's words actually carry? The reality is that countries like Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan have staked their very existence on the notion that possessing such weapons somehow legitimizes them. Their leaders remember quite well what happened to Libya's Muammar Gaddafi after he agreed to tame his nuclear ambitions.
Are Nukes Moral?
It’s tough not to be moved when listening to the stories of innocent survivors of such terrible weapons. Should human beings even wield such world-ending, downright biblical power?
The Pope certainly made his thoughts clear: “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral,” he said. “As is the possession of atomic weapons.” And amid his prayers, he said that “we will be judged for this.”
Should the United States - the only country to ever use such weapons - lead by example and begin the process of disarmament? Will that guide the rest of the world towards becoming nuke-free? Or are nuclear weapons a necessary and moral tool to keep unpredictable and bad actors in check?
What do you think? Are nuclear weapons morally wrong?