Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Bomb Doesn't Fall Very Far from the Tree

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Bomb Doesn't Fall Very Far from the Tree

Article excerpt

Your nuclear weapons are Dangerous, destabilizing, The cornerstone of peace in Our day. Understand? Neither does Patrick McCormick.

When I was 5 my mother caught me and a neighbor playing with his father's cigarettes. Not lighting them, just playing. Because my father was a smoker, she had him speak with me. He didn't tell me about the evils of smoking--how could he? Instead, he told me that he had started smoking at 16 and that I could start then. To tide me over he gave me a pack of chocolate cigarettes. But then, when I was 13, my father gave up smoking for Lent and never picked up another pack. He never told me I couldn't smoke because he had quit, but it felt like he had told me something. I never started.

I was reminded of this experience with my father and smoking last May when President Clinton and the United Nations Security Council berated and sanctioned India and Pakistan for starting a nuclear arms race, and again when the media was full of shock and dismay at the story of a 15-year-old Oregon student who walked into his high-school cafeteria and shot 29 people.

In the wake of such catastrophes we often seem to have a moment of clarity about the insanity of violence, a temporary consensus that the killing must stop, and we piously urge our children and neighbors to beat their swords into plowshares. Unfortunately it's often a very brief commercial break in a larger drama that is telling them something very different indeed.

In "Justice for the World," the 1971 document of the World Synod of Bishops, the authors note that "everyone who ventures to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes." In other words, as Jessie Jackson would say: We can't just talk the talk, we have to walk the walk. And when nations like India and Pakistan read beyond all our noble words about the evils of arms races and pay close attention to what we actually do in this area, they get another message entirely. So, too, when our young people hear about the insanity of violence from pulpit and pundit, they only need to look around to see how often we adults use force to solve problems or barrage them with entertaining tales in which violence is the solution to life's woes. We can hardly be surprised if they end up following our example and not our advice.

President Clinton responded to India and Pakistan's announced nuclear tests by condemning and sanctioning both countries. Applying the 1994 Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act--a federal law permitting only the five established nuclear powers to set off test explosions--Clinton cut off nearly all government aid, forbade loans from American banks, and committed the U.S. to oppose any aid or loans India or Pakistan might seek from the World Bank or International Monetary Fund.

Look who's talking

In the weeks that followed, the five members of the U.N. Security Council--who also happen to be the five recognized nuclear powers on the planet--condemned the violation of both the 1968 Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty--which India, Pakistan, and Israel did not sign--and the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The council also warned of the dangers of a nuclear-arms race between two nations that can so ill afford to waste resources on building bombs.

And yet, in spite of these sanctions people danced in the streets of New Delhi, India and Islamabad, Pakistan when they heard of the tests. Even the poor, who are certain to suffer devastating losses from an escalating arms race, were jubilant at what they saw as a surging leap in national stature. In spite of any economic sanctions or pariah status that might be visited upon them, their nations had just joined the most powerful and dangerous club in the world. Now they would be safe from their enemies. Now appropriate attention would have to be paid to them.

And where did the people dancing in the streets get such ideas? …

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