Nuclear War and the Words of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
August 23, 2002

By Jonathan Granoff
(From an April 9, 2002 address at the celebration of the “Gandhi and King Season for Nonviolence” hosted by the United Nations in New York.)

Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"In a day when vehicles hurtle through outer space and guided missiles carve highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can claim victory in war."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is a great honor to be on this podium with Mahatma Gandhi's grandchildren, Ela and Arun Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Yolanda King. Let us be grateful to them for keeping the commitment to truth and nonviolence alive.

Martin Luther King Jr. described our current predicament posed by nuclear weapons succinctly: nonviolence or nonexistence. The dynamics of violence — and its friends: fear, denial and falsehood — and the dynamics of nonviolence — and its friends: love, truth and peace — begin in the hearts of each of us. The most offensive expression of the violence that grows from the heart bereft of peace is the threat to use nuclear weapons and ultimately destroy all life on the planet Earth in order to exalt a human creation — a nation state.

In his Nobel Lecture of December 11, 1964, Dr. King said: "Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. We have allowed the means whereby we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. So much of our modern life can be summarized in that arresting dictum of the poet Thoreau: ‘Improved means to an unimproved end.' This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem confronting modern man. If we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual 'lag' must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul. When the 'without' of man's nature subjugates the 'within,' dark storm clouds begin to form in the world."

Nothing so dramatically expresses the discordance between physical capacity and moral immaturity than a thermonuclear device. As General Lee Butler, former head of US Strategic Command, said on December 4, 1996 before the National Press Club: "We have yet to fully grasp the monstrous effects of these weapons, that the consequences of their use defy reason…."

On October 15, 1996, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the threatened use of nuclear weapons violates international law. The ICJ’s “Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons” concluded: "The destructive power of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in either space or time. They have the potential to destroy all civilization and the entire eco-system of the planet."

Before 1945, the highest explosive effect of bombs was produced by TNT devices of about 20 tons. The nuclear weapon exploded in Hiroshima contained the explosive power of 15 kilotons (15,000 tons of TNT). Many weapons existing today represent several multiples of the explosive power of that bomb. Bombs in the megaton (one million tons of TNT) and multiple megaton range are in the world's nuclear arsenals. A one-megaton bomb would unleash around 70 times the explosive power of the bombs used on Japan and a 20-megaton bomb, well over a thousand times that explosive power.

The mind is numbed by such abstract figures. Picture instead, the quantity of TNT represented by a single one-megaton bomb, in terms of its transport by rail. It has been estimated that this would require a train 200 miles long. For a five-megaton bomb, the train would be 1,000 miles long and 4,000 miles long for a 20-megaton bomb.

A five-megaton weapon would represent more explosive power than all the bombs used in World War II and a 20-megaton bomb more than all the explosives used in all the wars in human history.

The Mayor of Nagasaki pleads with us to understand the human dimensions of the device exploded on his city:

The explosion of the atomic bomb generated an enormous fireball, 200 meters [985 feet] in radius, almost as though a small sun had appeared in the sky. The next instant, a ferocious blast and wave of heat assailed the ground with a thunderous roar. The surface temperature of the fireball was about 7,000 degrees C, and the heat rays that reached the ground were over 3,000 degrees C.

The explosion instantly killed or injured people within a two-kilometer radius of the hypocenter, leaving innumerable corpses charred like clumps of charcoal and scattered in the ruins near the hypocenter…. A wind (over 680 miles per hour) slapped down trees and demolished most buildings. Even iron-reinforced concrete structures… seemed to have been smashed by a giant hammer. The fierce flash of heat meanwhile melted glass and left metal objects contorted like strands of taffy….

Four months after the atomic bombing, 74,000 people were dead and 75,000 had suffered injuries — that is, two thirds of the city population had fallen victim to this calamity.

When Mahatma Gandhi heard of this horror he reflected, "What has happened to the soul of the destroying nation is yet too early to see…. A slaveholder cannot hold a slave without putting himself or his deputy in the cage holding the slave."

George Kennan, the distinguished American diplomat who originated the Cold War containment policy toward the Soviet Union, now admonishes us:

The readiness to use nuclear weapons against other human beings — against people we do not know, whom we have never seen, and whose guilt or innocence is not for us to establish — and, in doing so, to place in jeopardy the natural structure upon which all civilization rests, as though the safety and perceived interests of our own generation were more important than everything that has taken place or could take place in civilization: this is nothing less than a presumption, a blasphemy, an indignity — an indignity of monstrous dimensions — offered to God!

This expression of ultimate human arrogance hides a fundamental weakness. It demonstrates a failure of respect for the power of love, the reality of God. That power is denied by this present and threatening violence. This ultimate violence is idolatry without boundary, exalting human ideas and force above the creator’s gift, the very life of the creation.

Dr. King said in his Nobel Speech that, "Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue."

Gandhi stated his faith in the reality that must inform those of us who will stand up to prevent the destruction of God’s gift:

Do I still adhere to my faith in truth and non-violence? Has not the atomic bomb exploded that faith? Not only has it not done so but it has clearly demonstrated to me that the twins (nonviolence and truth) constitute the mightiest force in the world. Before it the atom bomb is of no effect. The two opposing forces are wholly different in kind — the one, moral and spiritual; the other, physical and material…. The force of the spirit is ever progressive and endless. Its full expression makes it unconquerable in the world.

Dr. King's words from his Nobel Lecture burn through the haze of daily news reports:

Recent events have vividly reminded us that nations are not reducing but rather increasing their arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. The best brains in the highly developed nations of the world are devoted to military technology. The proliferation of nuclear weapons has not been halted in spite of the Limited Test Ban Treaty....

The fact that, most of the time, human beings put the truth about the nature and risks of nuclear war out of their minds because it is too painful and therefore not "acceptable," does not alter the nature and risks of such war. The device of "rejection" may temporarily cover up anxiety, but it does not bestow peace of mind and emotional security....

If we assume that life is worth living and that man has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war. In a day when vehicles hurtle through outer space and guided ballistic missiles carve highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can claim victory in war. A so-called limited war will leave little more than a calamitous legacy of human suffering, political turmoil, and spiritual disillusionment.

A world war -- God forbid! -- will leave only smoldering ashes as a mute testimony of a human race whose folly led inexorably to ultimate death. So if modern man continues to flirt unhesitatingly with war, he will transform his earthly habitat into an inferno such that even the mind of Dante could not imagine....

It is not enough to say "We must not wage war." It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.... We have inherited a big house, a great "world house" in which we have to live together -- black and white, Easterners and Westerners, Gentiles and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Moslems and Hindu — a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interests who, because we can never again live without each other, must learn somehow, in this one big world, to live with each other....

This means that more and more our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. We must now give an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in our individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation is, in reality, a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love.

When I speak of love, I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response which is little more than emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door, which leads to ultimate reality.

I believe that the mystery that placed the power of destruction in the binding forces of the atom has placed the healing power of love in our hearts and further gifted us with both the courage and wisdom to use that power effectively.

I agree with Dr. King when he stated in his Nobel Acceptance Speech: “I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear annihilation.” Thus I commit to work to cause my country to disavow its unlawful, immoral posture of failing to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons. I commit to work through national and international legal mechanisms to curtail, control and abolish these devices.

King further said, "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality." Can we not join in this work of becoming fully human? Then we can share in the ultimate optimism of Gandhi and King who said, "I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up."

With the help of each and the help of God, we can and will become the change we want to see.

Jonathan Granoff is the president of the Global Security Institute []. This edited version of a much longer speech is reprinted with permission. The UN event was cosponsored by Permanent UN Mission of Bangladesh, The office of the Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflict, the Interfaith Center of New York, the Association for Global New Thought and the Global Security Institute.

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