OVER THE SUMMER all of us, whatever our religious beliefs, have been anxious about the growing tension in the Korean peninsular. The determination of the ‘Democratic Republic of Korea’ to become a nuclear weapons state, expressed in tests and trials condemned by the international community and in defiance of the United Nations, matched by hard-hitting threats from the President of the United States, have made many more worried about the possibility of a nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis at the end of 1962. Both sides in the war of words seem to be saying that there are circumstances in which they would use nuclear weapons.
Each summer on the 6 and 9 August, very near Korea, people in Japan remember the dropping of the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some of you may remember when this happened, bringing to an end the Second World War. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives instantly and many more died or suffered for many years. At the time few in the Allied nations questioned the American action – people were weary of a terrible war and wanted it to end. In Rome Pope Pius XII condemned the actions, but very few Christian leaders challenged the morality of the bombings. One of the few religious writers in this country who did so was Monsignor Ronald Knox, shown here, who died sixty years ago this summer. He had been chaplain to Roman Catholic students at Oxford between the wars and in 1945 was engaged in a new translation of the Bible (his father, incidentally, had been Anglican Bishop of Manchester and is buried in Elmers End cemetery, as he had retired to Shortlands). Knox was exasperated that Christian leaders did not question what the Americans had done, so in a few weeks he wrote a little book called God and the Atom.
This remains one of the most original but neglected critiques of nuclear weapons ever written. Knox felt that the dropping of the atomic bombs offended against the teachings of St Paul concerning faith, hope and charity; he felt that they introduced a new element of disorder into life; he felt they would lead to a growth in individualism and selfishness. Since then the Catholic Church, along with some other Christian churches, has become more and more negative about nuclear weapons and condemned policies of nuclear deterrence.
The stand-off between North Korea and the United States should prompt all of us, whatever our religious
beliefs, to think deeply about the morality of policies which threaten mass destruction, the deaths of
thousands of innocent people. It has cast a shadow over this summer – we all need to hope that people will move away from blood-curdling threats and engage in diplomacy and negotiation. Working for true peace and learning the lesson that war is a blind alley is something we can all try to do.