The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Sunday marked the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, the last time a nuclear weapon was used as a war tactic against people, almost entirely civilians. The blast left 60,000-80,000 dead within a few days, with tens of thousands injured suffering crippling injuries from radiation and tens of thousands more hurt from radiation poisoning. The anniversary of the bombings provide an opportunity to reflect on the destruction the nuclear weapons caused in the immediate aftermath and over the years, from heart-wrenching photos of survivors in the first days, weeks and months after the bombings, to the scars that will not ever truly fade away – both in Japan and throughout the global community.
Seeing these pictures and reading these stories emphasize the need I see for all nations to work together to prevent nuclear weapons from being used in warfare ever again. Though Judaism is not a pacifist religion, it warns against the use of excessive force and prohibits shedding innocent blood. Deuteronomy 20 lists specific constraints on conduct during war, such as offering terms of peace before laying siege (Deuteronomy 20:10-11). Further, we read in the Mishnah, “It had been taught by Rabbi Jonathan b. Saul: If one was pursuing his fellow to slay him, and the pursued could have saved himself by maiming a limb of the pursuer but instead killed his pursuer, the pursued is subject to execution on that account” (Sanhedrin 74a).
Of all weapons of war, nuclear arms do not distinguish between militants and civilians, and destroy the surrounding environment. In 1983, the URJ passed a resolution advocating for “a multilateral, negotiated, verifiable arms control process to decrease and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.” While nuclear weapons might be necessary in some short-term cases, we need strict limits on their development and use.
Over the past few years, we’ve focused mostly on Iran’s nuclear program as the main threat of nuclear weapons, but it’s important to remember that the Iran talks were conducted under the auspices of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT, of which the United States, Iran and nearly 200 other countries are signatories, commits countries that have nuclear weapons pursue disarmament, and those that do not have nuclear weapons to forgo developing them. Though the NPT is in force indefinitely, there is a review conference every five years – the most recent one happened earlier this summer. The conference ended this year without an agreement, due to disputes between nuclear and non-nuclear states over disarmament efforts, and disputes between the U.S. and Israel and Arab states over a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
And the NPT isn’t the only place where the United States finds itself at odds with other countries in the arms control community. The U.S. helped to craft the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which, as its name implies, prohibits nuclear weapons tests, which can be environmentally disastrous and contribute to nuclear arms races. The United States signed the CTBT in 1996, but the treaty has yet to go into full effect because the U.S. and five other nations (Egypt, Iran, Israel, India, Canada, and Pakistan are included) and involved in its creation have never ratified it.
It’s hard to say what will happen as we progress toward nuclear disarmament over the coming years, but aside from the Iran issue, there remain real concerns about how the nuclear nonproliferation regime, which has prevented nuclear weapons from being used on people for 70 years, will stay effective. Treaties like the NPT and CTBT help ensure that nonproliferation and disarmament the law of the land, and we should do all that we can to strengthen those commitments.