NEWS STORY: Retired Military Officers Join Religious Leaders to Oppose Nuclear Weapons

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ More than three dozen retired high-ranking military officers and religious leaders called Wednesday (June 21) for the banning of nuclear weapons, saying the “nuclear predicament is untenable in the face of a faith in the divine, and unacceptable in terms of sound military doctrine.”

Organizers of the event at Washington’s National Cathedral, which included an interfaith worship service, said it was the first time former military leaders have joined religious leaders in urging the elimination of nuclear arms.

A statement issued by the leaders said, “The long-term reliance on nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nuclear powers, and the ever-present danger of their acquisition by others, is morally untenable and militarily unjustifiable.”

The interfaith coalition of religious and military professionals also announced the launching of a Nuclear Reduction/Disarmament Initiative. The effort hopes to galvanize public opinion against nuclear arms.

In July, educational kits on nuclear weapons issues will be sent to clergy nationwide, they said.

“This (continuing arms) race is against the human race,” said Muzammil H. Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Society of North America. “In this race there will be no winners, only losers.”

In their statement, the religious and military leaders said nuclear weapons “constitute a threat to the security of our nation, a peril to world peace, a danger to the whole human family.”

It noted that in the 1970s and 1980s, religious leaders of many faiths called for steps toward nuclear disarmament. But because of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union, “it was difficult to envision a world free of the nuclear menace.”

A decade later the political climate changed with the end of the Cold War and military leaders began urging a “fundamental shift away from reliance upon these (nuclear) weapons in light of the world’s changed circumstances.”

Wednesday’s joint call is based on both moral and strategic convictions, said retired Air Force Gen. Charles A. Horner, commander of U.S. air forces in the Persian Gulf War and leader of the North American Aerospace Defense Command in the 1990s.

He said the issue of nuclear weapons is “one confronting our vital national interests from a security and moral point of view. It is one requiring the involvement of both military professionals and religious leaders.

“The Cold War is over,” he said. “The United States and Russia no longer require the strategy of nuclear deterrence. Yet the world remains a dangerous place.”

Horner said the statement is “is hopeful, but not overly optimistic, as it calls for reciprocal planned reductions (of nuclear arms) that may require many years.”

Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner, a retired Navy admiral, said he began reflecting on the moral implications of the use of nuclear weapons while he was still on active duty. “When you get into any thinking about nuclear weapons, at some point you’ve got to ask yourself, `What’s going to be destroyed?”’

When he headed the CIA, Turner said, he again began questioning the moral implications of using nuclear weapons. “You’re taking out a factory which is, maybe, a legitimate target. But that radioactive cloud is going thousands of miles away, killing all kinds of people unrelated to the target. If you have any conscience, you have to say to yourself, `Is this a reasonable thing for the United States of America to do?”’

At the news conference, the religious leaders echoed the military professionals’ call for nuclear arms reduction.

Bishop William B. Oden, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, said, “Reversing the nuclear arms race is the highest priority for the citizens of planet Earth.”

“Today, we religious leaders … call upon Congress, the president, the American military and the American people to lead the way toward the process of nuclear reduction and disarmament,” Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, told the news conference preceding the interfaith prayer service.

The prayer service featured a procession by the statement’s signers and others and Horner and Turner reading an alternating litany. Retired Army Chaplain Kermit Johnson delivered the sermon.

The Nuclear Reduction/Disarmament Initiative is an interfaith effort led by Washington National Cathedral, working with the Fourth Freedom Forum, former Sen. Alan Cranston’s Global Security Institute and a variety of religious groups.


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