The United States had never experienced destruction in recent times so wide and intense within its borders. But a hurricane does not equal a nuclear bomb. With a hurricane, no radiation lingers for decades at ground zero and not every tree and house is vaporized.
Before TV images of the hurricane's rubble fade from mind, the analogy to a nuclear blast can spark a needed meditation. The United States continues to stockpile nuclear weapons for deterrence and defense. Multiple times more devastating than hurricanes, nuclear weapons have the power to wreak incalculable destruction on our planet. The question: what would motivate people of faith to react to the nuclear threat in the way they would prepare for an impending hurricane?
Photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki show the annihilation of two cities from first-generation nuclear weapons. Few buildings stood after the blast, yet people crawled out of cellars and walked around bewildered. Some people had been incinerated instantly. Some suffered burns over most of their bodies, and others after years died slowly from radiation sickness. To Americans, all this human destruction remained some place else, “out there.” Numbers keep the devastation abstract. Hiroshima probably lost 100,000 people the first day, Nagasaki perhaps 50,000. Numbers are numbing. The recent earthquake in Pakistan claimed more than 40,000 lives; the tsunami last year over 400,000. Who can envision that many people?
The death toll from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (estimated above 1,000) appears small in comparison, but to Americans who had so many loved ones affected in New Orleans and around the Gulf Coast, the enormity of the tragedy gripped the heart. Tragedies hit loved ones, not only regions that's the meditation coming from the hurricanes. Nuclear weapons annihilate loved ones, not just targets that's the meditation coming from people of faith.
A great storm is approaching and its dark clouds already appear visible. Depleted uranium (DU) shells, composed of low-level radioactive waste, can penetrate most kinds of armor on the battlefield. When a DU shell strikes metal, the DU vaporizes, then spreads as dust blown by the wind. That dust can enter the body by inhalation, ingestion or through open wounds. In the 1991 Persian Gulf War the United States used over 320 tons of DU (944,000 rounds), according to the Pentagon. The United States maintains DU poses no significant health risks, but the UK Atomic Energy Authority estimates a half-million people in Kuwait and Iraq could eventually die from the DU used in that first Gulf War. After the 1991 war, cancer rates increased 7 to 10 times in Iraq, and birth deformities increased four-fold to six-fold.
Returning home after the first Gulf War, thousands of the estimated 436,000 US soldiers who entered the area contaminated from DU radioactivity reported sicknesses associated with lungs and kidneys. Some developed leukemia. These American soldiers bring home the reality of nuclear weapons. To possess nuclear weapons means exposing loved ones to sickness.
In a natural disaster like a hurricane, the victims depend on help from the larger community. With the politics of nuclear weapons, the world depends on people of faith to confront their leaders to heed the admonition of Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican Nuncio to the United Nations: “The Holy See again emphasizes that the peace we seek in the 21st century cannot be attained by relying on nuclear weapons.”
Fr. Rausch is a Glenmary priest who lives, writes and organizes in Appalachia.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)