Few of us ever participate in a moment that truly changes history. I met Dutch van Kirk last week, and Dutch changed history. Dutch served as the navigator for the Enola Gay, the American B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He shared his firsthand experience of the monumental event that precipitated the end of World War II and inaugurated the nuclear age.
Upon hearing Dutch's reflections on the events of August 6, 1945, my mind could not help but go back to a classroom at Emory University in 1989, where I was a young seminary student. I still remember well a lecture from one of my professors, chastising the United States for having dropped the bomb. The professor's sense of guilt and anger toward America filled the room. So, I must admit it was refreshing to hear last week a corrective in Dutch's careful, poignant remarks as he humbly chronicled the failed attempts at peace with Japan. He articulated the strategic, life-saving reasons why the atomic bomb became the best option to end a brutal war that could well have gone on for months, even years, more in Japan, China, and beyond.
Now, more than sixty years after the bomb, we have a President who seems to think that we can put the genie back in the bottle. President Obama last week spoke before 20,000 people in Prague, and shared his vision and hopes for a world free of nuclear weapons. He said, “I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” In essence, Obama made nuclear disarmament the centerpiece of his emerging foreign policy.
In almost incredible irony, at about the same time that Obama spoke, if one stood in Japan, you could have felt the breeze of North Korea's test missile as it soared overhead. Meanwhile, if one snuck a peek into the inner workings of Iran, one would not have to look far to find the nuclear plans of a deranged leadership. And few of us doubt that Syria hides well its nascent plans for nuclear weaponry as well. All the while, Al-Qaeda negotiates and connives to get its hands on such destructive power.
Surely, the President's speech on nuclear disarmament was meant as irony. Does Mr. Obama seriously intend to lead us back to the 1930's? A pre-nuclear age? No time machine can take us back to a time where nuclear weapons were unheard of, nor can any presidential administration.
Again, the genie is out of the bottle. It cannot be replaced safely within the confines of its previous residence but rather must be managed with realism and pragmatism. Once toothpaste has been squeezed from its tube, the act can no more be undone than nuclear know-how can somehow be removed from the brains and minds of moral leaders as well as those who would use such knowledge to destroy nations or perpetrate evil.
President Obama needs a real life and faith lesson in the moral nature of human beings. Each of us possesses the capacity for good. We are made in the image of God. We have it within us to do good, to grow, and to develop as moral beings. However, we also are fallen creatures, with a remarkable capacity to be selfish and to harm other people, i.e., to do evil. We are moral beings, and we can choose to help or to harm, to heal or to hurt. None of us is wholly good, and no nation or leader can be wholly good either.
No government, no leader, and no policy can alter human nature. No good governmental intentions can change the human soul. Only faith and the hand of God can do the work of making us new people. Some have accused Mr. Obama of naivete regarding a goal of nuclear disarmament. I would suggest, rather, that he fails to grasp the basics of human nature and our capacity to harm and to hurt.
The agenda should not be to eliminate nuclear weapons. To paraphrase a sagely bumper sticker, “When nuclear weapons are outlawed, only outlaws will have nuclear weapons.” To seek to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether would prove dangerous, and likely fatal, if not apocalyptic. Seeking to eliminate nuclear weapons does nothing to change the human capacity for good and evil and will likely result in the least good among us possessing what more moral regimes have rejected.
Rather, the agenda should be to manage well the knowledge the world already possesses. Disarmament is not management or leadership; it is suicide or abdication to outlaw regimes who will find a way to develop and arm themselves with nuclear capacity in clandestine ways. That is not paranoia, but rather is basic human nature. The genie is out. The 1930's have come and gone. Let's deal with reality. After all, one nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day.
Hard to believe – but Jesus may offer Mr. Obama and us sound wisdom on defense strategy. When Jesus sent out His disciples for the first time to go into towns He expected to be hostile to their preaching, He instructed them to “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” In other words, be shrewd but gentle at the same time. Jesus understood human nature. Not everyone will embrace peace; all nations and regimes will not stand arm in arm at any one point in time regardless of our highest hopes and ideals. That is human nature. And a good leader is prepared for both positive responses and negative ones. Shrewdness and pragmatism are eminently faith-oriented leadership tactics.
The proper response to humankind's capacity for both good and evil would not be cynicism or despair. Rather, a pragmatic and thorough system of defense prepares one for the worst. And, by the way, that same thorough defense system also allows one to continue to hope for the best. Without risking the chance of ruining one's whole day.