“Continuing to develop weapons that don’t just kill but have the potential to decimate the planet is a seemingly accepted part of modern life.
Yet on this anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, it is useful to consider whether humanity can find a different path forward.”
August is a particularly dark month in human history.
On Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945, humanity revealed it had the ability to destroy itself; the United States chose to drop atomic bombs first on Hiroshima and then on Nagasaki to force Japan to surrender and end World War II. The destruction was horrific, with tens of thousands of people killed, buildings leveled and thousands more dying of lingering radiation sickness in the years that followed.
New Mexico played an outsized role in the bomb’s deployment. It was developed by the Manhattan Project scientists in the then-secret city of Los Alamos and tested at White Sands. Today, Los Alamos National Laboratory continues its mission of solving national security challenges, with the current emphasis gearing up to manufacture the plutonium pits at the core of nuclear weapons.
By 2026, LANL is supposed to be ready to make 30 pits a year, with another 50 pits annually coming from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina by 2030.
The intent is to maintain the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons. Current pits were manufactured in the 1980s, and scientists are concerned they could fail if deployed.
Meanwhile, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, there are worries President Vladimir Putin would use nuclear weapons in his effort to subjugate an independent nation. Both China and Russia have been modernizing their nuclear arsenals. Continuing to develop weapons that don’t just kill but have the potential to decimate the planet is a seemingly accepted part of modern life.
Yet on this anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, it is useful to consider whether humanity can find a different path forward.
Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Archbishop of Santa Fe John Wester will preside over a Mass dedicated to healing those harmed by the production and use of nuclear weapons. A healing prayer will be said for victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Trinity Test Downwinders in New Mexico, uranium and nuclear workers and others.
After the Mass, a discussion panel with prominent interfaith leaders who favor nuclear disarmament will follow. It is a moment to reflect on what the world can do differently in seeking a path of peace.
It has become a major mission of Wester’s. He visited Japan in 2017 to view the sites where the bombs dropped and returned to New Mexico determined to reinvigorate the archdiocese’s peace work. To that end, he released a pastoral letter in 2022, “Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace: A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament,” which will be the focus of his homily Tuesday.
In it, he reflects on his journey: “I realized that on August 6, 1945, humanity crossed the line into the darkness of the nuclear age. We need to sustain a serious conversation in New Mexico and across the nation about universal, verifiable nuclear disarmament. We can no longer deny or ignore the dangerous predicament we have created for ourselves with a new nuclear arms race, one that is arguably more dangerous than the past Cold War.”
The question is how to safeguard the nation while also reducing the possibility that nuclear weapons will be used again. An arms race, as the archbishop points out, is a “vicious spiral” that no one wins. Can we move from arms race to arms control? That is the question humanity must answer.