When the U.S. bishops began drafting their ground-breaking pastoral letter on nuclear weapons, “The Challenge of Peace,” in the early 1980s, Bill Spohn, a brother Jesuit and a fellow ethicist, was a colleague on the faculty of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. All faculty members at that time were engaged in dialogues with parishes and schools around the San Francisco Bay area. We expounded the criteria of the “Just War,” probed the morality of nuclear warfare, and led discussions on the drafts of the bishops’ letter.
During his speaking engagements Bill Spohn sounded a theme that has stayed with me ever since. During their exile in Babylon, Bill contended, the Israelites had to learn a new way to relate to God. Deprived of their Temple, far from the Promised Land, they wondered, “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4). So today, Bill argued, Americans and citizens of the other nuclear-armed states had to ask, “How can we live without nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantor of national and world security?”
Nearly 40 years later, that is again the challenge in an especially acute way for all the nuclear powers. How can they live parted from their nuclear arsenals? Can they follow the admonition of Jeremiah to “seek the peace of the city” (Jer 29:7)? Can they pursue the global common good of a positive, nonnuclear peace?