A Further Perspective

The Rev. Martin Sheen Denounces Nukes

The former West Winger joins the Religious Left.

By 3.21.13

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The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and the global Religious Left are now looking to Martin Sheen for guidance about nuclear weapons. 

True, Sheen did portray a U.S. president in the 1990s television series The West Wing. But it’s not clear what other expertise he offers, except he seemingly shares the utopian left’s long-time perspective that U.S. disarmament is key to world peace. 

The Religious Left, including the World Council of Churches (WCC), was present for ICAN’s recent jamboree in Oslo, Norway. One hundred thirty-two governments were represented, as were 500 representatives from “civil society,” i.e. mostly disarmament groups. The focus was on the “humanitarian effects” of nuclear weapons.

Hint: the effects are not good.

Of course, the real question is how to deter nuclear war. The greatest threats today are nuclearized terror states like Iran or North Korea, or al Qaeda type groups procuring nukes. ICAN-type festivals do not typically want to confront actual aggressors who are monstrous enough to initiate a nuclear attack, or at least to make credible threats. So instead, such get-togethers like to pretend that all governments with nukes are equally threatening, and total disarmament is the key to global security.

It’s essentially global gun control writ large. Disarm the dutifully unlikely aggressors, while the likely aggressors are indifferent to international sanction or moral appeals.

“We strongly affirm the responsibility of all governments to examine the impact of nuclear weapons on human health, the biosphere and the means of life,” WCC general chief Olav Fykse Tveit told ICAN, speaking on behalf of “Religions for Peace.” “People everywhere have been denied rigorous, public, evidence-based scrutiny of weapons which are too terrible for any use.”

Surely there are no public doubts about the horrors of nuclear weapons, or their unpleasant impact on “human health” if used. Essentially these talking points are geared toward overall demands for total nuclear disarmament by the West, mostly the U.S. ICAN showed their Oslo audience a “sobering” video about nukes. No doubt.

According to a WCC report, Martin Sheen regaled the ICAN audience by recalling how his own Christian faith was enhanced by watching radical nuns “dance” into a U.S. nuclear test site in Nevada to provoke arrest. So inspired was he that Sheen went on to seek his own similar arrest “scores of times.” So there is part of the key to global peace and disarmament: actors and nuns getting arrested at U.S. nuclear test sites. He also recounted how his work on the movie Gandhi, along with meeting the anti-Vietnam War priests, the Berrigan Brothers, motivated his own activism.

Sheen was accompanied to Oslo by and shared the platform with leftist Jesuit priest and “peace activist” John Dear, a pro-disarmament writer whose website boasts that he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu. Dear later enthused: “Let's pray that the work of these Norwegian peacemakers may bring down the walls of fear that support our nuclear weapons industry and that one day, the world will be free of nuclear weapons.”

The WCC report quoted a Zambian physician boasting that regions such as Africa and Latin America have shown “moral leadership” by renouncing nukes and helping to “free the world of nuclear weapons and prevent the global public health disaster that their use would create.”

Very nice, but those regions are nuclear-free either because they are too poor to create nuclear weapons or because they live under the shield of U.S. guaranteed security. The U.S. and other Western nuclear powers also have actively deterred nuclear ambitions by nations such as Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa over the decades. Absent U.S. power, what would discourage these nations and many others from seeking the power and prestige of nuclear weaponry? Also remember that Cuba was nuclearized with Soviet missiles in 1962 until the U.S. compelled their removal. 

The Religions for Peace statement that the WCC chief delivered to ICAN was superficial and echoed virtually all Religious Left anti-nuclear statements of the last 40 years, rehashing its themes of moral equivalence between the East Bloc and West during the Cold War. “As religious leaders of different traditions we firmly believe that these weapons are contrary to our religious and ethical principles,” it declared, urging a global treaty to ban nukes. 

For religious and other utopian leftists, the key to nirvana is always a ratified international agreement. But successful treaties merely acknowledge a pre-existing strategic situation. The U.S. and Soviet Union/Russia were able to agree to meaningful reductions in nuclear weaponry and beyond at the close of the Cold War because communism’s collapse and U.S. predominance made those weapons far less important. Even a growing China does not seek nuclear parity with the U.S. as the Soviet Union once did because the size of the U.S. arsenal deters such a hope. Wealthy Arab nations are not nuclear armed because they depend on U.S. security guarantees. The same is true for Japan, South Korea, and all of Europe excluding nuclear armed France and Britain. 

Treaties and international conferences will never of themselves abolish nuclear weapons, and dreams that they will, if taken seriously by actual policy makers, are potentially dangerous. The real nuclear threats of today, terror states and groups, will pursue nuclear weapons so long as they are allowed by stronger powers to do so. There is the real issue confronting the world. But groups like ICAN and its Religious Left supporters, plus Martin Sheen, prefer their dreams to global and human realities.

Photo: UPI

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.