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Nuclear war and a world yearning for peace


On Veterans Day, an Associated Press article reported on the Armistice which ended World War I. Focused on “The end’s terrible toll” it noted hundreds of soldiers being killed even after the truce had been signed, the result of misunderstandings, of the hatred built up in years of unprecedented mutual slaughter, or the “inane joy of killing” in wars.

Nine million soldiers and more than 14 million people had perished in the war. Among other novelties and “epitomizing the ruthlessness of warfare” was the use of poison gas by all the major powers. This had caused more than a million casualties and close to 100,000 deaths, despite being expressly forbidden in the Hague Peace Convention of 1907, whose Article 23 states: “It is especially forbidden to employ poison or poisoned weapons.”

President T. R. Roosevelt, the first statesman to earn the Nobel Peace Prize, promoted international diplomacy and peace treaties. In the 1908 State of the Union address, he advised the Congress on the Hague Peace Conference: “The civilized nations of the world (are engaged) in temperate and kindly discussion of the methods by which the causes of war might be narrowed and its injurious effects reduced.”

A modern version of the “poisoned weapons” ban — the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — was accepted and ratified by all but four nations (North Korea, Israel among the latter), in 1997, and enforced against Syria under the Obama and Trump administrations.

Likewise banned internationally, since July 2017, are the far more ruthless and destructive 20th century weapons of mass slaughter, nuclear bombs.

For the mounting risk from these the Doomsday Clock, a universally recognized symbol of the world’s vulnerability to civilization-ending catastrophe, was moved to two minutes to midnight in January 2017. “Major nuclear actors are on the cusp of a new arms race,” the scientists said, “that will increase the likelihood of accidents and misperceptions. Across the globe, nuclear weapons are poised to become more rather than less usable because of nations’ investments in their nuclear arsenals.”

When the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted at the United Nations in 2017, 122 nations agreed with the warning by Albert Einstein, and by hundreds of international organizations whose umbrella group (ICAN) then won the Nobel Peace Prize, that “at any price” the practice of war in which nuclear bombs might again be used, must end. The treaty will go into effect when 50 countries have ratified it.

Some US towns, cities and church denominations already have endorsed the treaty. It should be adopted by the US government and $1.7 trillion, now planned for modernizing the nuclear forces, dedicated to addressing pressing social and environmental needs. The Administration should not abandon an earlier nuclear-arms limitation treaty (the INF), successfully negotiated with Russia by President Reagan, which resulted in the destruction of almost 3,000, mostly Soviet, missiles.

And, as President Roosevelt urged of the “civilized nations,” one would have liked President Trump to participate in a US leadership role, not skip, the peace-treaty negotiations begun in Paris on the anniversary of Armistice Day.