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Reacting to “Nukes and the Vow” (Part II)


Another published reaction to “Nukes and the Vow” came from Barbara O’Brien, writing for  Her posting is reproduced here.  Readers should be aware that O’Brien’s essay is followed by a number of reader postings reacting -- often quite unfavorably -- to the ideas raised by Ford.  These comments may be found by following the first embedded hyperlink below.


by Barbara O’Brien (August 6, 2009), Buddhism

If there was ever a challenge to us Buddhists to keep an open mind, I think this must be it.

In The Faster Times, Russ Wellen discusses the nuclear weapons views of Christopher Ford. Dr. Ford was the Bush Administration’s lead negotiator for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Russ Wellen says Dr. Ford also is a member of the conservative Hoover Institute, although he's not listed among Hoover's fellows and I found no mention of him on Hoover's website. [Update (from O'Brien): It's the Hudson Institute, sorry.]

What is certain, however, is that Christopher Ford is a Buddhist enrolled in the Chaplaincy Training Program at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. And he has some provocative things to say about The Bomb. Primarily, Dr. Ford argues that demanding the absolute eradication of nuclear weapons is not necessarily a skillful approach to world security.

In "Nukes and the Vow: Security Strategy as Peacework," Dr. Ford argues that disarmament has become too rigid a dogma.

"Certainty is the 'near-enemy' – the dark shadow side – of insight. If we know that our position is wholly right and that those who disagree are wholly wrong, we are part of the problem. ... And we should hold our specific policy convictions lightly enough that we do not damage real insight and clarity on the sharp edges of their seeming certainties, even as we grasp the compassionate grounding of social action with all our strength."

As Russ Wellen writes, the "work" of most peaceworkers amounts to seminars, Hiroshima Day celebrations and demonstrations. One could argue (and this is my argument, not Russ Wellen's) that such activity can become a form of self-indulgence; a means to claim moral superiority that doesn't actually accomplish anything. My impression is that Dr. Ford wants us to refocus on what is practical and do-able in the real world to enable as much security as possible. Dr. Ford writes,

"We cannot, therefore, be absolutists, nor 'theologize' disarmament. We must remember that peace and security is the public policy objective, not nuclear disarmament per se. Weapons elimination is just one possible upaya [Editor’s note: “skillful means” in sanskrit], to be used or discarded depending upon its contribution to the goal."

You may be sputtering (as I did) that this is The Bomb we're talking about. You know, the thing than could wipe out life on this planet. So please be clear that I am not necessarily endorsing Dr. Ford's point of view. But do read his essay with an open mind. You might find yourself agreeing with him more than you think you will.

This week marks the 64th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, events we remember with deep sorrow and regret. But historians say that possibly as many people died in the firebombing, with "conventional" bombs, of Tokyo in March 1945 as died in Hiroshima in August. Yet we do not observe the anniversary of the firebombing of Tokyo.

My concern is this: For most people, the use of atomic weapons is unthinkable. Is it possible that our attitude toward nuclear weapons as led to a sense that conventional weapons are not that big a deal? When people hear about missile strikes or drones killing civilians, do they shrug it off because at least it's not The Bomb?

This is a huge topic, and I've rambled on long enough. What do you think?

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