Wednesday, 6 August 2014

‘The taproot of violence in our society today
is our intention to use nuclear weapons’

The ‘A-bomb Dome’ and Peace Memorial Park … at the epicentre of the Hiroshima bombing on 6 August 1945

Patrick Comerford

President, Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND),

Hiroshima Day Commemoration

6 August 2014,

1.05 p.m., Merrion Square, Dublin.


In the early 1980s, the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND) was involved in organising a number of residential weekends in the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation.

At the end of one weekend, isolated in the Wicklow Mountains, long before the days of mobile phones, discussing our next anti-war campaign, we realised after a day or two that a real war was unfolding in the outside world.

Between 6 p.m. on 16 September and 8 a.m. on 18 September 1982, up to 3,500 civilians were murdered in the Sabra neighbourhood and the nearby Shatila refugee camp in Beirut.

The mass murders were carried out by an Israeli proxy militia, the South Lebanon Army, and other far-right paramilitary groups. The Israeli army surrounded Sabra and Shatila, stationed troops at the exits to prevent camp residents from leaving and fired illuminating flares at night that allowed the massacres to continue throughout the nights.

At the time, the President of Irish CND was the Irish Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Seán MacBride, who was also the assistant to the UN secretary general and president of the UN General Assembly. In 1983, Seán MacBride chaired a commission that concluded Israel was responsible for the massacre and that the massacre was a form of genocide.

That year too, the Kahan Commission in Israel found that Israeli military personnel, aware that a massacre was taking place, had failed to take serious steps to stop it. Israel was blamed, and the Israeli Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon, was blamed “for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge.”

Sharon was forced to resign. But there was no shame – he was back in the cabinet the following year, and eventually he was Foreign Minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet and then Prime Minister of Israel from 2001 to 2006. He died earlier this year 11 January 2014].

I have thought again and again in recent weeks about that weekend and the indictment of but shamelessness of Ariel Sharon, and of the present Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

We all know for so long now that despite the reports of the MacBride and Kahan commissions, Israel and the international community have forgotten all the lessons that should have been learned after the massacres in Sabra and Shatila.

Similar massacres are taking place in the Gaza Strip today. The only differences today are that the weapons are more lethal and the news is reaching us as it happens, whereas over 30 years ago it took some time for the horror of events to reach the outside world.

Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Ron Derner, told a Christian lobby group in Washington recently: “Some are shamelessly accusing Israeli of genocide and would put us in the dock for war crimes. But the truth is that the Israeli Defence Forces should be given the Nobel Peace Prize ... a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint.”

The only restraint the Israeli military appear to be showing is in not relying on Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

All I see, night after night, on television screens and impartial news outlets, is not restraint but the wounded, injured, maimed and battered children, frightened, screaming and even mute in shock and terror, brought by inconsolate and despairing parents to hospitals deprived of adequate facilities and medicine.

I am shocked by the images of children being mowed down as they play football on a beach, I am outraged by images of children being brought into hospitals with limbs severed and heads pulped; I am heart-broken by the images of grieving parents and traumatised children.

On its Facebook page, the Israeli embassy in Dublin is worried about the staff in Smyths not wanting to handle Israeli-made toys, but has been silent, immorally silent about the murder of children at play on beaches, children in playgrounds, children in hospitals, children at home, children in their parents’ arms.

To murder a child is evil … full stop.

Later this afternoon, Amnesty International-Ireland is mobilising to demand the US and other governments stop adding fuel to the fire and to call for an arms embargo for all parties to the conflict.

Israel’s military technology is marketed as “field-tested” and exported across the world. Military trade and joint military-related research relations with Israel embolden Israeli impunity in committing grave violations of international law and facilitate the entrenchment of Israel’s system of occupation, colonisation and systematic denial of Palestinian rights.

For this reason, 64 international public figures, including Nobel laureates, religious leaders, writers, artists and diplomats, issued a statement last month [18 July 2014] calling on the UN and governments across the world to take immediate steps to implement a comprehensive and legally binding military embargo on Israel, similar to that imposed on South Africa during apartheid.

Only days after that statement, the Irish government had the audacity – in my name and in your name – to abstain, claiming it was being neutral, in a vote in the General Assembly of the United Nations asking for Israel to be investigated for war crimes.

When we truly want the Irish Government to be neutral, when it truly matters at Shannon Airport, for example, it fails to abstain but collaborates with military might.

Over the past few days, we have been marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. When my grandfather went to war 100 years ago in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, he was told this was a war to protect small nations, this was a war for democracy, this was the war to end all wars. He was sent home from Thessaloniki in May 1916 and eventually died in January 1921 as a consequence of the malaria he contracted in the war.

Yet in the first 14 years of this century, more people have been killed in wars than were killed throughout World War I. Is this the world for which my grandmother was left in grief? Is this the world for which their children were left without a father?

Israel’s final, ultimate threat in its arsenal is its nuclear stockpile, a threat that prevents its neighbours from becoming embroiled in another Middle East conflagration.

Is this the world the victims of the Holocaust would like to see being built in their name?

Is this the new order for which the 100,000 victims of Hiroshima were sacrificed for on 6 August 1945?

Next year (2015) is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The hibakusha of 1945 still bear witness in the hope that no one else will ever suffer their fate.

Yet today, as research recently published by the World Council of Churches shows, each year nuclear-armed states spend about $100 billion on their nuclear forces. Current plans for weapons upgrades, renewals and extensions total $500 billion or more in the Euro-Atlantic region alone. These public billions are a vast source of revenue for private enterprises, including corporations also involved in nuclear energy. About 300 banks, financial institutions and pension funds in 30 countries invest in 27 corporations with nuclear weapons-related contracts. Their holdings in 2013 totalled $314 billion.

As last month’s statement from the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches says: “To deploy nuclear weapons is to embrace what is arguably the greatest intentional risk in human history … In spite of treaties and agreements, the proliferation of nuclear weapons remains a continuous risk. While the number of nuclear warheads has been reduced since the Cold War, the overall trend among nuclear-armed states is to modernise rather than eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

“Also, the number of countries with nuclear weapons capability has increased. In fact, simply having a nuclear weapons programme has proved to be a powerful tool in international affairs, even for a small country.”

The calls of the central committee of the WCC include “the elimination of nuclear weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law,” and the promotion of new nuclear-weapon-free zones, particularly in North-East Asia and the Middle East.

Seventy years after the Hiroshima bombing, 100 years after the bloodbath of World War I, is this too much to ask?

The two principle moral issues of our age can be summarised crisply:

1, To murder a child is evil. Full stop.

2, As the Jesuit theologian Father Richard McSorley summarised it almost forty years ago (1976): “The taproot of violence in our society today is our intention to use nuclear weapons. Once we have agreed to that, all other evil is minor in comparison. Until we squarely face the question of our consent to use nuclear weapons, any hope of large-scale improvement of public morality is doomed to failure.”

Why is it taking the world 40, 70, 100 years to realise this? Why is the world so slow in realising this? I think this afternoon of the words of William Butler Yeats in The Lake Isle of Innisfree:

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.


The Revd Canon Professor Patrick Comerford is President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND). This address was delivered at Irish CND’s annual Hiroshima Day commemoration in Merrion Square, Dublin, on 6 August 2014.

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