Renouncing the Nuclear Idol
A Review of The Forgotten Bomb, a film by Bud Ryan and Stuart Overbey (available on DVD January 17, 2012)
When I first saw The Forgotten Bomb, I recalled the following words from Deuteronomy: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Deut. 5:8-9). This film is a stark reminder of how we, as a people, have betrayed our trust in God and, for sixty-six years, have instead placed our trust in a nuclear idol.
We have, in fact, become a nation that worships the bomb and glorifies war. As a consequence we find ourselves morally blind, psychically numb, and forgetful of the fact that nuclear weapons, deployed on land, air, and sea, still endanger all life and, in a matter of minutes, could destroy our planet and God’s sacred creation. I agree with the late Jesuit peacemaker, Father Richard McSorley, who said: “Our intention to use nuclear weapons destroys our souls. Our possession of them is a proximate occasion of sin.”
The Forgotten Bomb, produced by Bud Ryan and directed by Stuart Overbey, looks at the political and legal implications of nuclear weapons and also digs deeper into the cultural and psychological reasons behind the atomic bomb’s existence. A remarkable combination of Ryan’s personal story and documentary of the nuclear age, The Forgotten Bomb takes us from the Atomic Bomb Museum in Hiroshima, which had a profound impact on Ryan, to the homes of hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) in Japan, to an abandoned uranium mine in New Mexico, to an underground Titan missile silo in Arizona. From these places and many others, Ryan puts together the pieces of a puzzle that explain why we have the bomb and how we might eradicate it. Through interviews featuring hibakusha, atomic scientists, legal and medical experts, a uranium miner, an atomic vet, former Secretary of State George Shultz, Jonathan Schell, Gar Alperovitz, Jim Douglass, Father John Dear, Rabbi Michael Lerner, and others, the film examines our nuclear history and the present perils the bomb poses for humankind. “Everything depends upon remembering,” asserts Ryan.
I viewed the film with other Catholic Workers and friends at a faith and resistance retreat in Kansas City. Bud was on hand to speak about the film and answer questions. I was struck by his own amazing conversion story of sorts: how going to Hiroshima changed his life, and his passionate commitment to bring about a disarmed world. Bud’s story and the stories of the hibakusha, along with the film’s heart-wrenching footage of the human and environmental effects of the bomb, made me ponder what more I must do to work for disarmament. As someone who, like Bud, was deeply influenced by the hibakusha, and who has been active in the nonviolence movement for peace, social justice, and disarmament for over thirty years, the film compelled me to ask the following questions: Why is the greatest, most destructive immediate danger we face as a human family not part of our daily discourse and considered a top priority to be addressed by our society and government? Why are there nuclear weapons in both the United States and Russia that are still on high alert? Why are fourteen first-strike Trident submarines patrolling the oceans? Why is the National Nuclear Security Administration committed to building new bomb facilities in Kansas City, Oak Ridge, and Los Alamos? Why isn’t the United States willing to totally disarm? Could it be that if we renounce nuclear weapons, the United States will no longer remain the world’s preeminent military superpower and be able to control vast amounts of the earth’s resources? Let us not forget the official Pentagon policy that we must be prepared to use whatever military means are necessary, including nuclear weapons, to protect our national security and “vital” interests!
Thus, despite all the disarmament rhetoric coming from the president, despite the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which calls for the U.S. and Russian arsenals to be reduced from roughly 10,000 nuclear weapons apiece to 1,550 over seven years, the National Nuclear Security Administration is committed to adding nearly $600 million in funding for its weapons activities in the fiscal year 2012 budget and increasing nuclear weapons modernization funding by $4.1 billion over the next five years above the level outlined by the report mandated by Section 1251 of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2010. The National Nuclear Security Administration and Congress proposes to spend more than $85 billion for nuclear weapons activities over the next decade. All this means profits for the weapons contractors, while the economy sinks further into massive debt.
The victims of the nuclear age, along with imprisoned peacemakers and other activists facing trial for recent peace actions, are among those who have not forgotten the atomic bomb. They remind us, as does The Forgotten Bomb, that we must take responsibility for the crime and sin of nuclear weapons. If we don’t disarm, as Father Daniel Berrigan declares, we will become “shadows on the rock!” As we approach the sixty-seventh year of the Nuclear Age, let us recommit ourselves to working for total nuclear abolition. The Forgotten Bomb (www.forgottenbomb.com) stands as both a warning and an inspiration.
Art Laffin is a member of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, D.C., and editor of Swords Into Plowshares. He has been involved in numerous nonviolent actions for peace and justice and has recently faced trial in Kansas City and Washington, D.C., for disarmament and anti-war actions.