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Towards the Abolition of
Nuclear Weaponry:
A Theological Approach

International Symposium fo Peace
Hiroshima, 3 August 2003



Johan Galtung

Director and Founder, TRANSCEND

TFF associate

August 20, 2003

Lord Mayor, Hiroshima City, The Asahi Shimbun, Ladies, Gentlemen,

We are 58 years away from 0815 in the morning of 0608 1945 when that B-29 dropped "Little Boy", and USA committed nuclear genocide on Hiroshima, and then on Nagasaki. The call for the abolition of nuclear weaponry is as urgent as ever given the nuclear politics of USA, North Korea, Israel, Iran and others. To understand better the causes, we have to ask again why USA committed this atrocity.

The decision was not made by any single person but by a group so we are talking of collective motivation. Some of the motivation was probably built around a desire to bring the war to a quicker end and to impress the No. 2 contender for world power, the Soviet Union. But much naivete is needed to assume that all motivation is conscious, passes through the brain and in the collective case is verbalized in a meeting and leaves a paper-trail for historians to uncover, decipher and use as evidence. For individual decisions we would readily assume deeper motives, often unknown to the actor, located in his/her subconscious, not articulated, leaving neither sound-waves nor paper-trails. And that the verbal, oral or written, serves to rationalize what comes from the subconscious.

Why should collective decision-making be different? Because they sometimes record not only conclusions but even the premisses? But why should they verbalize collectively shared motivations they sense but do not articulate because they are taken for granted as normal and natural and stored in the "gut-brain" rather than the head-brain, in other words in the collective subconscious or deep culture of the group? Why reiterate the obvious, the trivial?

So the thesis is that the decision to drop the bomb, not on an uninhabited island to demonstrate its devastating power, but on a highly inhabited city, derived from a deep culture in the deeper recesses of the collective US elite mind. That act of genocide did not spring only from a rational, political-military strategy arrived at in ways open to public scrutiny and challenge where deductions and factual basis are concerned. The act was also justified in a theological discourse based on irrational articles of faith, not open to scrutiny, and certainly not to challenge:

[1] Americans are God's Chosen People;

[2] The President is their Chosen Leader, hence semi-Divine;

[3] The USA is their Promised Land, with a Manifest Destiny.

This was adapted for "New Cana'an" from Genesis 1:15-17. The similarity to Israeli self-conception from the time of King David serves today as a basis for joint Jewish-Christian fundamentalism, on the assumption that Messiah/First Coming=Christ/Second Coming.

That elect position in the world puts the USA above all other countries, accountable to nobody but God, certainly not to the UN with so many non-God like members, let alone an ICC. Their "laws" are laws for the lesser fry, not for a country that close to God: "Being elect is a theological notion that means: not as a matter of merit but by a supernatural judgment, a free, even capricious, determination by God a person is chosen for something exceptional and extraordinary" (Milan Kundera)

We are dealing here with a pre-Enlightenment, pre-modern niche in US culture, brought across the Atlantic on ships from England in the 1620s to what was to become the USA, revealed to Cotton Mather the theologian, and to John Winthrop the statesman, the first governor of Massachusetts and the real founder of the USA, sedimented in the deep culture as the civic religion of the USA, very difficult to uproot. Like the nuclear problem.

Such articles of faith are particularly meaningful to

[1] the Anglo-Saxons in the USA, the people originally chosen;

[2] the fundamentalist Christians like those found in the Southern Baptist Convention in the US South, and

[3] the military whose task it may be to enact such tenets of faith, also most densely packed in the US South.

In short, particularly meaningful in the US South where these three categories are found in large quantities. That part of the USA lost the Civil War on 9 April 1865 but is currently in power. Michael Lind, in his Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics (New York: Basic Books, 2003) tells how. At present US deep culture = US surface culture, comes forth with shock and awe clarity. The Bush regime rests on Big Business Economics+Neocon Geopolitics+Christian Fundamentalism

The Pilgrims of the 1620s referred to themselves as "Saints"; the implication being that they were surrounded by non-saints. They saw the workings of Satan everywhere. Today 68% of Americans believe in Satan as an active force (in the South of the USA also as the force behind the UN and the European Union) as against 34% believing in the theory of evolution. A heavy, deeply entrenched pre-modern niche, preserving Old Time culture. Such niches are found as enclaves in all countries, like the 17th century French spoken by many in the province of Quebec, Canada. But this niche, bypassed by Enlightenment, is in the deep culture of WASP elites, defining the civic religion, spreading all over the nation.

The rest is simple: a God-like country will worship God-like weapons capable of carrying out God's=USA's wrath and punishment:

"The fires came forth from Jehovah's hand and burned up the two hundred and fifty men who were offering incense" (Numbers 16:35). The Japanese had attacked a Sacred Land, so multiply by 1,000 to come closer to the number of Hiroshima-Nagasaki victims.

To be mandated by a covenant to enact Divine punishment is not revenge/retaliation. Revenge is for conventional countries, and to be carried out with conventional weapons. Non God-like, let alone satanic countries, should never possess god-like weapons.

The production of new nuclear weapons and doctrines, known only to the President and His circle, follows, as do wars on those who are non God-like with uppity attitudes against the USA, like Iran and North Korea, suspected of (close to) nuclear capability.

To God-like countries God-like weapons. And if God has chosen only one country, that country has to have weapons like no others. Nuclear disarmament is possible, but only if alternative weapons inspiring shock and awe, tremendum fascinans, are already developed and possessed by the God-like country. And that country, accountable to God only, decides over such matters itself, not a group of ordinary ambassadors, foreign ministers etc.

The same applies to world public opinion, like the 10 million+ manifestation on 15 February 2003 in 600 places around the world of a clear NO! to the foretold US/UK attack on Iraq. Even a world parliament would not count. The US Congress matters, however, because only Chosen People, Americans, vote. But even Chosen People may be misled by Satan, so they may also have to be properly informed of God's Will - and TV spots cost lots of money.

A God-like country is condemned to exceptionalism, having not only the right, nay, the duty to step unilaterally out of treaties and conventions with mutual rights and obligations for ordinary countries if they prevent God's own country from exercising its divine mandate properly. God = USA is causa sui, its own cause, its own decision-maker, unbound by commoners. Exceptionalism and exceptional weaponry for an exceptional country.

That nuclear weapons are special, transmilitary, instruments of destruction is not only a US theme. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Pakistani leader later executed, referred to a Pakistani bomb as an "Islamic bomb". The general drift for Bomb tests is eastward: from the US Protestant bomb 1945, the Soviet Orthodox/Communist bomb 1949, the UK Anglican bomb 1952, the French Catholic/Secular bomb 1960, the Chinese Confucian bomb 1964, the Israeli Judaic bomb l965(?), the Hindu test 1974, and the Islamic bomb 1998.

In this perspective nuclear proliferation is an effort to preserve and assert civilizations, an existential sine qua non rather than as part of an actio-reactio arms race with one bomb stimulating another across conflict faultlines. Militarily nuclear bombs are problematic, better for having than using, even when miniaturized and even when the energy profile is more EMP/kinetic.

This process was started by the Most Chosen Nation (unlike the Most Favored Nation of international economic discourse not the be extended to others). We also note that from a world religion point of view the Buddhist and Shinto bombs are missing. And the (dirty) bombs of the lesser, not "world", civilizations.

The Buddhist bomb sounds like an oxymoron, but state Buddhism might produce such a thing. Meanwhile India offended Buddhists by the outrageous codeword for its 1998 detonation of a nuclear bomb, this time not only a "nuclear device": "The Buddha has smiled".

And as to the Shinto bomb: there is no scarcity of high ranking Japanese itching to fill that gap, thereby "normalizing Japan", like they once wanted to normalize and "modernize" through empire-building. The third criterion of world upper class status, a permanent seat in the Security Council, is, of course, also pursued by the same type of people, and not only in Japan.

But the similarities between the USA and Japan are deeper. Once also a God-drunk nation Japan was convinced that the Emperor, the tenno (heavenly?) was the biological descendant of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-omikami, and the Japanese the instruments of divinely inspired action. "A divine country centered on the Emperor" in ex-Prime Minister Mori's memorable words, letting the collective subconscious come forth without passing his brain where a moment's reflection would have triggered warning lights. A solid niche of non-modernity and not-Enlightenment that one, similar to the US niche, good reason for launching them on collision courses.

A Chosen, but defeated, People Japan had a theodise problem. If chosen, why were we left by the wayside by the Divine? One interpretation is that the Chosen People did not merit protection, not having fulfilled its part of the sacred covenant. Another would be that the Divine had not fulfilled its part and hence no longer merited that people's devotion. Either way Japan was left with a gaping hole in its cosmogony: a dechosen people in the wilderness, with the position as Divine Guiding Light vacant.

The Sun Goddess-Tenno-Japanese people constellation having been beaten by the God-US President-American people constellation made the USA an obvious candidate for that vacancy, with democracy making the elected elect. And thus Japan became a monotheistic country, with God having a name. The name of God: the USA.

Having committed the Hiroshima-Nagasaki double genocide Japan now had one more theodise problem to come to grips with. Like a disaster visiting a Christian community the local parson may have to make up his mind quickly: is this God=USA punishing us for our sins? Or God=USA trying to test us or teach us something? Or - lo and behold - could USA be Satan at work and not God at all?

Maybe the first interpretation became the majority view: we Japanese have sinned, as evidenced by the fact that we were defeated, in our idolatry, our devotion to false gods, and fully deserve being stripped of both divinity and the right to wage war. Democracy and Article 9 became their mantra, the latter supposedly ushering in peace the more frequently it is chanted.

But a growing proportion started picking up the second interpretation: God/USA is teaching us something. This is what you can achieve if you have such weapons. What we did unto you, making you submit, you can do unto others. "Normalizing Japan" became their mantra, eagerly imitating the Great Master, USA.

The third interpretation, USA as Satan, was picked up both to the left and to the right of the Japanese political spectrum. The left saw Hiroshima-Nagasaki as Satan's Empire-building, rejected USA=God, and is still searching for a new God. The "realist" right saw USA as Satan's tool to impede Japanese Empire-building, but also as God's Way, Shinto, for Japan, in a Satanic world.

Those who see the USA as Satan may find interesting support in standard Christian theology. God punishes by sudden acts of decreation, eliminating the life of which He is the Prime Creator. God does not torture; Satan does, in Hell. But USA=God used for punishment a fire that included secondary radioactivity, exposing thousands to the slow, agonizing death brought about by tissue damage. Does God really do such things? It certainly happened. So what do true believers do faced with this massive cognitive dissonance? Denial, of course, selective inattention. The US- imposed tabu on reporting radioactivity can be understood as a way of preserving the purity of God's motive. And this, then, spills over into under-reporting radioactivity everywhere.

We would assume such deep culture themes over time to recede from conscious layers in Japanese elites to subconscious recesses. The theme will then come forth under the 3C conditions of Crisis, Complexity and the need for Consensus. After 9/11 Nostradamus was often consulted on in the USA. And Japan obediently added occupation to the US/UK illegal aggression. India not.

But Germany had also adopted USA as a God-substitute after the Second world war, but chose another course: no German soldier in Iraq. How can we explain that? And EU reluctance in general?

Because the German elite, with deep support from the German people, had another God, a new God: the European Union. Maybe it is like in science: a theory is not discarded merely because the propositions derived from it are not all confirmed. A theory is discarded because a new theory has emerged even if that new theory also may produce a number of unconfirmed, even disconfirmed, hypotheses. The USA has non-God like, even satanic, features. But that can always be denied or become the object of selective inattention till an alternative Guiding Light becomes sufficiently strong, even if also with facets demanding heavy inattention.

This points to two complementary alternatives to US=God for Japan in general, and for the Japanese elite in particular.

The first is an East Asian Community, of China and Taiwan, South and North Korea, Viet Nam, Japan and Okinawa, possibly with the latter as a center. For this Japan has to learn equality.

The second is a United Nations with a democratic People's Assembly and a Security Council more like the ECOSOC, enlarged, no veto powers and with the General and eventually People's Assembly as ultimate authority. For that Japan also has to learn equality. Women, youth, NGOs/NPOs are ready. When will Tokyo follow?

But back to the USA and nuclear weaponry. The problem is theological more than military/political. The hard, fundamentalist Christian theology of certain WASP circles has to be abandoned in favor of a softer, gentler perspective, Christian or not. As long as USA sees itself as God's trustee on earth, licensed to kill and dominate, they are forced to pursue omniscience through CIA, NASA, Office of Reconnaissance &c; omnipresence through globalization; and omnipotence in the shape of ultimate weapons, such as nuclear weaponry and other forms of WMD. And as long as that happens the world will be a US Empire and not a family of thriving nations.

The USA in general, and the US South in particular, have been through this at least twice before, and with positive outcomes.

The US South was convinced that slavery was their right and their duty. The Bible mentions slaves without rejecting slavery. And Antiquity, in Greece and in Rome, combined slavery with the most exquisite in cultural production. Greek columns, slavery, magnolia and moonlight --. But a distinct culture came not from them but from the Black slaves, drawing on their African cultures.

Slavery was doomed because of doubts about legitimacy more than from the civil war or treaties and conferences. Even Reagan said that "nuclear arms must never be used", possibly because of the strong opposition from the Catholic church and the Methodists, from 1983, the very same year when Reagan gave his Center of Evil and Star Wars speeches. The key author of the powerful Catholic pamphlet once told me that it was above all about a God loving His Creation as opposed to a stern Puritan God out to punish.

That struggle has to be both from the inside and the outside of the USA, hand in hand. And possibly with the Mother of Anglo- Saxons, England, playing a leading role, like she did for slavery.

So the basic thesis of this paper is that we have to rethink our thinking about nuclear weapons in general and their abolition in particular given that the USA with its atavisms is the kingpin.

The key lies in the word "abolition" because it directs our thought, our discourse in general, toward slavery and colonialism. And slavery and colonialism were not abolished by tit-for-tat negotiations and maneuvers, "I (slave-owner, colony-owner) cut down this much (on slaves, colonies) provided you cut down that much, so that neither of us gains any advantage by any unilateral abolition." Western slavery and colonialism were based on an entitlement, a right, legitimized by that particular culture in general and its deep culture in particular, to possess individuals and entire peoples, with their lands, as property, like cattle or land, for agricultural or mineral exploitation.

And abolition was not based on questioning, challenging that right but rejecting it as totally false, dead wrong, a blasphemy, fighting violently or nonviolently against such evil institutions. Abolition did not come about through a negotiated deal between slave/colony-holders but by denying any entitlement to possess slaves/colonies. There was nothing to negotiate about because freedom, like survival, is non-negotiable.

If the cause of abolition had had recourse to a negotiated deal at the top only, then the two institutions would probably still have been with us, possibly in a slightly modified, "humanitarian" way. The thesis about nuclear weapons is the same: the arms will be with us at least as long as we try to deal with them by way of Tokyo Forums, NPT, CTBT, and similar instruments.

Like for slavery and colonialism the theological base has to be challenged. And like for them this calls on all peaceful forces.  


© TFF & the author 2003  


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