From the Dean’s Desk

By Harold W. Attridge

We baby boomers have lived with the threat of nuclear holocaust all of our lives. Some of us remember vivid images from our childhood, grainy videos of test bomb blasts and pictures of the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We also remember the false security of “duck and cover” exercises at school and concrete bomb shelters in basements, stacked with food and drink. Such images remind us of the nation’s profound fear and desperate need for reassurance in a dangerous time.

Since the height of the Cold War the dangers have changed but not disappeared. We now live in what experts are calling the “Second Nuclear Age,” where the deterrence and international controls established in the Cold War era have lost effectiveness, proliferation pressures are surging, and non-state actors (terrorists) seek the weapon. The context requires new thinking and renewed commitment to the elimination of the nuclear threat.

Religious voices are not new to the debate about nuclear weapons. Some have argued for strict control, some for abolition, but all have recognized that there are significant moral and theological issues at stake. Yale’s religious voices have not been silent. In 2005, we celebrated the ministry of William Sloane Coffin, long a leader in movements to end the nuclear threat. The event was the occasion of Bill’s last address at Yale before his death. Though frail and in ill health, he issued a clarion call for renewed efforts to abolish nuclear weapons, declaring: “We are practicing nuclear apartheid. Either all nations or no nations should possess nuclear weapons.”

Responding to his call for a new national interfaith initiative, the organization Faithful Security emerged. Several members of that initiative participated in the 2008 Sarah Smith Memorial ConferConference at Yale Divinity School, which addressed the theme: “Are We Safe Yet? Vulnerability and Security in an Anxious Age.”

As this Reflections issue was going to press, President Obama issued an eloquent challenge to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons from the world. In Hradcany Square in Prague, he told a large crowd of Czech citizens: “When we fail to pursue peace, then it stays forever beyond our grasp. We know the path when we choose fear over hope. To denounce or shrug off a call for cooperation is an easy but also cowardly thing to do. That’s how wars begin. That’s where human progress ends. … I know that a call to arms can stir the souls of men and women more than a call to lay them down. But that is why the voices of peace and progress must be raised together.”

A major contributor to the shaping of this timely issue has been YDS alum Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, who served as guest contributing editor of this Reflections. Tyler has emerged as one of the leading voices on this issue as policy director for Faithful Security and as leader of the new Two Futures Project, which is also dedicated to providing a religious perspective on the issue of nuclear disarmament. The thoughtful essays by Tyler and the other contributors here will, we hope, assist all in the religious community to reflect deeply and to act in support of efforts to abolish the nuclear threat.