Ban the Bomb?
At two major conferences in Vienna, Austria, in December, a dramatic challenge was issued to the theory of deterrence, by which a handful of nations around the world justify continued maintenance of their nuclear weapons arsenals. Most Americans have fallen into a dangerous complacency on the issue decades after the Cold War ended without an atomic shot fired. But the message that emerged from these meetings—a gathering of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a forum of civil society actors; and the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons conference, made up of global scientists, diplomats and politicians—was that only a world free of nuclear weapons will be a world safe from nuclear weapons.
In a series of statements, the Holy See suggested that the church’s conditional acceptance of deterrence, because it served to prevent conflict and was a preliminary step on the path to total nuclear disarmament, was no longer functional. The church asks that deterrence be re-evaluated in light of geopolitical realities, the ecological and existential threat posed by nuclear weapons and the devastation that could occur if these weapons were accidentally detonated or acquired by terrorists. Can deterrence, it asks, continue to justify nuclear arsenals, when the use of such weapons of mass destruction would be unthinkable, their collateral hazards numerous and their costly maintenance a scandalous misallocation of resources? One Vatican official told America, “We are back to ‘Pacem in Terris’” and that encyclical’s demand for the total abolition of nuclear weapons.
That revision strips the moral cover from deterrence and requires U.S. politicians to reassess the nation’s commitment to its nuclear arsenal. As one peace activist put it: the world will eventually be rid of nuclear weapons; better to do the job before being prompted by a nuclear fireball.
As protests continue following grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., social activists across the United States are demanding changes to what many see as systemic failures within police departments. A group of over 100 Catholic theologians from universities across the United States—including Jesuit schools like Boston College and Marquette University—has also issued a statement “calling for a serious examination of both policing and racial injustice” in the United States.
Justice League NYC, a group of social justice advocates, artists and former inmates, has created a petition with a list of demands, beginning with an emphasis on “direct and peaceful action.” As of early December, the petition had garnered over 4,000 signatures. Many of the demands are specific to the New York Police Department, but the petition also recommends measures applicable to police forces across the country, like fostering greater transparency between police departments and the communities they serve. It also calls for better officer training in “crisis intervention, harm reduction and de-escalation skills” as part of an effort “to eliminate racial bias and police brutality.” While more reforms are needed from state and federal leaders, these grassroots demands from protesters represent worthwhile, peaceful steps forward.
Reporting on Rape
When it comes to reporting on sexual assault, it is not difficult to see how the line between advocacy and journalism can become blurred. We live in a culture in which victims have too often been blamed rather than believed. This seems to be why Sabrina Rubin Erdely of Rolling Stone, along with millions of readers, accepted at face value an account of a brutal premeditated gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity party. But it does not justify the magazine’s willingness to publish the story of Jackie, the survivor—which, thanks to follow-up reporting by The Washington Post, we now know contains major discrepancies—while neglecting the most basic tenets of ethical journalism: contacting the accused and corroborating the primary source’s claims.
Some fear that this episode will undo the progress that has been made in dealing with sexual assault in recent years, though we are unlikely to return to the dark ages of victim-shaming. But real damage has been done. We may never know exactly what happened at U.Va.; but friends who were with Jackie that night say she experienced something traumatic, which she must now relive as the facts of her case are picked apart in the national media. This could deter survivors from sharing their stories in the future.
On Jan. 9, Greek life at U.Va. will return after being suspended to give the administration and student leaders a chance to “identify solutions that would best ensure the well-being and safety of students,” according to a university statement. This must remain the focus on campuses across the country. Many students were willing to believe Jackie’s story; they were shocked but not surprised. And that’s a problem.