Science in Christian Perspective



War and the Christian
E. T. McMullen Major, 
USAF School of Systems and Logistics 
Air Force Institute of 'technology
 Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio 45431

From: JASA 31 (March 1979): 57-58.

On August 6, 1945, Robert Julius Oppenheimer strode down the aisle of the Los Alamos auditorium to deliver an announcement to his colleagues. As he mounted the podium, he clasped his hands above his head like a prizefighter who has won the match. Then he told them an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima that morning. Edward Teller remembers walking by a colleague who shouted to him exuberantly, "One down!1 On August 9th, a second bomb fell on Nagasaki, and on the 14th, the war was over. It might be interesting to know what reasons these scientists might give to justify their part in developing an atomic bomb. Was it right to develop an awesome new weapon? Oppenheimer said, "A scientist cannot hold back progress because of fears of what the world will do with his discoveries."3 Was it right to wipe out entire cities? Hamburg had been firebombed in July and August of 1943 with results more devastating than Nagasaki.3 Was the United States right in being at war in the first place? The Kellogg-Briand Pact, formally proclaimed on July 24, 1929, was an agreement by which every nation of the world renounced war as an instrument of national policy.4,5 What was the right thing for Christians to do when Japan broke this international treaty and went to war with China in 1931? When Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935? When Germany threatened war with Czechoslovakia in 1938?

Obviously the leaders of the United States thought the country was right in going to war and morally justified in developing the atomic bomb. Even Einstein, an avowed pacifist at the time, wrote the letter to Roosevelt that got the Manhatten project going.6 But there was debate on how the bomb should be used. A group of prominent scientists headed by Dr. James Franck proposed a demonstration of the newly developed bomb on a barren island before representatives of the United Nations.7 General George Marshall was against a surprise atomic attack on Japan and General Dwight Eisenhower abhorred the thought of the United States being the first nation to use such a weapon, especially against a nation that seemed ready to surrender.8 After the bomb had been dropped, these voices were joined by those who had not been privy to the decision making process. Many of the scientists, including Oppenheimer, began to have moral doubts about their actions. For some, these doubts transformed into action as they lobbied politicians for international control of the atomic bomb. This resulted in a special advisory board which gave birth to the Aeheson-Lilienthal Report, a plan for placing atomic energy under international control. President Truman approved the report. Bernard Baruch presented it to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission in the summer of 1946. According to this plan, the United Nations Atomic Development Authority would control the world's supplies of raw materials and all nuclear reactors and separation plants. Further manufacture of atomic bombs would halt and existing stockpiles would be dismantled. Thus the United States, the nation which had developed and used the atomic bomb, the sole possessor of the most powerful weapon on earth, was now proposing to give up that superiority. One month later the Soviet U.N. representative, Andrei Gromyko, unexpectedly denounced the U.S. proposal. The plan was killed, eliminated by a war-time ally. The reasoning behind Russia's veto became more apparent when a B-29 detected the fallout of a Russian atomic test in August, 1949. After a month of debating the wisdom of withholding this news from the American public, Truman announced the event. In 1950, Americans learned how the Soviets had been able to build an atomic bomb so quickly. Klaus Fuchs, a British liason scientist, had supplied Russia all the high-level scientific data concerning the bomb, while a machinist, David Greenglass, had provided meticulous sketches of the bomb's innermost working parts.9 The Soviets were thereby saved a time-consuming and expensive effort to determine the best way to build a bomb. Thus was a magnificent and magnaninous unilateral U.S. proposal to control nuclear weapons crushed. Has the attitude of the leadership of the Soviet Union changed since? Having vetoed control of nuclear energy when they had only potential bombs, why would they agree now that they actually have them? In Paris in 1975, former Black Panther and now Christian, Eldrige Cleaver, said: "The Russians would really prefer that the U.S. cease to exist. I came to the conclusion that they were capable of launching a surprise attack.''10 If this is true, what is the Christian response?

One of the last pieces of information Klaus Fuchs turned over to the Soviets was Edward Teller's idea for a hydrogen bomb. Things had slowed down at Los Alamos, but with the belated realization of Russian intentions, all that changed. A new arms race began with the hydrogen bomb. The conventional wisdom is that America won that race, but the actual fact, only recently declassified, is that Russia was the winner. The Soviet Union exploded the first thermonuclear device (1951) and the first deliverable hydrogen bomb (1953). 11 It was the United States which was behind and who played catch-up to Russia. After this, America did surpass the Soviets in strategic forces, but mostly because it found it could not economically match the Soviet conventional force build up in Europe. President Eisenhower chose the cheaper strategy of relying solely on nuclear weapons to defend the free world.12 Today, with some modifications which may lower the risk of nuclear war, we have the same policy concerning Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Warsaw Pact forces have overwhelming conventional force superiority and so NATO may have to use tactical nuclear weapons if it expects to defeat any massed attack at this time. Thus, a policy of no first use of tactical nuclear weapons can be interpreted as offering Western Europe up for Communist take-over. Concerning strategic forces however, the U.S. has always adopted a deterrence policy which states the U.S. will not be the first to use nuclear weapons. This massive retaliation policy was effective during the era when the U.S. had overwhelming strategic superiority.

How well will the United States' nuclear weapons deter when the Soviets have strategic superiority? Will the USSR use strategic superiority to back the U.S. out of Berlin just as President Kennedy used it to back Russian missiles out of Cuba? Where is the Christian position in all this? Should Christians call for honoring all international treaty commitments, even the bad ones? Joshua made a bad treaty with the Gibeonites, but still honored it and marched all night to save them from the Amorites.13 What should Christians do when the sentry blows the trumpet, warning that the enemy is coming? What should we do in the face of aggression?

Christians have failed in America by not providing moral leadership and teaching concerning a modern doctrine of Just War and Just Conduct. Because the Church was not providing our society with biblical guidelines on Just War, we went through national confusion during the Vietnam Conflict. First we were "right" at the start of the war, then we were "wrong" toward the end of it. Today, we find Senator George McGovern calling for an international military force to invade Cambodia.14 It seems that the Communist leadership there has systematically murdered 2 to 3 million of the 7 million inhabitants. Was the United States "right," after all, in resisting Communist aggression in Southeast Asia? And what is the Christian's position on aggresion? What would the good Samaritan have done if he came upon the robbers on the road to Jericho in the act of beating their victim to death? I think he would have risked his life to save his neighbor, just as Abraham did in waging war to rescue Lot from the four kings. We are to resist evil. Have 20th century Christians lost their ability to discern between good and evil?

Just as we had confusion when the Church did not provide a modern doctrine of Just War, so we also find confusion concerning Just Conduct in a Just War. Christian groups have taken stands on the B-I, on nuclear weapons, and on similar issues. One of the reasons why some of the rhetoric in these stands is emotion laden, unbiblical, and half-true is that they reflect no overall framework of Just Conduct. There has been no thought-out, comprehensive biblical position for Just Conduct of War. Until this is done, to take a stand on any position within the framework of Just Conduct is on one hand, intellectually dishonest, and on the other hand, failing to be a prophetic witness to the world. Jesus said that there will be war and rumors of war until He returns again15 Given then, that there will be war, that nation will rise up against nation, what does the Christian do about it? Given that men will he killing one another in these wars, does it matter how they go about it? Until Christ returns, is ''peace'' just an interim period between active hostilities during which rearming occurs and there are only rumors of war? If so, who are the "peacemakers?"

Jesus said His peace was not as the world gives.16 And is not the real enmity of this world the revolt of responsible creatures against their Creator? The sign of peace is the dove with the olive branch, but this is in the context of the flood, where a Righteous God destroyed sinful man. Therefore, true peace is right standing with God. This is obtained through accepting Jesus Christ. True peacemakers are those who help bring about this right standing with God. As far as world peace is concerned, the Bible indicates that this will occur when Jesus comes again and only then will men beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks, and cease to learn the art of war.17

Just War and Just Conduct for this century should be carefully hammered out by biblical theologians. Until such doctrines appear, I propose the following as a starting point for discussion: (1) Just War is based on just cause. Just cause involves a declaration of the wrong. The wrong can be as clear cut as a treaty violation or the more difficult to identify "international evil'' (a war against a Hitler-type). The national decision-making authority must decide whether to go to war. But war must be as a last resort (only after negotiations, etc., have failed). (2) Just Conduct for the individual combatant means that he must have neither an attitude of hate toward the enemy nor one of vengeance. For the decision making authority, only military targets should be targeted. But what is a ''military target?'' This is the crucial question; what constitutes a military target determines to a great extent the applicability of the "area weapons," be they biological, chemical or nuclear. World War I actually began with the old 18th century outlook, where professional armies fought it out while the mass of people watched from the sidelines. But WWI ended with the "Nation at War" outlook where the nation not only enlisted the abilities of the professional soldier, but the research of the scientist, the inventive powers and technical skill of the engineer, the manual labor of industry and the pen of the propagandist.18 This "Nation at War" outlook has dominated man's war-thinking since WWI. In the broadest sense then, the entire nation could be considered a military target and thus chemical, thermonuclear, and some biological weapons would be justifiable. Thus, America's policy of massive nuclear retaliation appears to be based on the "Nation at War" concept. In the narrowest sense, military forces and their immediate logistics systems would be just military targets. This framework would still allow limited use of tactical chemical and nuclear weapons. So, even in the narrowest sense, tactical nuclear weapons (such as the neutron bomb)19 could be considered legitimate, as well as all defensive weapons (including the Anti-Ballistic Missile).20

The above analysis and its implications may be unsettling to some and unacceptable to others, but the ultimate solution to man's killing and murdering is not by taking assay guns or nuclear bombs. These solutions are based on the assumption that man's problems can be cured by controlling his environment. These treat effects, not causes. The Christian solution is not to control the external, but to change the internal. Certainly Christians should work to help people and alleviate suffering where possible. But Christianity's primary thrust in eliminating evil in the world is to eliminate it in the heart of man. Christians work toward this end by proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on the cross and by discipling the nations concerning the Word of God.


1Lansing Lamont, Day of Trinity, Atheneum, N.Y., 1965, p. 265.
2ibid. p. 267.
3 "Hamburg" and ''Nagasaki," Encylopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., Chicago, 1966, Vol. II, p. 26 and Vol. 15, p. 1148.
4Ihid, Vol. 13, p. 2?3.
5Henry Fairlie, "An Idea Whose Time is Never," The New Republic, Jan. 14, 1978, pp. 12-13,
6Carl Sagan, "The Other World that Beckons," The New Republic, Sept. 16, 1978, p. 14.
7Lamont, op. cit., p. 120.
8Ibid. p. 264
9ibid. pp. 279-284.
10K. Willenson and J. Friedman, "Old Panther With a New Purr," Newsweek, March 17, 1975, p. 40,
11Stanley A. Blumberg and Gwinn Owens, Energy and Conflict, The Life and Times of Edward Teller, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1976, p. 268.
12Bernard Brodie, War and Politics, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1973, p. 412.
13The Book of Joshua, Chapters 9 and 10.
14"What's News Worldwide," The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 22, 1978, p.1.
15The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 24.
16The Gospel of John, Chapter 14.
17The Book of Isaiah, Chapter 2.
18World War 1," Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 23, p. 748B.
19There are some who would advocate use of the neutron bomb for other than tactical use. See "A Christian Weapon?" by A. Dahlberg, a letter published in Military Review, October, 1978, p. 81.
20The Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 20, provides some insight for biblical guidelines for just conduct.