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A Few More Steps Toward Midnight

According to the coldly prescient Doomsday Clock, which appears on the cover of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, it is now seven minutes until midnight. The clock has stood at this absorbing hour of introspection since February, when the Bulletin inched it forward for the third time since the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Beneath the shadow of the World Trade Center and its demise, and this country’s unilateral abrogation of an important arms-limitation treaty and the Kyoto global warming accords – not to mention the India-Pakistan border dispute, which has threatened more than once to go nuclear – the world’s self-destruction barometer seems to be needling its way north again.

Other threats shimmer amid the gloom as well. Terrorism hovers at the brink of going colossally berserk with “dirty” nukes, while top-heavy dictatorships search high and low for jits and jots of fissionable material for their own arsenals.

Then there is the unending dispute in Israel and Palestine. About this war, which never seems to lose its appetite for blood and glass and explosions, the Bulletin asks in its current issue, “Would They If They Could?”
Who said they couldn’t? There seem to be enough isotopes on the loose these days to inflame even our most sullen nightmares.

Meanwhile President Bush, seemingly on his own, has entered into a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia – duly signed and filed in May. The treaty takes the positive step of reducing each country’s warhead arsenal to 2,200 by 2012, and builds on an alliance with Russia instead of on mutual assurance of force.

Yet we are still dabbling in the fires of Armageddon. If anyone believes this treaty contributes even a speck of hope to the present picture of grim escalation – in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Palestine, in Kashmir, and wherever else the crosshairs will be aimed next – they need only look at the real gauge of our foreign policy, the ever-growing American military budget.

This, we may recall, weighs in at $365 billion for 2002, assuming Congress grants Bush’s most recent call for a $14 billion increase. Even if this is denied, Pentagon spending still will have gone up nearly $100 billion in the past five years – a truer barometer of our foreign and military policies, and of our intentions, than anything else.

Lest we be lulled into a complacent snooze – believing all to be well because we are reducing nuclear arms – let us look more intently at what is to come. Brimming in the dim lights of the near future are worries enough for all – wars to be fought, some at our instigation, and battles yet to end after decades of mutual hatred. Then there are the still-hidden mysteries – the frights of the magnitude of Sept. 11 – to remain alert to.

Despite the fading of Cold War fears, and the welcome step of a nuclear arms-reduction accord, the dangers perpetuated by the world’s faith in the power of violence haunt us in new ways.

As Christians we would hope that the faultless way of Christ – who taught us to disarm, and then to disarm others – would be a far more common approach by now. If only more would try this prophetic way, finding paths to conciliation instead of devising rosters of enemies and shopping lists of new and improved ways to kill them, we would find ourselves in a far different world.

Let us go forth then with empty hands, armed only with the promise and reality of our Christian faith. Such a way demands, and needs, no treaty but our belief in God’s love. Perhaps others will see this, too, before that spectacular midnight we all fear draws any closer.

This column was reprinted with permission from Mennonite Weekly Review.