During the Cold War, two basic schools of thought emerged among U.S. Christian leaders and ethicists concerning the implications of the nuclear revolution for the use of force by the United States. The just war thinkers held that nuclear war could in fact be conducted within the bounds of traditional just war principles, particularly those of discrimination and proportionality. Since nuclear weapons could be used in war, it followed that they could and should be developed and produced for that purpose and for the purpose of deterrence. The nuclear pacifists held that nuclear war could not be conducted within the confines of traditional just war principles. Since by its nature nuclear war could not be moral, there was no reason for the development and production of nuclear weapons, except for the purpose of deterrence. And since nuclear deterrence required one to make threats of nuclear destruction that it would not be moral to carry out, and, moreover, carried unacceptable risks of miscalculation and inadvertent or accidental use of nuclear weapons, deterrence itself could not be justified, except perhaps as a temporary way station on the path to nuclear disarmament. Although the just war thinkers initially held sway, over time they became less dominant. By the middle of the 1980s, the U.S. Catholic Church and most of the largest Mainline Protestant denominations had formally adopted a nuclear pacifist position. This essay chronicles the victory of nuclear pacifism in these churches, explains it as a reaction to the nuclear weapons and doctrine advocated by the just war thinkers, and implemented by the U.S. government and military, as well as other events and trends in American society, and inquires as to whether or not the just war thinkers and nuclear pacifists influenced the course of U.S. policy.
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