The atomic bomb shocked the world, but not enough to stop killing civilians

An aerial view of Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with Russian troops in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, June 22, 2023. — AP Photo/Libkos

(RNS) — The anniversaries of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki three days later come as the possibility of a new nuclear armed war in Ukraine feels dangerously close, whether it happens by accident or intent. 

The devastation caused by the first, and so far only, use of nuclear weapons by the United States, proved so horrifying that the world moved quickly to limit their spread and create high moral and legal barriers to their use. Those bombs dropped 78 years ago, which killed around a third of the civilian populations of the two cities, and irradiated thousands more, set a bar for the horror of war that makes all other results seem acceptable by comparison.

They are not. As in 1945, it is civilians who bear the greatest cost of war. Millions of people have been displaced, thousands have been killed and countless more have been affected by the economic and humanitarian fallout of this war in Ukraine. Without a clear diplomatic strategy to find a political settlement, the costs of the Ukraine war in lives, treasure and global security are only going to rise. 

As a Quaker, I believe that every life is sacred and that war destroys the humanity of all those involved. Our faith calls us to always seek nonviolent solutions, even amid violence, and to help repair the wounds of war. 

International humanitarian law requires warring states to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians. Our global conscience demands we retain some moral boundaries. The laws of war prohibit the use of indiscriminate weapons — whether nuclear weapons or cluster munitions — because they fail to distinguish between civilians and military targets, and as such disproportionately threaten civilians, a law the Biden administration has violated by deciding to send cluster bombs to Ukraine. (Neither the United States nor Ukraine has signed the international agreement banning cluster munitions.) 

Unfortunately, even playing by the rules does not erase the horrors of war. No matter the original intent, war quickly takes on a life of its own. Violence escalates more naturally than it de-escalates. A cease-fire in Ukraine has to be followed by a comprehensive peace process that addresses the underlying conflicts. Otherwise, these two opposing sides, both with access to large, sophisticated military arsenals, will continue to pursue an entrenched, long-lasting and increasingly deadly war. 

Instead of supplying indiscriminate weapons of any kind, small or large, the powers supporting this war on both sides must turn to providing humanitarian aid that will support peace. Nonviolent movements with experience challenging autocratic regimes should be front and center in international assistance. Russian attacks against civilians have been rampant in the war and need to be documented and addressed through the tools of international law.

The U.S. and NATO allies protest that their participation in the Ukraine war is prompted by a wish for a more secure, democratic and peaceful future in Europe and for the world. If so, they should use their power to de-escalate the war and seek peace. It is the only way to reestablish security in the region and halt the escalating violence that threatens to consume even more innocent lives.

Debate in Congress is growing over the costs of the war and our strategy. Calls for diplomatic engagement to end the war are increasing and should be coupled with a commitment to support the long-term work of an inclusive peace process that upholds sovereignty, ensures accountability and protects human dignity for all.

As the world mourns the devastation from World War II, policymakers should do all they can to prevent the next one. 

Bridget Moix

Bridget Moix is the fifth General Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). She also leads two other Read More

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