Cooperation with evil - nuclear weapons

The Catechism clearly says; Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation [cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 80 §3]. A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons—especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons—to commit such crimes (CCC 2314).

So, two questions: should communion be denied the politicians who state their willingness to take such action? What should an individual member of the armed forces of government do when confronted with an order to take part in such a crime?


Hi, I can’t answer your questions but wanted to say, I like them and will be interested in what people think.
War is a biggie, huh… Even though it is, obviously, something God isn’t responsible for, in my experience it is something that people use as an excuse to deny Him… as well, of course, all throughout history, powers that be using God as an excuse to make war. In my humble opine, anyway.

I was certified as Nuclear Weapons Delivery Crew and as a Nuclear Weapons Loading Officer when I was an aviator in the Navy many years ago. I planned actual missions to attack cities in Eastern Europe. If the order had been given, those missions would have been flown as I had planned them, down to the minor details. I might have flown them myself.

It was a sobering thing. I thought about it, prayed about it and talked to my Catholic chaplains about it. When I was doing this actively, we got a very liberal bishop in charge of the diocese we lived in. He wanted to declare all military personnel who handled nuclear weapons as excommunicated. Fortunately, he got talked out of it, since it would have affected thousands of people in his diocese. Now that threat has ended. John Paul II set up the US Military Archdiocese. Now the spiritual lives of Catholics in the military are led by the military archbishop.

Here is my take: Nuclear weapons in the context of the doctrine of “Mutually Assured Destruction” did have a huge effect on keeping the world at peace for over 50 years. Now that nuclear weapons are within the grasp of many countries, there is no way to “put the genie back in the bottle.” Nukes will always be with us. Like anything, it is not the technology, but how it is used. If you don’t use them offensively without extensive justification, if you mostly keep them defensively, you actually promote peace.

We need to keep a strong capability in this area. At some point, it will be the only thing that keeps N. Korea or Iran from attacking us and conquering us. The Nazis would have done it if they had been able, as would the Soviets. More importantly, the threat of US nuclear capability can bring those countries to the peace table if we handle it right. That is a reality.

We should not blame military people whose only goal is to serve and protect for the jobs they are assigned to do.


Deliberately targeting civilians - using nuclear weapons or using swords - is obviously a war crime, and a sin. And bad strategy - that’s a waste of time, attention and resources. Not to mention that capturing a city is usually preferable to destroying it. And actually performing nuclear retaliation does not gain the side that does it anything.

Thus it might be a good idea to deny communion to a politician who keeps ordering such strikes.

But then, is there anything sinful in creating an impression (without lying) that nuclear retaliation just might happen? And it is only this impression, not the actual willingness to launch nuclear strikes, that is required for deterrence.

For all we know, a politician was only trying to create such an impression. Now, depending on the wording, it might still be lying, but misinterpretation (and misspeaking) is also possible. Denying communion might be a bad idea in such case.

I suppose that in such case denying communion might even be used as nuclear weapons themselves - creating a doubt that maybe, in extreme situation, it would be used, without actual use… :slight_smile:

Your question is overly broad because your premise is overly broad.

And I have yet to hear a politician say that they should nuke a large population area.

There also seems to be a possible presumption that all nuclear weapons are mass destruction. Tactical nukes are much lower in destructive power and can be targeted to the battlefield.


Deliberately targeting civilians - using nuclear weapons or using swords - is obviously a war crime, and a sin.

In the nuclear realm, this is a distinction without a difference. None of our planned strikes targeted civilians, but with nukes, civilians would always have suffered the greatest losses by far.

Also, your post tiptoes around the issue of threatening nuclear retaliation versus doing it. The only way you can threaten it effectively, the only way the deterrence works, is by being absolutely, 100% willing, ready and able to use it immediately under defined circumstances. I have been in the “belly of the beast” with that. I have lived it. Anything less and there are ways the enemy will know. They test us constantly in ways the public never hears about.

Most people in America, and with our allies, don’t realize they enjoy the society, freedom and prosperity they have partially because the country is ready to incinerate millions on a moment’s notice. Most of those people never get to see behind that curtain and want to deny there is anything behind that curtain. Maybe that’s just as well.


A very good answer. Although there were clearly times when certain people in the Pentagon and on the battlefield recommended their use, it didn’t happen. Nuclear weapons are impractical. The US realized this in 1953 but because your enemy had them, you had to be ready to use them if they attacked. The US could use nuclear weapons now to solve a few military problems but again, where is the victory if the land is irradiated and clouds of fallout go wherever the wind blows?

Nuclear weapons, based on the published military literature, are not easy to make. The situation between India and Pakistan would only result in the scenario I mentioned above. Our only real potential threats are Russia and China. I put Russia first since they have far more experience than the Chinese.

The public is usually not privy to target information but one military publication did publish a list of US targets most likely to be targeted by the former Soviet Union after it collapsed. These targets were near civilian population centers but that’s not the point. These targets were military production and supply centers. They would be the first to go, along with the White House. But such things are outside the area of interest of most people.

Evil would only apply to those who strike first.

That assumes that only physical results matter. But in morality intentions matter too.

And that sounds somewhat suspicious…

Yes, it is obvious that the enemy would like to know if the nuclear retaliation will happen. And it is obvious that the enemy is going to try to find that out. And it is true that the most certain way to “pass those tests” is to not to have to deceive anyone.

But you make it sound as if those tests are infallible, and are known to be infallible. And that seems to be an overstatement. Also, someone working with nuclear weapons directly would seem to be unlikely to know how effective those tests were considered to be by enemy intelligence and decision-makers… It’s the “belly of the wrong beast” for that.

Then again… Why exactly are we supposed to know what you did in the military!? Even if that is not a state secret, and even if you’re retired, why give the enemy intelligence any hints? After all, none of the points you made actually require you to have any special experience on this matter. And we (hopefully) are not able to check if your claims about work in military are correct anyway.

Strategic nuclear weapons are for deterrence. I worked in an ICBM squadron for 4 years. My moral qualms were lessened because our job was to test launch them to make sure they worked, using a dummy warhead, not capable of nuclear explosion. Russian ships off the coast monitored these tests as well, and that was a good thing, because a nuclear deterrent needs to be credibl to keep the peace. And it has kept the peace since WW-II. The two major nuclear powers never fought a war with each other.
However proxy wars such as Vietnam were fought instead because major power wars were at risk to go nuclear.

Russia is even now deploying a new generation of ICBM’s to keep its deterrent credible.

Lack of a deterrent or a deterrent force which is not credible leads to a greater risk of war, not less. I guess that’s why the old Strategic Air Command motto was “Peace is Our Profession.”


Another good reply. Both SAC and NORAD and a “what, we’re part of this too?” Canada had to deal with all this. The open literature is full of details released relatively recently. After all, whatever the public knows, the enemy knows. So this will continue. And in some ways, it’s best the public doesn’t know. The goal is to protect North America from nuclear attack. That’s defense, not cooperation with evil. If your enemy develops the bow and arrow or crossbow, you make them too.

I was a Navy aviator, Nuclear Weapons Delivery Crew, Nuclear Weapons Loading Officer and SIOP mission planner. SIOP was the Single Integrated Operational Plan, the US’s general plan for nuclear war from 1961 until 2003. What I did has not changed much since I did it. I could send you a copy of the my DD214 about my service as an aviator, but you would never get to see documentation of the rest.

I never said the enemy’s tests were infallible, but they do exist and they are reasonably accurate, just as our tests of their capabilities and intent are reasonably accurate.

But who knows who any of us are in cyber-space? I don’t know if you are even a Catholic.

Good points. Cyber-space is anonymous, blind and subject to manipulation. Except for those in the intelligence community, no one knows who anyone is.


But your position requires something better than merely “reasonably accurate”. You claim that 100% willingness to launch a nuclear strike in retaliation is required for deterrence, and deception or mere 90% willingness just won’t do. And that, therefore, such deception is implausible, and should not be suspected by the priest in position to deny communion.

And if the tests are merely “reasonably accurate”, that falls apart. If enemy suspects that nuclear retaliation will happen with probability of, let’s say, 0.9, that will still look like pretty high risk. If enemy will be deterred by probability of 1, probability of 0.9 is also likely to deter.

Yes, I see your point. :slight_smile:

True, not everyone can do such deception well (some are likely to blurt the truth out). But still, some can do it, and it would be charitable for the priest to suspect it (although it would be wise for the enemy not to end up in position to find out for sure).

Look, no offense meant, but you are armchair quarterbacking this. You would have had to been part of the military PRP (Personnel Reliability Program, a certification to handle nuke, as well as chemical and biological weapons, all of which I was cleared for) to fully appreciate what I’m talking about. We were all pre-screened by extensive background checks, psychological evaluations and yes, some indoctrination that not only would we carry out our missions, but we were not susceptible to attempts by foreign agents to change that position. It was not a “maybe” or 90% thing. There was also no doubt foreign intelligence knew of that program and would have found out if it were relaxed.

And I am convinced that all of us in the program would have followed through, almost to a person. If there had been any doubt about that, the deterrence aspect would have fallen apart. That’s the best I can explain it, but there is more to it. You really would have had to be a part of it and I know that is a very unsatisfactory answer on an internet message board, but it’s the best I can do. It’s one of those things that was not designed for civilians to know about or appreciate. But rest assured, I am not making it up or even embellishing it.

There are other things like that in the military also. There is some serious badass stuff in our arsenal, still today. I think the public has gotten lulled into a sense that if there is stuff like that in existence, the media would have found out and told us about it. It’s not true. There is stuff I still have to keep quiet about that would get media attention today, decades later, if people were even able to believe it. Just be glad someone is handling that stuff for you and doing it responsibly and well.

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I remember that program quite well, and I would like to add it was not a one time rubber stamp deal but an on going process. That is all I am going to say about PRP.

Sorry, but none of that seems to be relevant for this specific discussion. Nor do you make a contrary case.

And if you have a secret to keep, don’t brag about it! Especially when it is irrelevant for the discussion and no one is asking!

Frankly, as someone “armchair quarterbacking” I do not like the idea of having to tell something that seems to be so basic to someone claiming to be a retired military officer of an allied country.

And that helps us to find out if a priest should deny communion to a politician who claims to be willing to launch a nuclear strike how exactly?

Even if it was relevant, please, next time cite Wikipedia or something instead of personal experience. It is easier to verify while being less useful for enemy intelligence.

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I was merely providing a bit of information if you don’t find it relevant so be it, as I care not one way or the other.

Same here, MPat. If you don’t find the information we can share enlightening because we don’t cite a revered source like Wikipedia, I guess you have made the choice to remain ignorant. FYI, you could verify most of this online if you wanted to, but I for one am no ones online research service.

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I do research as part of my daily job and on my own time. It’s mostly military tech dating back to World War II. Nuclear weapons are a deterrent. The US had plenty of opportunities to use them but the people suggesting their use saw nothing happen. Korea, the Vietnam War, The Cuban Missile Crisis. A lot of people had reasons to use them but they were all overruled. The US and USSR simultaneously deployed ICBMs in 1959. Coincidence? No.

The only evil in all this is an aggressor nation launching a first strike. Long before today, there were people who wanted to use them after World War II, so this argument is pointless.

Nuclear weaponry is a choice of balances. When we hit Japan in WWII, there was a choice of nuking a couple of cities to get their attention or doing an all-out assault with casualties approaching staggering levels.

Of course with the number of bat guano crazy tin-pot despots running around with nuclear technology, there’s probably less of a balancing act going on out there. Makes me wonder if Hitler and Co. had the ability to use nuclear weapons when the end was nigh, would they have used them or embraced their own brand of fatalism. Part of me thinks that Berlin would have vanished under a mushroom cloud of “canned sunshine”.

My biggest concern isn’t the “big guys” with the capability, but the little ones. What happens when the regime of your unfriendly local neighborhood despot realizes they are thoroughly screwed and comes to the conclusion that there really is nothing left to lose? If you hear the rumble of armour outside ready to to turn you and your “elite guard” into pink mist, is the threat of war crimes charges really going to matter? Is the overwhelming negative response from launching going to be an issue?

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