Yuclear Weapons. A Crisis of Conscience

Author:by Captain Mary Eileen E. McGrath

This article examines the impact of nuclear weapons on inlerna-tional law, reltgion, and A m y doctrine and personnel policzes. This article concludes that pri-ples of international law can be applied to the use of counlerforce nuclear weapons and is reflected in A m y doctrine Principles of international lau: can only be ap-plied to countmalve nuclear weapons throwh the policy ofmutual deterrence and a balance ofpower. The A&can R m a n Catholic Bishops have launched a moral m a d e against nuclear weapons. They demand t h t individuals make moral choices regarding the use of nuclear weapons Individuals will have to make their choices withmt adepote moral and relzgim gutdance. The Bishops' call for legislative Tecognztion of selective conseientians objection has given moral legitimacy to nuclear paczfism. While selective cons-cientious objection has been rejected by Congress and the Suprone Court, the Amy must prepare to deal with nuclearpaclfism.

In the Paradise of Children dwelt a boy named Epirnetheus. Be-cause he lived alone, the gads on Mount Olympus sent him a campamon. Her name was Pandora.

In the house of Epimetheus, Pandora spied a large carved chest that was locked. She immediately wanted to know what was in it. The bay toid her that the gad, Mercury, had brought it and left it with stnct instructions never to open the chest, not even to unlock it. Pandora grew more curious.

The Paradise in which they dwelt was perfect. There was no sichess or trouble. Yet each time Pandora spied the chest, the more her curiosity grew.

One day when Pandora was alone she decided to unlock the chest and lift the lid for one quick look. As she began to raise the lid very

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slowly, it flew open. There was a great clap of thunder and the room grew instantly dark A sudden swarm of bathke creatures rushed out of the chest and past her into Paradise. And so it was that anger, sor-row, sickness, despair, and all other evil things came into the world. Then the room grew light again. Pandora gazed into the chest and saw one last, tiny creature of great beauty struggling to fly out. When it gained strength, it, too, flew into Paradme. That last creature was Hope

A Greek Legend



Single events have often triggered dramatic changes in the course of civilization. The discovery of fire brought wmth, light, and a greater chance of survival to primitive humanity. Gutenberg's printing press made books available to the average citizen and fostered widespread literacy. The Wright Brothers's short flight paved the way for intercontinental travel and space exploration. In August 1945, the United States decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear weapons. Never before had a single bomb been able to obliterate an entire city and most of its population While these weapons of maSS destruction have never again been used to vanquish the enemy, Hiroshima and Nagasaki represent civilization's entry into a new era. The specter of universal holocaust has emerged from Pandora's box. The potential devastation and carnage of war was transformed from limited to unlimited. If ever unleashed, the present nuclear stockpiles of the United States and the Saviet Union have the potential of destroying civilization. Human beings need no longer work in munitions factories, be enmeshed in the advance of armies, or participate actively in warfare to become targets. Nuclear weapons and the resultant radioactive €all-out make people, thase born and unborn, those far from the battle, and thase uninvalved in the conflict, vulnerable to nuclear devastation and death.


A few Americans participated in the short-lived "Ban the Bomb" movement of the early 19SOs. Anti-nuclear movements have gained a stronger foothold in Western Europe and the United States in the 1980s. Mass demonstrations have been conducted in Great Britain

and the Federal Republic of Germany to protest the presence of U.S nuclear weapons and the deployment of Cruse and Pershing I1 mis-siles Americans haxe joined in peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience to protest nuclear missile storage sites, reactors, and the proposed XX misale system. Yumerous politicnm, church groups, and scientific organizations have domed citizens in the call for nuclear freeze and eventual disarmament. Movies like On The Beach, me Dag After. and Testament have focused public attention on the terrifying aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. Such maiies have increased both the awareness of the threat and the fear of its occur-rence No sane mdividual, with even minimal moral scruples, desires to witness universal destruction At the same time, other concerned politmans, church groups, and cinzens believe that the United States must maintain our nuclear arsenal in order to prevent war and provide national security for ourselves and our allies. Sa the debate rages. Can we live with nuclear weapons? Can we sumwe wnhout them? Can we limit their use? Is nuclear holocaust avoidable or inevitable?


Kearly 40 yean have passed since Hiroshima and Nagasaki ushered in the age of nuclear weapons. Katians have thus far avoided the use of those weapons since that fateful day. The presence of nuclear weapons has presented new and unique challenges to international lawyers, military strategists, the clergy, and individuals. Have these challenges been met, avoided, or denied? If all human institutions and organizations were to be examined, volumes would result. Therefore, the scope of this article will be hmited. First, the impact of nuclear weapons an international law will be examined. The sec-ond subject will be an analysis of Army doctrine on the limited use of nuclear weapons. Third will be an examination of how the Roman Catholic Church, particularly the American Bishops, have met the challenge. Last will be an examination of how this challenge impacts on individual conscience and Army personnel policies.


Before nuclear weapons use and policy can be analyzed within the framework of international law, basic concepts and terms must be defined

Tactical employment of nuclear weapons is the use of nuclear

weapons by the battlefield commander in support of maneuver forces in his command, usually at corps level or below.'

The Amy's faciical nuclear doctrine specifies the manner in

which corps and divisions will conduct nuclear operations subject to political and military constraints. Such constramts may include target types, restrictions on delivery systems and yield. time, number of weapons to be used, geographical or polltical boundanes, and collateral damage preclusion guidance.2

The corps nuclear weapons packaye is a discrete grouping of nuclear weapons to be used in a specific area during a short time period to support a corps tactical mmmn

Counterforce nuclear weapom are typically small in yield, but highly accurate The purpose of counterforce strategy is to arm directly at the enemy's military forces as opposed to destruction of the adversary's society in a massive way.'

Countervalue WBUPOM and strateytes pnmaniy emphasize destruction of industrial bases and population centers. This kind of targeting strategy is best served by using larger yield weapons or multiple warheads.'

TaTyet evaluation is an examination of targets to determine the priority for attack and military importance.0

Deterrence is the attempt to keep an adversary from taking a particular course of action by insuring that the risks will appear to him to be out of proportion to any gam he may achieve.'

Because these terms and concepts will be used throughout this article, it is critical that a precise conceptual basis be established immediately to provide a common basis for examination and evaluation of the issues.

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19851 NUCLEAR WEAPONS E. THE DESTRUCTIVE POTENTIALOF NUCLEAR WEAPONS The means and methods of waging war have changed over time as a result of technological discoveries and advances. Prior to World War 1, enemies fought each other on land and sea Land battles nere confined to limited areas because armies could not travel far or quickly. They walked to battles or traveled by horseback Land bat-tles were frequently waged on vast farmlands. Civilians and their homes were rarely the objects of direct attack. During World War I, miliions of soldiers fought in trenches and hedgerows far from cities and the civihan population. The use of airplanes was new and limited. Aerial bombardment of civilian population centers only became a common method of waging war during World War 11. Technological advances had produced airplanes capable of flying great distances with heayy loads of men, cargo, and bombs. As a result, the war could be easily extended to cities where munitions were produced, rail centers were located, and enemy strategies were planned. Aerial bombardments were at times launched for the purpose of destroying the morale and resolve of the civilian population. Hitler's indiscriminate air raids on London are a prime example. The bombing raids an London, Coventry, Dresden, and Cologne evoke memories af massive destruction of heavily populated areas. The carnage of war engulfed the civilian population on a level...

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