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Three minutes to midnight

| Tuesday, February 3, 2015

“The leaders of nations cannot become complacent, but rather should renew their commitment to disarmament and to the banishment of all nuclear weapons.” — Pope John Paul II

Nuclear weapons.

We read about them in the news, scrawled next to ominous phrases like “mutually-assured destruction” or squeezed into headlines alongside the names of distant countries like Iran, Russia or North Korea. We hear their name spoken by crisp news anchors on television, by psychopathic villains in movies and sometimes by our own Notre Dame professors during political science lectures.

We interact with nuclear weapons on this somewhat detached level, and for the majority of us, that is where the interactions end. We turn off the television, leave the movie theater and exit the classroom, and we likely don’t think about nuclear weapons for the rest of the day.

“Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.” — President John F. Kennedy

In 1983, Soviet colonel Stanislav Petrov noticed five blips on his radar, which appeared to be American missiles. Fortunately, there was a protocol for such situations: launch a massive retaliatory strike. Petrov made the decision to ignore protocol, and quite probably saved hundreds of millions of lives. His heroism is the subject of “The Man Who Saved the World,” a new film which will be shown as part of the Kroc Institute’s annual ScreenPeace event this Saturday at 6:30 pm in DPAC (free, but ticketed). Other films include “Return to Homs, chronicling the struggles of a soccer player-turned-insurgent during the Syrian civil war, and “The Missing Picture,” following an artist as she recreates history lost during the Khmer Rouge’s tyranny in Cambodia.

“As a nuclear power — as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon — the United States has a moral responsibility to act.” — President Barack Obama

As a student of physics, I believe science should be used for good, for the betterment of all mankind. Nuclear weapons are a perversion of science. Even if they deter conflict, they do so by keeping the entire world in a state of perpetual fear — or those who know enough to care. In America, we have the luxury to forget about this threat, but our brothers and sisters in India and Pakistan, for example, cannot. This is the difficulty in recognizing the risk posed by these weapons: the harm their existence causes is psychological, not physical. But as I know well, just because a problem is largely psychological, that does not make it any less legitimate. Nuclear weapons divert trillions of dollars worldwide from causes which could build up, rather than threaten, our human family.

“I think the world invented a nuclear weapon. I think the world owes it to itself to see if it can’t invent something to make it irrelevant.” — Leo McGarry (John Spencer)

Nuclear weapons are an economics problem. They are a physics problem, a medical problem and a psychology problem. They are a political problem and a theological problem, and above all, they are now our problem. But we are moving in the right direction — negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are progressing, and we need to help maintain that momentum. The nuclear question can render us cynical, doubtful of others’ motives. But we as engaged students have the ability to work towards eliminating the nuclear question altogether, one step at a time.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

Tess Rinaldo


Brandon Roach

campus outreach coordinator

Brenna Gautam

social media coordinator

Megan McCormick

advocacy coordinator

Ralph Price

advocacy coordinator

Global Zero: Notre Dame

Feb. 1

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