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Speaker calls for ban on nuclear weapons in annual Hesburgh Lecture

| Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning group the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), spoke in the McCartan Courtroom in the Eck Hall of Law on Tuesday to discuss the threat of nuclear war and need to ban nuclear weapons for the 24th annual Hesburgh Lecture in Ethics and Public Policy.

Fihn reminisced on the work of former University president Theodore Hesburgh, who represented the Vatican in signing the treaty that established the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organization that sought to harness nuclear energy for peaceful energy uses rather than for war.

The threat of nuclear warfare, Fihn said, is an intense reality people today have already had to face.

“Imagine you are in your home, relaxing in your bed,” Fihn said. “You grab your phone to silence it, and in all capital letters, ‘Ballistic missile threat inbound, seek immediate shelter, this is not a drill.’ What do you actually do — seek shelter underground? Or do you stay put, do you turn on the news, turn the radio on, pray? … As you can tell by now, this is not an imagined reality, these messages are real, this is an alert that greeted the residences of Hawaii on the morning of January 13. In Hawaii, mothers hustled confused children into closets, siblings debated staying put or driving to be together … No person should be faced with these horrible choices.”

Nuclear weapons have been a forgotten threat and reasonable voices on the issue have turned into men like Donald Trump shouting on Twitter about the size of America’s nuclear button, Fihn said.

“What I see often across various issues is the confusion, whether by ignorance or design,” she said. “It’s centered between the impossible and inconvenient efforts. For meaningful change towards equality and justice is often a trade for those in power and for those who benefit from keeping things the way just they are. They will try and discourage us from demanding change. But change will come. It’s inevitable. We will not live with nuclear weapons forever. We will not live without them being used and face consequences.”

Considering recent tension between the United States and North Korea, Fihn commented that people should not confuse nuclear weapons as a political issue but rather a human rights problem that needs to be fought through diplomacy.

“We have made North Korea one of the most powerful countries in the world, when they probably aren’t, in a way, without weapons,” she said. “Their arguments around their weapons and why they have them [and] their threats to use them are all very similar to the United States. It is for our security, claiming we have reasonable, rational nuclear arms for the protection of people. You end up with this situation where it’s really difficult to tell another country you can’t have [nuclear weapons] when you can.”

To avoid eventual humanitarian consequences, such as cities leveling out and the effects of radiation, Fihn said people have the responsibility to question politicians and target companies contributing to nuclear arms funds. Supporting ICAN and signing up for its email lists, she said, will keep people informed on nuclear weapons ban efforts.

“I am a big fan of giving people simple actions,” Fihn said. “Lot of the activists are full time — their whole life is committed to it. I think you can start small. Really the first step is staying informed, sign up for the newsletter … you can google ‘Back from the Brink’ which is an organization trying to pull back the U.S. from the huge spending that is taking place right now. … And you can check if your bank invests in nuclear weapons and if they profit. You can check if your university does as well and call for that to change. Just start asking questions. Just small things can freak them out.”

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About Meagan Bens

Meagan is a junior Visual Communication Design major and Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy minor living in Lyons Hall. She serves as a sports writer and hails from the suburbs of Chicago.

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