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Time to remove Trump’s finger from the nuclear button

News & Commentary  |  By Joseph Gerson, Mar 1, 2017

Thousands of people, including Hiroshima survivors, took part in Peace and Planet in 2015, a mass mobilization for a nuclear-free world.

Photo: AFSC / Kyle Depew

Tell Congress: No president should be able to start a nuclear war.  

Most of us haven't thought about the dangers of nuclear weapons and nuclear war for a long time. With President Donald Trump's finger on the nuclear button—and with his alarming rhetoric about nuclear weapons—the threat feels very real once again. So much so that it contributed to atomic scientists' decision to move the hands of their Doomsday Clock to two and a half minutes to midnight.

As we have been called to do in decades past, we must take action to stop this threat.

Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey and California Congressman Ted Lieu have wisely responded by introducing legislation that would prevent Trump from initiating a nuclear war on his own. Even if this bill faces an uphill battle in Congress, your signature—and those of tens of thousands of others—supporting this legislation is critical to help build a firewall against nuclear Armageddon.

Harvard Professor Elaine Scarry recently published an important book, "Thermonuclear Monarchy." With a striking metaphor and cold logic, she described how all life as we know it can be eliminated on the order of a single ruler of a nuclear superpower. The International Red Cross reports that neither they nor anyone else can provide meaningful assistance should even a single nuclear weapon be detonated on a city. And the Japanese A-bomb survivors with whom I have worked for decades teach us that human beings and nuclear weapons cannot coexist.

Unknown to most of us, from the Cuban Missile crisis to the 1976 ax murder crisis in the Korean demilitarized zone, Reagan era miscalculations, and nuclear accidents, we have repeatedly been brought to within a hair's breadth of losing it all.

In Des Moines, Iowa, residents join a vigil to remember the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Photo: AFSC/Jon Krieg

Since Donald Trump's inauguration, we've been resisting a host of threats to people's lives, to human rights, and to the fabric of constitutional democracy: preparations to detain and deport millions of our neighbors, white supremacist violence, bomb threats against Jewish institutions, the assaults on the press and truth itself, and Trump's plan to eviscerate spending for essential life-supporting social services while paying for the biggest military buildup in U.S. history.

Add to this list the White House's dangerous rhetoric—often uninformed and reckless—about nuclear weapons. Many have questioned if Trump can be trusted with the nuclear codes—not that anyone should be. Not many months ago, the man who became our president didn't know what the nuclear triad (land, sea, and air-based nuclear weapons) was. He suggested that Japan and South Korea should have nuclear weapons. He asked briefers why we can't use nuclear weapons, threatened to use them against "terrorists," and said "I can't take anything off the table."

It hasn't gotten better since inauguration day. Trump has called for a new nuclear arms race to ensure that his nuclear arsenal remains "at the top of the pack" at a cost of more than one trillion dollars. He has opposed the extension of the important New START treaty with Russia. And he and senior members of his cabinet have put Iran "on notice," and made threats against nuclear armed North Korea and China.

Talk about children playing with fire!

And, as Elaine Scary reminded us, Trump has the authority to initiate a nuclear war, no one can now legally stop him.

That's why Sen. Markey's and Rep. Lieu's legislation to prevent the president from initiating a nuclear cataclysm without a declaration of war by Congress is so important.

To support this critically important legislation, AFSC has joined the Arms Control Association, Win Without War, and a host of other organizations to launch a petition calling on Congress to keep us safe by making it illegal for Trump, or any successor, to start a nuclear war.

As I write, we are approaching 100,000 signatures. I hope that you will add your name to our campaign.

Dr. Joseph Gerson wrote this blog post while in Japan, where he is working with Japanese and Marshall Islands atomic and hydrogen bomb survivors on the anniversary of the 1954 Bikini H-bomb test.

About the Author

Joseph Gerson serves as director of AFSC's Peace and Economic Security Program, based in Cambridge, Mass. He has worked with AFSC since 1976. More.