Text: Bruce Kent at Westminster Abbey peace prayers


Bruce Kent, Vice President of CND, gave the following address during the peace service outside Westminster Abbey on Friday, during the official 'Thanksgiving Service' for seaborne nuclear weapons.

Today we have come together for a ceremony of repentance. Whose repentance? We have all been and mostly still are, members of institutions -- churches, political parties, trade unions, which for the most part , after 70 years, still trot out the same arguments and the same nice words for being willing to commit mass murder. But I am not here to point a finger at individuals.

I know who alone is entitled to throw the first stone 'Those without sin ' said Jesus and that is certainly not me. When I was in the army 70 years ago I learnt absolute obedience. If I was ordered to shoot someone I would have obeyed and perhaps asked questions afterwards. I remember so well instructions on how to clear rioting crowds. Give them a warning and then shoot individuals one at a time at regular intervals. That will move the crowd we were, I'm sure correctly, told. So I am not here to pass judgement on the Dean of the Abbey or on the sailors whose submarine service is being commemorated today.

My repentance nevertheless is real and is for not doing more to persuade the members of my church and other churches and institutions social and political that nuclear deterrence depends on the present willingness of some people to commit mass murder. One does not have to be a pacifist to know that war -- if ever it was justified as a last resort in the past -- now no longer is. There are so many ways of solving international problems peacefully. That is why the Charter of the UnIted Nations was signed in May 1945. The United Nations was formed, according to its Charter, to put an end 'to the scourge of war'.

Charter of the United Nations?? How few have even seen that inspiring document? It is unknown in most schools. I have never seen a copy in a church porch. We also have so called 'charity' laws which make it possible for some major charities to bewail the loss of life in the Yemen but never to mention who sells the bombs to Saudi Arabia. This country as a matter of fact. All I am saying is that repentance is for all not some.

Too often we have been glad to make clear how sensitive our consciences are but how rarely we wonder why our message is not getting through.

The submarines we are thinking about today are nuclear weapon submarines. Their crews, trained to obey orders, are ready to fire missiles whose warheads will bring destruction to faraway places and people far beyond the scale of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

It is opposition to potential war crimes of this magnitude that l motivates me to vigil outside the Abbey. I do not blame the sailors. The history of nuclear weaponry has been from the beginning one of deceit and bogus history.

We were, and are, told that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only way to end World War Two. Not true. The Japanese leadership, ready to surrender, were looking for one guarantee - that the position of the Emperor would not be challenged in any surrender settlement and that he would not be prosecuted. That was just what was given to them by General McArthur but only after the bombs were dropped.

We were never told about the few scientists, like Professor Joseph Rotblat, then in Los Alamos, who refused to continue to work on the Bomb once he knew how it was to be used. He was sent back to Britain in 1944 in disgrace.

Not many church voices in this country were raised in opposition at the use of these bombs. One was that of Cuthbert Thickness, the Dean of St Albans Abbey. When he was supposed to ring the bells in thanksgiving, he said in August 1945 '----- I cannot honestly give thanks to God for an event brought about by the wrong use of force, by an act of wholesale indiscriminate massacre, different in kind over all other acts of open warfare hitherto, however brutal and hideous' . It was a Jesuit Archbishop Thomas Roberts, who later on, changed my mind. But his was a lonely road isolated amongst his fellow Bishops.

There were however strong military voices also in opposition, to which little attention has been paid. General Eisenhower for instance had this to say:

'Japan was at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of face. It was not necessary to hit them with that awful thing'.

We are told now frequently that nuclear weapons and deterrence have kept the peace. What peace?

The list of post 1945 wars runs to several pages and the global military budget is nearly two trillion dollars. If this claim means we have not had a nuclear war then I think we should listen to Robert McNamara, United States Secretary of Defence, who said, late in life, that we were saved not by our good judgement but by 'good luck'. He had in mind the many accidents and dangerous confusions which have dogged our nuclear weapon world for the last 70 years.

In 1968 we signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and promised in 'good faith' to work for the elimination of all nuclear weapons. Yet more than 50 years later we are now in this country spending over £200 billion on yet another nuclear weapon system (entirely dependent on a regular loan of US missiles) to replace our current Trident one. Good Faith? What hypocrisy. Surely it is time to start spending our billions, not on weapons of mass murder but on our NHS, pensions, welfare and real peace making initiatives, here and abroad.

There is now a UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons just waiting for more signatory states to give it the force of law. Britain should sign that now and lead the world towards a nuclear-free future.

Todays vigil is a spur to action. We all have a responsibility to help our fellow citizens to understand what a dangerous road we are on and to work in so many ways to build the just and lawful framework of our common humanity - a future in which nuclear deterrence has no place.


Tags: Westminster Abbey, Nuclear Weapons, Bruce Kent

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