Nuclear war is a present danger to humanity
by Liz Theoharis & Diane Swords
August 5, 2022

This week marks the 77th anniversary of the atomic obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For many, nuclear war may feel like a relic of that terrible history and of a time of great power struggle and the Cold War arms race. But that is a delusion we can no longer afford to maintain. Today, the war in Ukraine, growing tension in the South China Sea (evidenced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit), and more are reminding us just how close we are to global catastrophe. Indeed, earlier this week the Secretary-General of the United Nations warned that this is “a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War…today, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.”

As governments, including our own, drag the globe closer to the brink, a huge majority of people everywhere oppose war and nuclear escalation. Here in the United States, many of us are realizing our common interests and joining together across our differences to say enough is enough. As we confront the worsening effects of climate disaster, economic recession and war, we refuse to be silent anymore!

Today, many lies are used to divide us and try to convince us that on one hand we have no choice but to wage war, but on the other we can’t afford to address human needs here at home. We mention just three of those lies here: 1. that war protects us; 2. that poverty is due to the failure of poor people; and 3. that the option of nonviolent de-escalation is out of our hands and that we should prepare for nuclear war.

War is a protection racket. We are told that our enemies are many, even as far-off wars are not won and only profit the few, while destroying the rest. Our military budget continues to grow at the same time politicians decry inflation and claim that working people need to take a pay cut and that there is not enough to spend on things like healthcare and housing. On top of that, funding for diplomacy has been radically cut in recent years. This is bad policy and is bringing us closer to moral bankruptcy and self-annihilation.

The lie that poverty is caused by the failure of poor people divests the government of any responsibility and further reinforces the logic of military spending over everything else. But this lie is countered by the valiant actions of poor people to improve their lot in spite of meager resources. Poverty is not inevitable; it is a “systemic sin.” Discrimination and disparities in access to employment, education, healthcare and more make it difficult for the hardest-working individuals to get ahead. Fair taxes, living wages and access to all the basic requirements for life should be rights for all humans. Instead, poor people are left with few resources, while the Pentagon receives almost everything it asks for.

A third lie minimizes the grave risks of nuclear war and suggests that we can survive a nuclear attack if properly prepared. On July 11, 2022, New York City’s Office of Emergency Management aired a PSA telling New Yorkers what to do if under nuclear attack: “Get inside, stay inside and stay tuned.” The New York Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (NYCAN) responded with words of warning: “This shows a total lack of understanding of what thermonuclear weapons mean and how a single modern nuclear weapon would instantaneously and radically destroy our beloved city, killing millions of New Yorkers in seconds, making any preparedness or rescue effort an utter fantasy.”

On Tuesday, Aug. 9, the Syracuse Peace Council and allies will gather at 11:30 a.m. at the county courthouse, along with county legislators and others who have endorsed the Back from the Brink Campaign to prevent nuclear war. We are committed to “ending nuclear weapons before they end us,” as Beatrice Fihn of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

If you are working to change our current violent, racist system, to protect our environment, and to prevent violence at home and abroad, you are already part of this movement. Let’s be in touch! You can join the Poor People’s Campaign and the Back from the Brink campaign and here in Syracuse you can become part of our fusion movement by contacting the Syracuse Peace Council ( or the New York Poor People’s Campaign (

The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis is the Director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary. She is also the Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

Diane Swords, Ph.D., is on the steering committee of Syracuse Peace Council, co-chair of Nuclear Free World Committee, and a regional leader in the national Back from the Brink Campaign. She lives in Syracuse.