One thing we humans often do, according to psychologists, is scapegoat others for our problems. It makes us feel better and above all takes away from any responsibility for our own actions. We tend to think that nuclear weapons have nothing to do with us. That is the business of politicians, scientists, etc. Others who are part of the chain of violence sometimes say, “I was only following orders.” Many people follow orders and keep their jobs, and progress up their career ladder. Yet, taking personal responsibility (as well as having rights) is so important if we are to really change things in our world today.

Another way of not taking responsibility is to refuse to apply critical thinking and analysis to our actions, and to follow the way it’s always been done. I am been inspired by the writings of Thomas Merton, and particularly when he talks about the need to have a clear conscience, and to follow that conscience in doing what is right.

We all have a responsibility to follow our conscience and do what is right, but particularly those who make weapons such as nuclear weapons, which, if used, would cause the death of millions of people.

We live in an age of advanced technology and much of what has been produced by scientists has improved many of our lives (though tragically not the lives of millions in the developing world). What would we do without email and so much more, but on the other hand, we could have done well without weapons of mass destructions.

In many prestigious American universities and others around the world, scientists have designed and continue to design advanced killing machines. These scientists must take responsibility for their actions and stop their misguided rationalization of the killing of human beings.

I am reminded of the words of Galileo: “If only I had resisted, if only the natural scientists had been able to evolve something like the Hippocratic Oath of doctors, the vow to devote their knowledge wholly to the benefit of mankind! As things now stand, the best one can hope for is a race of inventive dwarfs who can be hired for anything. I surrendered my knowledge to those in power, to use, or not to use, or to misuse just as suited their purposes.”

They will of course argue they need nuclear weapons to protect the world. However, the world has changed. The main conflicts now are not between states, but intra-state. The violent conflicts we see, as in Northern Ireland, are ethnic/political or failed states. These problems cannot be solved by dropping nuclear weapons on them. Nor will threatening to use nuclear weapons on other countries help dialogue, negotiations and trading, all of which are necessary in our inter-dependent, inter-connected world. Nuclear weapons are big money for governments, arms manufacturers and distributors. They rob the poor of their right to justice and equality. We all want security, but I believe the best form of security for us all is to make friends with our enemies. We all have a responsibility to do this, people to people, government to government, and solving problems through nonviolent conflict resolution.

I once met Fr. George Zabelka, the chaplain who blessed the crew which flew the Enola Gay plane. This was the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He applauded the crew upon their return on a job well done. Years later, after visiting Japan, he was horrified to meet with people who had survived the bombings, but carried the scars of radiation and pain for the rest of their lives. George Zabelka dedicated his life to campaigning for abolishment of nuclear weapons. He went around the world saying he was sorry for his part in this horrific act of desolation and desecration of the Japanese people by the US Administration.

We can and must all speak out against nuclear weapons. It will not be easy. Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear weapons whistleblower, is still held in Israel after 20 years. He told the world that Israel had a nuclear weapons program. He tried to warn us against the dangers of nuclear weapons. We salute him for his courage and his sacrifice to humanity, and we look forward to the day he will be released from Israel and we can personally thank him.

In the meantime, let us take up the challenge Mordechai places upon us all. Let us take personal responsibility not to be part of the chain of violence of nuclear weapons by supporting the nuclear policies of the American, or any government, and instead dedicating our lives to being part of the work of celebrating and enhancing life for all our brothers and sisters wherever we live in this little planet, of which we are planetary citizens.

Mairead Corrigan Maguire received the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize and the 1991 Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Distinguished Peace Leadership Award. She recently participated in the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2006 International Law Symposium, “At the Nuclear Precipice: Nuclear Weapons and the Abandonment of International Law.”