Age of majority: Clare Phillips’ Thought for the Week

‘Young people need our belief that change is possible – that the earth can be saved, that war is not inevitable.’

‘The next generation has spoken...They don’t want nuclear weapons in their future.' | Photo: by Laurentiu Morariu on Unsplash

According to a recent poll commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross, a majority of millennials (people aged twenty to thirty-five), across sixteen countries and territories, support the new UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The detail shows that eighty-six per cent of Russians (and ninety-two per cent of those in Ukraine) took this view. Only four states had higher results, one being Syria.

Older adults in the west (and presumably in Russia too) will have learned from living relatives that, while wars are catastrophic, some can be won. Nuclear weapons hardly existed when that opinion was being formed, and I shiver when I hear the phrase ‘history repeating itself’ in news coverage of Ukraine. It seems to suggest a kind of inevitability – as if we already know how things will pan out, and maybe there’s nothing we can do. I refuse to buy that cheap soundbite. It’s very, very dangerous. Science makes it clear now that a war involving nuclear weapons could cause the end of humanity.

The world now is as much like the world in 1945 as an apple and a hand grenade, to adapt the cliché. Most Quakers don’t accept any war as legitimate, but a world war waged on a ticking time bomb can’t be ‘won’ in anyone’s sense of that word.

I was recently elected to the executive of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (SCND). A small group of us from SCND spent last Tuesday at the Faslane Peace Camp to discuss their forthcoming fortieth anniversary in June. As well as meeting veteran witnesses of the nuclear menace lurking in the Gare Loch, I chatted with a smart, enthusiastic teenager who had recently arrived at the camp. I asked him what he thought might be the focus of the anniversary events. ‘It has to be the link between the environment and war,’ he said. And not just nuclear weapons, but the arms trade – the whole war machine, we agreed. I can’t get his bright smile, his determination to act, out of my mind.

Young people everywhere need our support and action if they are to have a world left to live in. But they also need our belief that change is possible – that the earth can be saved, that war is not inevitable and nuclear weapons are already illegal.

These weapons have clearly not ‘kept the peace’ as we’ve all grown tired of being told by those with a short-sighted interest in their continued existence. The International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its contribution to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. ‘The next generation has spoken,’ said Alicia Sanders-Zakre, ICAN policy and research coordinator, in response to the poll: ‘They don’t want nuclear weapons in their future… Today’s leaders should take heed and join the Treaty.’ Now is not the time to be faint-hearted.

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