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Delaney: Ethics Lessons

10/09/12 7:55AM By Dennis Delaney
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(Host) Commentator Dennis Delaney tells why he disagrees with a recent scholarly view that a nuclear armed Iran provides stability.

(Delaney) Every so often a moment comes along - a seminal moment - when a seed is planted, thrives and influences our purposes and actions for a long while, occasionally even a lifetime.

Here are some examples:

When I was a teenager, probably on the self-absorbed side,  I wanted a summer job.  I needed spending money and I had to earn it. My dad had a friend, a truck farmer, who offered me a job in his fields. I took it and it was sweat-dripping hard work. But I also had my oar in the water for another job, one that paid better and went a little easier in terms of sweat equity. It was mowing lawns in a cemetery - and when I was offered that job, I jumped at it.

So, one day I simply went to the other job and didn't show up at the farm. When my dad heard about this, he had just a few calm but unforgettable words for me. "Always say thank you."

Several years later another event taught me a much more searing ethical lesson, one still as jarring to me now as it was then.

I had just earned my doctorate. I had landed a job in a Muslim university in Nigeria, a very troubled country then as now. One day, while chatting with a young student, we happened on to the subject of atomic bombs and who needs them. This was back before we started calling them nuclear bombs.

I can't remember the student's name but he was bright, smiling and had a cocky tilt of his head. I liked him and said something to him like: "Nigeria certainly doesn't need atomic bombs."

The smile disappeared from his face and he stared at me seriously. "Oh yes," he countered. "We must have them to defeat our enemies." And this was in spite of the fact that the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh in both our minds.

Fast forward to several weeks ago and an interview on the PBS News Hour with a Professor Waltz from Columbia University, simultaneous with his essay in the important bi-monthly publication Foreign Affairs. The professor calmly laid out his logic on why Iran should have nuclear weapons. He said that an Iran with a nuclear capability would offer "the best possible results to restore stability to the Middle East."

And that stopped me cold. While my student friend in Nigeria was sane, I'm not so sure about Iran's president, who has called for the annihilation of Israel - and the U.S. too. And I'd have the same reservations about many other tyrants around the world.

Whether it's the cleverest professorial syllogism or a multi-syllabic intellectual argument, I simply don't see how we can justify the spread of nuclear weapons. Stability in the Middle East is an important and crucial goal, but it must be achieved by less drastic means. We created nuclear fire 67 years ago. Our task now is not to spread the risk, but to contain it.


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