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Non-Violent Warfare: A Puzzle

Book of Jonah (Judeo-Christian version): God commands Jonah to preach to Nineveh. Instead Jonah flees by getting on board a ship bound for Tarshish (Spain). A great storm threatens the ship, the crew cast lots to see who is responsible, and finally they throw Jonah overboard. A whale or big fish swallows Jonah. Jonah prays inside its belly for three days and three nights, and is then vomited onto dry land.

Jonah is again sent to Nineveh. This time he preaches, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” The people and king of Nineveh proclaim a fast, wear sackcloth, and sit in ashes. The king proclaims, “… let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may yet repent…”

God repents of the evil which he said he would do to Nineveh and does not destroy Nineveh. Jonah is exceedingly angry and says he would rather be dead. Jonah sets up a booth outside Nineveh to see if God will destroy it. God ends with a question, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11 Revised Standard Version).

Question: How does the Book of Jonah relate to the human use of nuclear weapons?

Answer: Substitute human leader for God; substitute nuclear weapons for God’s power to destroy. The human leader says, “In forty days, this particular city will be destroyed.” What should the city do? The obvious answer is to evacuate the city. Evacuation saves lives. The human leader has given “fair warning” of the bombing, so as to save lives. If any refuse to leave the city, they may be legitimately (or less unjustly) bombed.

Second Question: If the city is evacuated, is there still a need to destroy the city?

Second Answer: The answer to this question may depend on the reason for threatening to bomb the city in the first place. If the city is being threatened in retaliation for previous enemy bombings, it may well be reasonable to bomb the buildings, after the people have had a fair opportunity to evacuate. This assumes the enemy is unwilling to negotiate an alternate solution to the problem. If the enemy is willing to negotiate, there may be other ways to compensate for previous bombings.

The Book of Jonah, interpreted in this alternate manner, suggests a different answer to this second question. Substitute “evacuation” for “Nineveh’s repentance” and we see that once the evacuation has occurred, the need to bomb the city has disappeared. So long as the city’s people remain evacuated, they are highly inconvenienced. The enemy is likely to be more amenable to negotiating a solution for the problem which caused the war. If a solution is successfully negotiated, the evacuees may return to the city.


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