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John Keown spoke recently about the ethics of nuclear weapons. In his lecture, “The Pope and the Bomb: The Ethics of Nuclear Deterrence,” Keown argued that the aiming of nuclear weapons at cities and intending to use them in order to deter enemy attacks is immoral. Keown’s moral reasoning involved a straightforward application of the Jesuit John Ford’s condemnations of counter-population obliteration bombing during World War II.

In the question-and-answer period after the lecture, Keown went beyond the ethics of war to address what might be called “the ethics of leadership.” He made an important distinction between what teachers—including, I would add, those who represent the Catholic Church—should advocate and what politicians can do. He noted that speaking the truth about the morality of nuclear weapons and doing something politically about the problem that this truth poses are very different activities. Keown’s distinction is useful, not only with regard to nuclear ­disarmament but also with regard to two other currently ­controverted issues: abortion and gay “­marriage.”

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