"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Turning The Tide (On Nuclear Weapons)


As 2008 draws to a close, so do the last days of an administration that has seriously reversed progress on nuclear disarmament. As we approach the beginning of the Obama presidency we have an opportunity for the United States to lead a global effort to end the threat of nuclear weapons that hangs over humanity like the mythical Sword of Damocles. President-elect Obama has stated his commitment to this goal, but so have most previous presidents. The proof will be in his actions.

With a deeply entrenched nuclear weapons complex, a military that covets its nuclear weapons, weapons makers whose profits depend on continued dependence on nuclear weapons, and a national sense that nuclear weapons provide a deterrent, it will be extremely difficult to move the U.S. into a leadership role, let alone cooperation in a global disarmament effort. It will require tremendous pressure from the people to motivate President Obama (and Congress) to take the leadership role in this effort.

If I could make only one New Year's resolution, it would be to do everything in my power to move the U.S. into a leadership role in a serious global effort to abolish nuclear weapons. You can help get us there. To understand the issue I suggest reading A RETURN TO SANITY; UNITED STATES LEADERSHIP FOR A NUCLEAR-WEAPONS FREE WORLD: A Briefing for the Next President by David Krieger of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. The briefing paper lays out arguments against the classical thinking on subjects like "deterrence", and describes the steps necessary to achieve a nuclear-weapons free world.

In about one minute you can help put nuclear disarmament on Obama's agenda by voting at Change.org. David Krieger has put a proposal on the Change.org Web site that has a strong chance of becoming policy if it ends up as one of the top 10 ideas (based on total votes). Go to Change.org and read David's proposal, and if you agree, vote YES! As I write this post, the idea is in 5th place in Foreign Relations, and needs just 45 votes to make it into the second round!

And don't forget to sign the appeal to the President-elect for US Leadership for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World. That takes another minute, and look at how much you've accomplished. But seriously - it will take much more than these two initial steps, but they are still important steps. A nuclear-weapons free world is possible, though not necessarily in this generation. But to get there, we must start now. So make a resolution. Future generations will thank us.



Sunday, December 21, 2008

Honey; we need new curtains!


Every now and then I run across something that belongs in the Nutty Nukes category. You know; makes you laugh and cry at the same time, because it's a little bizarre and we are still singing the same old (nuclear) tune.

An article on Air Force Link, the Official Web Site of the United States Air Force tells how engineers at Tinker Air Force Base "are designing a product to protect B-52 Stratofortress aircrews from a nuclear attack's blinding light." So, what have they been doing up till now? I suspect the flash goggles afforded decent eye protection, but that airborne tanning booth George Hamilton cocoa butter suntan just didn't cut it.

Pictured here, Mathew Yost (engineer) and Jennifer Hoffman (engineering intern) are discussing the prototype thermal curtain that can be installed just in time to protect the cockpit crew from the blinding flash even as the bomb incinerates a million people below. The curtains are ever so handy - "When the B-52 is not releasing a nuclear bomb or in close proximity to a detonating nuclear bomb, the curtains are not needed and each curtain can be removed and stored in its storage bag."

They are also a real bargain! "A set consists of seven shades and will cost about $2,500 per set." And as Mathew said, "The nuclear mission is becoming more and more important and this is one of the things that completes the mission, while keeping an aircrew safe should (an aircrew) have to do a mission with nuclear weapons." The Air Force is always focused on minimizing on-the-job injuries, and nuclear flash blindness is a biggie. Having a bunch of blind people trying to land a lumbering b-52 would be no picnic.

Of course, back in the Cold War days custom window curtains (or any curtains for that matter) weren't really all that important. After all, no matter how well aircrews were protected, there wouldn't have been any place to come back to. Nearly all of the United States, and particularly every military base, would have been smoldering ruins.

Read the full article at Air Force Link to get the whole picture of what these engineers are up to. It's gratifying to know that engineers like Yost are so clear on the "nuclear mission", and that they are mentoring young, impressionable engineers to keep the nuclear dream alive (until it becomes a bloody nightmare).

Perhaps engineers like Yost and Hoffman will wake up one day from a new dream, and choose to work on projects that will help build a peaceful world instead of helping with preparations to incinerate this one.



Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Restoring the Beloved Community

Dear Friends,

For those readers in the Puget Sound region of Washington State, I have an announcement of an event occurring on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (January 19). I will be writing more on Dr. King before then, but for now I will say that honoring his life (and legacy) means much more than praising his civil rights work. Dr. King worked for human rights, and he spoke against everything (including war) that denied people those rights.

On January 19th members and friends of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action will honor Dr. King by witnessing to (and resisting) the horrors of nuclear weapons and war. You can learn more in the announcement below (and at the GZ Website). A two-sided flyer is available for downloading at Ground Zero's Website.

You can watch a You Tube video of last year's MLK Day event here.

I hope you will join us in January for this gathering of peacemakers. All are welcome in the spirit of nonviolence.




Restoring the Beloved Community

Honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 19, by standing against nuclear weapons and war! Join the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action (GZ) in a vigil at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds MLK Day event in the morning, and a vigil and direct action at the gates of the Bangor Trident nuclear submarine base in the afternoon.

The day begins at 8:30 a.m. at GZ, 16159 Clear Creek Rd. NW, Poulsbo, WA 98370. At 9:15 we will carpool to the Fairgrounds, 1200 NW Fairgrounds Rd., Bremerton, WA 98311, and meet at 9:30 at the NE corner of the Fairgrounds parking lot, in front of the main entrance to the auditorium, where we will vigil for one hour, and then return to GZ. From 11:00 to 3:15 at GZ there will be nonviolence training and action planning. At 3:15 we will head for the Bangor gate(s) for vigiling and nonviolent direct action, returning to GZ at 4:30 to await the return of arrestees.

Bring sack lunch, snacks, drinking water, umbrella, warm, waterproof clothes, flashlight, sign-making materials, money to donate, peaceful spirit. For directions or more information, go to www.gzcenter.org, or contact Jackie or Sue at 360-377-2586.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

(Not So) Happy Anniversary ABM Treaty


Seven years ago (on December 13, 2001) President George W. Bush made a formal declaration of intent to vacate the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with the Russian Federation. On June 13, 2002, the United States unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty came into effect. With the stroke of a pen, President Bush vacated a treaty that was created out of a U.S.-Soviet summit in 1967 and spanned over 41 years of nuclear diplomacy between the two countries. You can imagine this didn't thrill Russian President Vladimir Putin who called the decision "a mistake." Such understatement.

Why would the President of the United States do such a thing? Just three (not so) little words - National Missile Defense (NMD). The ABM Treaty (signed by the U.S. and Soviet Union in 1972) explicitly prohibits the deployment of a nationwide missile defense system. If you have noticed the occasional newspaper articles about a missile intercept test here and there, you would have a vague idea that the U.S. is developing some sort of national missile defense system. And you would be correct.

Every president since the signing of the ABM Treaty has dabbled to some degree in limited missile defense. The U.S. and the Soviets, and later Russia, engaged in an intricate (and sometimes bizarre) dance as each nation tried to push the Treaty's limits. Overall though, the ABM Treaty has served its purpose well. During the Cold War, it played a pivotal role in keeping the arms race between the Superpowers from getting out of control. And even since the end of the Cold War, it has provided a security framework for disarmament efforts and bilateral reductions in nuclear arsenals by both the U.S. and Russia.

President Bush has been fast tracking NMD big time, going so far as deploying interceptor missiles before the system has been fully (let alone partially) proven. He has never been one to let the (scientific) facts get in the way of a critical decision related to our nation's defense. Some people have referred to the program as "faith based missile defense." Even if (and I mean "if") they could ever spend enough money, there is no way the system would ever be 100% effective at intercepting incoming missiles in a real world situation.

But I digress. The real point of all this is that the President abrogated the ABM Treaty that had been entered into and ratified by Congress; a clear violation of the treaty since the President (representing the U.S.) can only "withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests". Once a treaty is ratified, it becomes "the supreme Law of the Land." And that's the Constitution speaking, not me.

The best thing President-elect Obama can do is take a serious look at the U.S. NMD program that has debilitated the international arms control and disarmament process, undermined nonproliferation efforts, and has been fueling a new arms race. No matter how much technological testosterone we pump into NMD, an adversary will find a way to get by it. Anything else is wishful thinking; it only takes one missile! The best way for the U.S. to ensure its own security is to ensure a framework of collective security for ALL nations, and the first step in that process is ditching National Missile Defense.

The Obama/Biden Website stated that
"an Obama-Biden administration will support missile defense."
Let's hope we don't ever see the catch phrase, "Missile Defense We Can Believe In."



Additional Notes:

Speaking of faith based initiatives, here is an article from Slate.com that you won't want to miss titled Bush Unveils Faith-Based Missile Defense. This one had me (literally) rolling on the floor with laughter. God knows we could all use a good laugh these days.

Click here for an Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty Chronology.

Be sure to stay informed on National Missile Defense (and other related issues) at the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.

Photo Note
: That really, really large floating thingy in the bottom photo is the Sea Based X-Band Radar, a critical component of the current U.S. NMD program, which has been developed during the Bush Administration (since the withdrawal from the ABM Treaty). A sea based system (such as X-Band) is explicitly prohibited by the ABM Treaty.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thomas Merton on Sanity


Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who died this day in 1968, was also a prolific writer. He left behind a rich array of writings that grew out of a deeply contemplative existence that was very much rooted in the world; Merton was no hermit.

In the early 1960's Merton began writing about the imminent threat posed by the uncontrolled buildup of nuclear weapons and the preparation for their use. His protests made him a controversial figure (both inside and outside of the church), and his monastic superiors did all they could to stop him from writing about peace. But he found a way around them.
I thought it appropriate to share one of Merton's writings that I return to often as I try to understand how some people can go to work every day preparing for the destruction of humanity. In his book, Raids on the Unspeakable, Merton wrote an essay titled, A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolph Eichmann.

He opened by saying that one of the things he found most disturbing about the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and found him "perfectly" sane. Had Eichmann (and the rest of the Nazis) been psychotic, it would have been easier for Merton to understand the horrific acts they conducted on a daily basis. But no; they were all quite sane, and that is the scary part.

Here are some excerpts from Merton's Meditation.
The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.
It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared... They will be obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all.
The ones who coolly estimate how many millions of victims can he considered expendable in a nuclear war, I presume they do all right with the Rorschach ink blots too. On the other hand, you will probably find that the pacifists and the ban-the-bomb people are, quite seriously, just as we read in Time, a little crazy.
I imagine quite a lot of people DO think that we ban-the-bomb types are crazy. If those who Merton describes ARE sane (in the eyes of our society), then who needs it. I'll take insanity anytime. I hope these excerpts will make the rest of you crazy people want to read Merton's Meditation in its entirety.
Click here to read A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolph Eichmann.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ground Zero and the Christmas Miracle


I introduced you to Lynne Greenwald (in my November 26 post) and briefly to Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. So here is the story of Ground Zero. Most residents of the Puget Sound region of Washington have no idea that sitting right in the middle of, behind chain link and barbed wire and acres of conifers, is the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the United States nuclear arsenal. An estimated 2364 nuclear warheads (comprising 24% of the U.S. nuclear arsenal) are stored on the base and many are mounted on Trident missiles carried by the Trident nuclear submarines based there.

I know! You are wondering what's the big deal about 2364 nuclear warheads or a bunch of nuclear submarines lurking around the world's oceans ready to launch their missiles at the President's command. Well, there is a fleet of Trident submarines home ported at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, home of the West Coast Trident nuclear submarine fleet. And, just one of these submarines carries enough nuclear weapons to incinerate an entire (large) continent. One Trident submarine carries 24 Trident D-5 missiles (the newest model!), each one carrying 8 independently targetable nuclear warheads (each warhead having an explosive yield of up to 455 kilotons).

But let's back up a moment to the early 1970's when a missile designer named Bob Aldridge was at Lockheed Missiles and Space Corporation working on the first Trident missile design. Bob recognized something about the maneuvering reentry vehicle that he was designing; it was designed "to home-in on underground missile silos in a nuclear first strike" (Ground Zero Newsletter, Vol. 7, Issue 3, July 2002). Bob's conscience got the better of him (something that has not happened to the vast majority of nuclear weapons scientists or engineers), and after a family retreat following Christmas 1972 Bob submitted his resignation letter to Lockheed.

A year later Bob met with Jim and Shelley Douglass and told them of his remarkable journey from missile designer to student of nonviolence, and briefed them on the plans to create what would be known as Sub Base Bangor (West Coast home of the new Trident fleet) on the shores of the Hood Canal in Washington State, just 20 miles from Seattle. And so the seeds of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action were sown by a person with the courage to follow his convictions.

In 1977 Jim Douglass and John Williams found 3.8 acres of land with a small house right next to the Bangor fence. What a find! A year later (the first Trident missile was deployed in October 1979) Bob Aldridge sent Jim and Shelley Douglass an urgent letter warning of the first strike threat that Trident represented. First strike meant that Trident would likely be used to deliver a preemptive surprise attack of overwhelming force on the Soviet Union (not a pretty picture)

The Douglasses and many others continued building the Ground Zero community (which was preceded by the Pacific Life Community) as they worked in common resistance to Trident; blocking the railroad tracks on which the "White Trains" brought the nuclear warheads, leafletting at the gates of Bangor and blocking the gate, and building awareness of the dangers (as well as the immorality and illegality) of Trident and all nuclear weapons.

It has been 36 years since the Christmas miracle that gave us the gift of this community of nonviolence known as Ground Zero. The Douglasses have grown into other peacemaking endeavors, but other dedicated peacemakers have joined in over the years. Out of those seeds planted by Bob Aldridge (and nurtured by the Douglasses and others) has grown a strong and beautiful tree, the fruit of which is a community of people so strongly dedicated to the principles of nonviolence and a world free of the spectre of nuclear weapons.

My Christmas wish this year is that Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action will continue to grow in membership and in the strength of its resistance to Trident and all nuclear weapons, and I give thanks for the dedicated members who throughout the years have made Ground Zero a beacon of nonviolence in a world seemingly intent on self destruction.

You can learn more about the work of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action at the Website. Our newsletter archive is a wonderful place to gain a sense of Ground Zero's history. Click here to read the latest Ground Zero Newsletter. You can contact Ground Zero with questions or find out how to get involved at info@gzcenter.org.



Note (and the fine print): Thanks to Jim Douglass for his article in the Ground Zero Newsletter, Volume 7, Issue 3, July 2002, that I used for the historical facts in this post. The photo is from a 2006 nonviolent resistance action. I am media and outreach co-coordinator for Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Iran And THE Bomb

That's right - one lousy bomb! That's how much enriched uranium the experts believe Iran has; enough to build one bomb. Ooh! I'm about to faint. But really folks - ONE nuclear weapon. Besides the relatively small nuclear arsenals of Pakistan, India, China, Israel, France and the United Kingdom, you have to admit that it's pretty impressive to consider that just the United States and Russia combined have an estimated 19,400 nuclear weapons . And when you add in those other nations' nuclear weapons, the total is around 20,000.

All right, even one bomb IS significant. But what is staggeringly evident as the world (led by the Bush Administration) has focused so much attention on Iran's drive to get the bomb is that it has shifted the focus from the most critical issue to resolve in order to convince countries like Iran to give up the bomb, namely real global disarmament efforts. For all the talk about non-proliferation, the only way we will ever see any real progress is by the major powers undertaking a serious effort to reduce their arsenals with the goal of total disarmament at some (reasonable) future date (with a specified timeline with verifiable goals).

Let's face it; there are some very basic aspects of human behavior involved here. When you have the bully on the block running around brandishing its brass knuckles and pushing everyone around, you can bet that not everyone is going to start paying protection money. Someone (or two or three) is going to go out and buy a pair of those cool brass knuckles and show them off. When it comes to nuclear weapons, however, the stakes are way too high. And it's time for the bullies on the block to disarm and play nice.

Now, that is not to say that the U.S. and Russia should just get rid of all their weapons at once and hope that everyone will follow. Of course it isn't as simple as that. But it has to start with a concerted effort at reducing the numbers of weapons along with serious diplomatic efforts to convince other nations to do the same. Strengthening the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (and establishing target dates) will be a key element; the next NPT Review Conference is scheduled for 2010.
One might counter that the United States has significantly reduced its stockpile of nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, and they would be (partially) correct. The U.S. has "dismantled more than 13,000 nuclear weapons since 1988." But if you read the fine print , nearly all of those weapons are either outdated, or (as is the case with some warheads) have been replaced by newer models. Let's get real here (just a couple of examples) - "naval nuclear depth bombs"? "Nuclear artillery shells"? And, I'm sure we didn't need those "suitcase bombs" anymore.

Who needs all this old stuff anyway when you have silos spread across the American heartland bristling with roughly 500 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, in addition to those 18 stealthy Trident nuclear submarines, each one loaded with 24 of the new and improved Trident D-5 nuclear missiles. These are the big boys! Just one Trident sub carries enough missiles to destroy an entire (large) continent.

As for Iran; lets not get too excited just yet. However, let's also remember that they aren't the only new kid on the block trying (or thinking about trying) to join the prestigious nuclear club. If we deal with them the old fashioned way using military force (and President-elect Obama has not yet ruled out this option), we will just be sending a message to nations like North Korea that they had better ramp up their programs or they will be next. Military action must NOT be on the table.

For an interesting perspective, watch The Folly of Attacking Iran: Lessons From History produced by Just Foreign Policy below.

You can read the recently issued Joint Experts Statement on Iran from Just Foreign Policy. If you agree with their five step strategy for a new relationship with Iran, consider sending an email to your members of Congress asking them to support direct diplomacy with Iran (without preconditions).

Fortunately for Iran, our nation and the world, we will soon have a new administration in Washington, D.C. But don't let that lull you into a false sense of security; the hawks are already descending on The White House (stay tuned for more on that). Our voices will be needed to help convince Congress and the Obama administration that the only way to avoid having Iran build nuclear weapons is through direct diplomacy (as well as meaningful progress in disarmament by all the nuclear nations, led by the U.S. and Russia).


Note: The top photo is of a "cascade" of centrifuges that are used to enrich uranium to separate out the isotope of Uranium needed to build a nuclear weapon.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I just received news of the sentencing of Lynne Greenwald, a friend and fellow member of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, in Federal District Court on November 24th. Lynne was in court for crossing the blue line (in an act of nonviolent resistance) onto the U.S. Naval submarine base that is home to the West Coast Trident nuclear submarine fleet and one of the largest concentrations of nuclear weapons in the world. Lynne's nonviolent act was one of resistance to the illegal actions of the U.S. Government in continuing to operate the first strike weapons system known as Trident.

Hidden behind the chain link and barbed wire of Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor is an unimaginable destructive force. Each Trident nuclear powered submarine carries 24 Trident D5 missiles, and each missile carries 8 nuclear warheads with an explosive force of from 100 to 455 kilotons. For comparison, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 15 kilotons. Just think; each of these submarines could unleash its entire missile payload in minutes, destroying an entire continent within a half hours time - all in a day's work of course. These are weapons of almost unimaginable destructive force, and beyond their immediate destructive force are the long term effects of deadly radiation; the survivors of any nuclear war would surely envy the dead.
The prosecutor at Lynne's trial made a comment that caught the attention of someone observing who wrote it down. Said the prosecutor, "The government hopes you will explore other avenues to express your discontent with foreign policy." Well, that one caught my attention too. One has to wonder what kind of foreign policy it is when a nation threatens other nations (and in reality, the entire world) with incineration at a moment's notice? What kind of nation squanders its treasure on the ability to render the world essentially uninhabitable with deadly radioactive substances.

We (yes, we the people are complicit) prosecute an endless War On Terror throughout the world even as we build a larger and larger fortress to protect ourselves. And yet, everyday we unleash terror on innocents in nations like Iraq and Afghanistan. And then we prepare for the ultimate terror act of all, the unleashing of nuclear weapons that would render the Holocaust of World War II mere child's play. Could there be a truth more terrifying than that which exists behind the chain link and barbed wire and running silent and deep beneath the seas?

So tell me about truth and why a women of sound mind (or anyone for that matter) should be prosecuted for resisting (in a completely nonviolent way) the actions of a government that are not only illegal, but so morally reprehensible. Lynne, along with five others, crossed the blue line on Mother's Day 2008 because knowing the truth about Trident compelled her to act. Here are the words Lynne spoke at the end of her Court Statement before sentencing.

Knowing what I know about Trident, I was compelled to act to do what I could to stop the threats and possible reality of using nuclear weapons. As a citizen, I must act to prevent the U.S. Government's criminal activities that threaten the lives of all children, and all of creation. For 38 years I've worked as a nurse and a social worker and have experienced the suffering of our sisters and brothers in this country. We live in a society where 1 in every 10 individuals are living below the poverty level, and this country continues to prioritize war and destruction over health care, education, housing and food for all.We can live without war and nuclear weapons - this nation can do so much better. And we all must do what we can, to create a peaceful world for all children.

I think that seems eminently reasonable, don't you? What better way to celebrate Mother's Day?



Notes: The top photo is of Lynne being escorted back from the base after being processed by Naval security. The bottom photo is of all six Federal arrestees after their release. Check out the YouTube video of the Mothers Day vigil.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Missile Defense - Not in ANYONE'S Back Yard


President Bush has pushed missile defense - an idea that has no proven efficacy, and worse, is an extraordinarily destabilizing influence from a global standpoint - throughout his administration, and just recently signed an accord with the Czech government to site a U.S. National Missile Defense (NMD) system in the Czech Republic. The only problem (well, at least one of them) is that the majority of the Czech people do not want NMD in their country.

There was a time not so long ago (when the cold war was ever so warm) that Europe bristled with missiles (courtesy of the United States) aimed at the Soviet Union. The Bush Administration's plan to site a NMD system in Czechoslovakia (a former Soviet Bloc country) has increased tensions between Russian and the U.S., and if pursued further, will likely lead to a new arms race. NOT a good idea (unless you happen to work for Lockheed-Martin)!!!

There will likely be tremendous pressure on President-elect Obama (as I described in a previous post) to continue the Bush NMD legacy, and Obama so far seems to be hedging his bets on this one. It will require a major grass roots push to move him away from this destabilizing (and downright dangerous) plan.
You can read the letter to Obama from Czech Mayors and the Czech nonviolence movement asking him to scrap the U.S. NMD plans. Bruce Gagnon, Coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space has drafted a letter to President-elect Obama, in support of the Czech and Polish efforts to stop this destabilizing plan. You can read it at the end of this post.

If you - either as an individual or an organization - would like to sign on, please send bruce an email (as soon as possible) to globalnet@mindspring.com and include your name and/or organization, city and state.



Note: The top photo is from Bruce Gagnon's November 24th blog posting. The (lower) protest photo is from the Global Network's Website, and was taken at Lockheed-Martin, Pennsylvania during Keep Space for Peace Week.
Text of the Sign-On to Obama Letter Calling on Him to Reject Bush Plan to Deploy
"Missile Defense" Systems in Poland and Czech Republic

Dear President-Elect Obama:

We write to congratulate you on your recent election as President of the U.S. We want to help you in every way possible to promote peace around the world so that our national resources could be used for the tremendous needs we have here at home like health care, education, dealing with climate change and more.

We specifically write to urge you to reject the Bush administration plan to deploy "missile defense" interceptors in Poland and a Star Wars radar system in the Czech Republic. We know you are aware of Russia's deep concern that these deployments are really aimed at them in spite of Pentagon assurances they are only aimed at Iran.

Respected U.S. scientists George Lewis and Ted Postol recently studied these proposed deployments and wrote a piece called "The European missile defense folly" that was printed in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in the May/June issue of 2008. In their report Lewis and Postol state that, "Despite claims to the contrary by both Missile Defense Agency and State Department officials, the interceptors that Washington wants to deploy in Poland are fast enough to catch Russian ICBMs launched from locations west of the Ural Mountains toward the continental United States. The location of the interceptor site in Poland is ideal for this purpose."

Russia of course has responded that they will be required to upgrade their offensive nuclear capability if these U.S. weapons are indeed deployed in Central Europe. The people of Poland and the Czech Republic are in large numbers opposed to their countries being used as U.S. bases and we understand that in recent days over 30 mayors from Czech towns near the proposed U.S. radar base wrote you urging the planned be scrapped.

We too write urging you, in the strongest way possible, to take a stand for peace and a step for nuclear disarmament by rejecting the dangerous Bush deployment plan for Central Europe. Expanding U.S. military operations near Russia's borders will only help create a new Cold War and a new arms race that would eventually spread throughout Europe and beyond.

We look forward to hearing from you about how you intend to deal with this important issue. We wish you well and thank you for your attention to this matter of grave concern to us.

In peace,


Friday, November 21, 2008

Risky Business (Maybe Too Risky)

One of my early lessons studying public health was that there is no such thing as absolute safety. Whether it be human error or a failure of a mechanical system, there is always some probablility that something will go wrong. So, we come to accept a certain amount of risk in every aspect of our lives, from walking down the street to flying on an airplane. Everything we do carries with it the element of "risk". The question is, "Just how much risk are we willing to accept?"

When it comes to nuclear weapons, one doesn't want to accept any risk of accidental detonation - it's bad enough if someone pushes the button on purpose - or someone making off with nuclear materials (of any kind). However, if what I learned in graduate school is true, then we have to live with some risk, even with nukes; now that's just a bit unnerving.

Of course, we have some pretty smart people (a whole lot of them in fact) working in our nuclear weapons laboratories, making sure that the nuclear weapons they design are reliable (read "They won't blow unless we want them to."). Then, there is the military (the Air Force in this case) that is responsible for ensuring the safety of these weapons out in the real world. That's where things get a little sketchy.

We learned over the course of 2008 about events in the prior year that raise serious questions about the people directly responsible for the safety and security of our nations nuclear weapons.

The most serious incident involved personnel at Minot Air Force Base "mistakenly" loading nuclear tipped Cruise missiles onto a B-52 bomber, which was flown to Barksdale Air Force Base. The nuclear weapons went unnoticed and unprotected from the time they were removed from the bunker to well after the bomber landed at Barksdale (a mere 36 hours); only when the weapons were being unloaded did anyone notice that something was amiss! Reading the details of how many things went wrong - all of them related to human error - is enough to make you dizzy.

Of course, there was some sort of "inquisition", but even after all that Minot's 5th Bomb Wing failed the initial nuclear surety inspection (NSI) required for re certification to handle nuclear weapons. It finally passed an NSI three months later at the end of March 2008. Of course the Air Force came up a laundry list of things to do ensure nuclear weapons safety. One interesting change is that they no longer allow nuclear armed and nonnuclear armed weapons in the same storage facility. And, all nonnuclear weapons have to have placards stating that they are not armed with nukes. I'm feeling much safer now. Aren't you?

By the way; did I mention that the infamous 5th Bomb Wing again FAILED the mother of all NSI's in May 2008??? You can read all about it in the Air Force Times that referred to the "Litany of Failure". The 5th finally received a "passing grade" in August. Did I also mention that these NSI's were scheduled so that everyone knew what was coming? Nuclear bases have since moved to "no notice inspections"; now there is a novel concept.

Of course if they can't pass scheduled inspections... Well, you get the idea. So where is all this leading? We have been living with nuclear weapons since 1945 (over 63 years) and although there have been many incidents and accidents since then, it is only a matter of time before one of those accidents causes the detonation of a nuclear weapon. So wouldn't it be prudent to do all we can to continue dismantling these weapons of mass destruction before they dismantle us? After all, no matter how well we design them, sooner or later something will fail. And as for the human beings that tend to them; well, nobody is perfect.



P.S. - I almost forgot to mention the Air Force Times reported that in the failed May NSI, "one security forces airman was found using his cell phone to play video games while on guard duty in a restricted zone". Better living through modern technology.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cold War Redux? Let's HOPE not.

Buried inside the Friday, November 14 Seattle Times - the front page had the really important stuff like increased parking fees and inauguration ticket scams - was an article with the title, "Moscow warms to Obama." Moscow recently warned the U.S. (with a shot across the bow) that it was prepared to deploy short-range missiles to counter President Bush's plan to place tracking radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland as part of a U.S. anti-missile shield.

While The White House claims it is a purely defensive system and intended to counter threats from the Middle East (and in particular Iran), the Russians haven't particularly warmed to the idea of missiles of any type being based on the other side of their fence. Of course, they may have reason for concern if history has any meaning.

At the height of the Cold War, Europe bristled with intermediate range nuclear missiles aimed at the (then) Soviet Union, while the Soviets had their missiles ready to incinerate Europe. It was all part of the "MAD" standoff that was at the heart of Cold War. Although the Cold War technically ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall 1989, things have gotten a bit chilly once again thanks in part to the Bush administrations push for a missile defense shield.

But I digress (to a point)! And the point of the Times article is that there is a good chance that relations between the United States and Russia (two nations that were once prepared to destroy each other and the rest of the world along with them) could "warm" (again). The article noted that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President-elect Barak Obama are (among other things) "less inclined to Cold War mindsets than their predessors". While this is very likely the case, it might be prudent for us to study a bit of history to know where we currently stand.

Fourty nine years ago today, another president-elect was preparing to move in to The White House in the midst of the Cold War tensions. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy took office on January 20, 1961 and in his Inaugural Address presented a message of hope (in the midst of Cold War rhetoric) "that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction."

Presidents before and after Kennedy have made "hopeful" statements about the need for the U.S. and Soviet Union/Russia to work together to eradicate the threat of nuclear weapons, and some took (usually token) steps toward that end. But only one president in the history of our nation has actually brought the world back from the brink of nuclear war, a war that would have changed life (as we know it) on our planet. And President Kennedy performed this remarkable feat by choosing to talk to his "enemy", to establish an ongoing (and secret) dialogue with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. It was through this ongoing dialogue during (and in between) some of the most tense moments of the Cold War that President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev came to understand each other and work together to resist their military advisors, avoiding what would have been the greatest genocide in the history of the world.

All of this has been documented, and the most recent (and thorough) documentation of Kennedy's remarkable peacemaking journey can be found in Jim Douglass' book, "JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died & Why It Matters." Much of what most of us know about JFK comes from either his oratories or the stories of his sexual exploits, but there is something much deeper that we have missed, and I propose that it is the quiet, behind-the-scenes JFK who we need to know and understand as we move forward.

If we come to understand the JFK who had hope for (and was willing to lay down his life for) "a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just", we will come to understand that President-elect Obama will need to not only pursue genuine dialogue with President Medvedev, but concurrently have a firm grasp of the historical context underlying the relations between our nations along with a parallel vision of the future that Kennedy (and I hope Obama) envisioned and worked for.

We will need to remind President-elect Obama of that vision Kennedy had (and we as peacemakers have) for the world, particularly as he will enter The White House with the largest "defense" budget in history, a deeply entrenched nuclear weapons complex, and hundreds of nuclear weapons still ready to launch within a few minutes. With both powerful military and corporate interests - it always comes down to power and money - pushing for missile defense, it will require significant pressure to overcome the massively invested legacy of Star Wars.

The President-elect seems to think that a missile shield is "appropriate", but wants to be sure it is effective before he backs it. The trick will be clearing away the Pentagon's smoke and mirrors to make Obama see the folly of missile defense, and convincing him of the effectiveness of diplomacy and real efforts at non-proliferation. Our hope should be that Obama will see the wisdom of Kennedy's approach, and follow Kennedy's model of direct and sincere dialogue, cutting through the political rhetoric that separates nations (and their leaders) and guarantees continued military buildups. It is time to build up peace.

Building for Peace,



Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama and the Hope for a Nuclear-Free World

As if President Elect, Barack Obama doesn't have enough problems to deal with, the current administration is trying to resurrect the Reliable Replacement Warhead (such a great euphemism) using the same old tactics. Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on October 28th, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that "as long as others possess nuclear weapons, the United States must maintain a safe and reliable nuclear arsenal." Without losing a beat he "urged the development of the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW)," as he warned of the "'bleak' outlook for the long-term reliability and safety of the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal."

The U.S. nuclear arsenal has undergone regular, extensive testing and monitoring since 1997, and has been shown to be safe, secure and reliable. A 2006 report by the JASONS, an independent panel of (and really, really smart) scientists and engineers that advises the government on nuclear weapons issues determined that, "the core nuclear components of current warheads will remain vital for at least another fifty years." So what's with the "bleak" outlook coming from Defense Secretary Gates?

I think it is safe to say that development of any new nuclear warhead would throw any hope for further progress in non-proliferation in the garbage can. Senator Sam Nunn summed it up when he said that the RRW could be "misunderstood by our allies, exploited by our adversaries, complicate our work to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and make resolution of the Iran and North Korea challenges all the more difficult."~ Sam Nunn, Congressional Testimony, March 29, 2007.

Although the Defense Secretary also spoke of the need for further reductions in the U.S. and Russian arsenals, ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and other positive contributors to arms control, any pursuit of new nuclear weapons by the U.S. would negate any progress made so far in those areas. Neither is there a demonstrated need, nor a logical argument for new nuclear warheads.

President Elect Obama has said that, "if we want the world to de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia must lead by example." He also committed to not developing new nuclear weapons (among his many positive statements on the subject). He will face significant pressures from the Pentagon (and the rest of the Military Industrial Complex), and we will have to continually remind him of his promises.

We can start by signing on to the Appeal to the Next President of the United States for US Leadership for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. While at their Website, consider signing up for their action alerts and news updates.



Sunday, November 2, 2008

Welcome to The Nuclear Abolitionist

I grew up in the days of "duck and cover", bomb shelters and the phrase "Better Dead than Red". If you ponder that phrase, you quickly realize that in the context of its time it meant that a large percentage of Americans (who accepted this axiom) were prepared to be incinerated or suffer the horrific radiation effects that would have resulted from a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union (the evil Communists). Of course, the vast majority of these patriotic Americans had no idea just how bad it would have been had the two superpowers decided to go at it with the big nukes.

Our government (in the 50's and 60's) had everybody building bomb shelters, learning to "duck and cover", and even had a plan to ensure that the mail would get delivered even before the (radioactive) dust settled. One really has to wonder how it all would have worked with tens (or hundreds) of millions dead, and the rest trying to survive in a radioactive wasteland. I'm not sure what would have been left, but I think Albert Einstein said it best - "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

I developed a thorough understanding of the effects of radiation while working in the field of occupational and environmental health, and in graduate school became particularly interested in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; much of our knowledge of radiation effects came from studying the aftermath of these tragic events. At some point in my journey I came to the decision that I needed to work for the abolition of the most awful weapons ever conceived and developed. Although I already write another blog dedicated to peace and justice (Subversive Peacemaking Blog), I have decided to start a sister blog focusing on nuclear weapons abolition. There is plenty of material out there to keep this one going.

This will be a blog much like my other one, a bit satirical, filled with stories, opinions and insights, and focused on a single overarching goal - the day when nuclear weapons will no longer hang over humanity like a sword of Damocles. Such a goal is possible, not necessarily in my lifetime; but surely we must work towards that goal, or what will we leave behind for future generations?

There is much to be done, and I will keep this blog focused and help build this community into a (nonviolent) force to be reckoned with. Won't you join me on this journey to abolish nuclear weapons?