"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

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.

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