"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.