"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

Monday, July 27, 2009

We are not worth more, they are not worth less.


The second weekend of August will bring together people all over the world to remember the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It will be not only a solemn time of remembrance, but also a time to look ahead and say Never Again as we work towards the abolition of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. One such gathering will be at Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in Poulsbo, Washington, where dedicated peace and anti-nuclear activists will come together for a weekend of activities that will culminate with a nonviolent direct action at the gates of the Trident nuclear submarine base (Sub Base Bangor).

Many of the people who will participate have long histories of nonviolent direct action, including blocking the train tracks on which the infamous White Trains used to carry nuclear weapons into what is now known as Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. But there will be one invited guest who has a very special story related to blocking military weapons trains. Brian Willson, a peace activist, Vietnam veteran and trained lawyer, was run over by a U.S. Navy train at the Concord Naval Weapons Station in Concord, California on September 1, 1987. That train was on its way out with weapons on their way to Central America.

Brian had been participating with two other veterans in a nonviolent resistance action blocking the train tracks in protest of the weapons shipments to Nicaragua and El Salvador. The Navy train crew and base command had advance notice of the blockade, the train was travelling three times its posted (5 miles per hour) speed limit, the operators had clear sight of Brian (for 650 feet with clear visibility), and they never applied the brakes before or as the train struck Brian. I will let you read more about the governments bizarre post-accident behavior in Brian's brief autobiography.

Brian survived his injuries, but lost both his legs. His healing from both the physical and emotional trauma has been nothing short of miraculous, but what is even more noteworthy is his continued witness for peace and his unfailing speaking truth to power. Brian ends his autobiography with a short, but powerful statement expressing his awareness of his "sacred interconnectedness with all life. We are not worth more, they are not worth less." If only the operators of that Navy weapons train and every other member of the U.S. military (and, indeed, all of us) would take that sentence to heart - how different might the world be today???

Join Brian and the people of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action for any part of the August 8-10 weekend as we remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and work towards a different world, one at peace and without nuclear weapons. CLICK HERE for the complete schedule (schedule subject to change). For more information, call Sue Ablao or Jackie Hudson 360-377-2586, or Anne Hall, 206-545-3562, or email info@gzcenter.org, or visit http://www.gzcenter.org/. You can also email questions to me at subversivepeacemaking@comcast.net.



Thursday, July 23, 2009

Trinity to Trident: Taking The Peaceful Road


I checked on the progress of the Trinity to Trident Interfaith Peace Walk that began in New Mexico and will end at Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, Washington on August 8. The walkers were at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a place where scientists have designed nuclear weapons since 1952. It was at Lawrence Livermore where the first megaton-class warhead was designed for use with submarine-launched missiles, and Livermore also developed the first compact, high yield warheads for use on multiple independent targetable reentry vehicles that made the first-strike weapon, Trident, possible.

As a small group of Peace Walkers stood outside the gates of the Lab calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, thousands of employees were on the job, that job being to ensure that the nuclear weapons stockpiled and deployed by the United States will do the job for which they are intended (should they ever have to be used) - incinerating hundreds of thousands (or possibly millions) of fellow human beings. Granted, they are just doing their jobs, but they are jobs they have chosen. This is no gulag.

If you could engage in a dialogue with Lab employees, many would probably tell you that they believe they are helping to keep peace, that the U.S. needs its nuclear "deterrent", that it keeps us safe. All these arguments aside, I found myself considering the Hippocratic Oath, that oath taken by physicians swearing to do no harm. The oath assumes a respect for all human life. As I contemplated the Oath, I found myself asking why physicians should be the only ones honoring such an oath.

Should not everyone engaged in any job or profession in which one might affect others, whether it be producing a product or providing a service, swear to some form of oath promising to DO NO HARM? This could range from producing toys coated with lead-based paint to manufacturing weapons. If our families, our schools and our churches, synagogues and temples all lived and taught such an overriding value as DO NO HARM, perhaps our young people would have an easier decision when it comes to career choice. DO NO HARM would become an intrinsic societal value.

The question of whether to work in the nuclear weapons complex would be an easy one to answer. In the immortal words of Nancy Reagan, "Just Say No!" And so the gentle, nonviolent Interfaith Peace Walkers say NO to violence, and especially to the ultimate violent force threatening the world - nuclear weapons. Their message to those inside the fence at the weapons laboratory is to stop building and maintaining nuclear weapons and to start working to abolish them. It is a complex process, but has to start now, and what better group of people to help get there but the very people who have developed them.
The collective, creative, scientific and intellectual abilities contained behind the fence at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories is huge. Just think of what these people could do if channeled in a different direction - DO NO HARM!



Photo Credit: Photo of Peace Walkers at the gate to Lawrence Livermore is from the
Trinity to Trident Interfaith Peace Walk blog.
I took the other photo in 2006 at Sub Base Bangor during a vigil and direct action by Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.

Monday, July 20, 2009

From Trinity to Trident: A Long and Perilous Road


As I begin this blogging journey from the Trinity test, I ponder the perilous journey we have taken since that first test of a nuclear bomb in the desert of New Mexico. Since the United States dropped the first two bombs on Japan in August of 1945, nuclear weapons have never been used by one nation against another, although we have neared that precipice numerous times. Since those first two bombs the U.S. has built over 70,000 nuclear warheads and bombs at astronomical costs, both economic and human.

As the United States and the Soviet Union fought the Cold War from their respective development laboratories and weapons factories, planners on each side continuously struggled to stay ahead of the other. Somewhere along the way, someone got the bright idea that submarines loaded with nuclear tipped missiles were the perfect way to keep the enemy guessing. After all, a sub bristling with nuclear weapons could sneak around the seven seas, ready to launch an attack, totally surprising the enemy.

Trident was the culmination of this demonic drive - the ultimate first strike weapon; today some of the 14 Trident nuclear submarines, loaded with Trident D5 missiles, silently roam the seas, ready to launch their deadly missiles on the order of the President of the United States. Just one of these submarines would, if it were to launch all its missiles armed with a full complement of 455 kiloton warheads (rather than the puny 100 kiloton model), unleash the equivalent of nearly 7000 Hiroshimas (the Hiroshima bomb was between 12.5 and 15 kilotons), and could kill hundreds of millions of people. What madness is this?

Yet, while tens of thousands of people labored to develop and build this system of mass destruction (Trident), others worked to resist the madness - to let others know that we were preparing the seeds of our own destruction. For Trident, it all began with 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).

Jim and Shelley Douglass, 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.

Jim and Shelley produced some wonderful writings along the way, including Dear Gandhi: Now What? Letters from Ground Zero, and Jim's latest offering, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters. The Douglasses received the Pacem in Terris Peace and Preedom Award in 1997.

Jim and Shelley will join the dedicated people of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action for an observance of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 8-10, 2009). The weekend will include a dedication of the new Center building and opportunities to learn a variety of ways to act for nuclear abolition. Featured will be a panel of experts, films, music, discussions, and welcoming the Trinity to Trident Interfaith Peace Walk, (Los Alamos, NM, to Ground Zero, Bangor), culminating with a traditional vigil and nonviolent direct action at Trident Submarine Base Bangor.

Other notable participants include Vietnam Veteran, Peace Activist and Attorney, Brian Willson, and Charlie Meconis, an expert on naval activities in the Pacific. Everyone is welcome to join us on this special weekend. The only prerequisite is a peaceful spirit. Click here for a more detailed schedule of events for the weekend. Click here to send an email with questions about the weekend's events.

We, the people of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, are dedicated to the abolition of Trident and ALL nuclear weapons. This is no naive pipe dream. Humanity is at (or is nearing) a fork in the long road that began with Trinity. Which fork we take (and the future of humanity) will depend not just on the political actions of leaders like Obama and Medvedev (and their proxies), but very much on the hard work of people like you and me, and organizations like Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. Please join us!

On the Journey,


Friday, July 17, 2009

Trinity - The Beginning of the End?


Yesterday marked the anniversary of the day in which the world entered the atomic age. On July 16, 1945, at 5:29:45 AM at the Alamogordo Test Range, on the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death) desert, in the test named Trinity, the experimental device known as the "Gadget" was detonated, creating a light "brighter than a thousand suns." A mere 6 kilogram (13.2 pound) sphere of plutonium, compressed to supercriticality by the surrounding high explosives, created an explosion equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT (20 Kilotons).

Was this, as thought nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer, the beginning of the end? These scientists had "become death", and they had created what could become (quite literally) "the destroyer of worlds"(Oppenheimer quoted a verse from the Bhagavad Gita which read, "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.") The nuclear genie (referred to in my previous post) was out of the lamp and now, 64 years later, we have one final wish left. Will it be for the genie to return to the lamp? We had better hope so!

Less than one month after the Trinity test, the United States dropped two atomic bombs - on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - that killed over 100,000 people in less time than it took me to type a few of these words. As many as 220,000 were dead from the effects of radiation by the end of 1945. Even today, 64 years later, survivors and subsequent generations suffer the effects of radiation.

So began a journey (with the test known as Trinity) that has led humanity down the perilous road of preparation for its own destruction. Scientists have continued to seek the power of gods, creating ever more destructive nuclear devices over the years, and military planners continued asking for more of these awful weapons in every shape and form (and method of delivery).

When will we say - ENOUGH!? Join me over the next month on a journey of reflection and repentance as I post a series of thoughts and meditations commemorating the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and highlighting the work of some of the people and organizations working to put the nuclear genie back into the lamp. As always, there will be actions we can take towards a nuclear weapons-free world.

Towards a peaceful end to the nuclear age,


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle


17 year old Erik Choquette won first prize in this year's Swackhammer Disarmament Video Contest, sponsored by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Erik's 3-minute video, The Nuclear Genie, focused on how we can all help "get the [nuclear] genie back in the bottle" through our participation in the democratic process.

Erik's is one of 120 short videos submitted for this year's competition; they all addressed the topic "Breakthrough: Putting the Nuclear Genie Back in the Bottle." You can view the winners and honorable mentions by clicking here. All 120 videos are available at YouTube.

Jonathan Schell, in his book The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger, reminds us that “the bomb was born in the mind”, and that we must “let it return there”. But is it possible to put the genie back in the bottle? To quote Schell, “it is no more possible to return to innocence than it is for a grown person to return to childhood. Shall we, like a child, insist on multiplying the device merely because we can? Or is it possible, like an adult, to exercise a mature restraint?”

Schell’s message is ultimately one of hope, but a hope predicated on our ability to act like adults and as a community of nations. And it will be up to each of us as citizens of this community of nations to play our part. That will require our being deeply engaged in the political process both as individuals and as members of organizations working for nuclear disarmament. There is strength in numbers, as one of the winning videos stressed.

Thanks to videos like Erik's, we can reach more people with the positive message and engage them in the movement.
Spread these videos around. Share them with family and friends, and especially YOUNG people.



Saturday, July 4, 2009

Networking Against Nukes


The Russian anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, once said (in An Appeal to the Young), Ay, all of us together, we who suffer and are insulted daily, we are a multitude whom no man can number, we are the ocean that can embrace and swallow up all else. When we have but the will to do it, that very moment will Justice be done: that very instant the tyrants of the Earth shall bite the dust. O.K., so I'm no anarchist, but he had a good point: numbers matter. When we gather together, we can do so much more than we can alone. In matters of nuclear abolition, numbers really matter. To keep nuclear abolition on the front burner from Moscow to Washington, and everywhere in between, we need to be working together in common cause.

The Washington Nuclear Disarmament Network had its first meeting in Seattle on May 27, 2009 at the office of Peace Action of Washington. This initial meeting brought together members of diverse organizations, including American Friends Service Committee, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, Peace Education Fund, Raging Grannies, Third Millennium Foundation and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, to work more closely together towards our common goal of nuclear weapons abolition.

Understanding the need for a statewide coalition at a time when nuclear disarmament is no longer a subject discussed only behind closed doors, the Washington Nuclear Disarmament Network will work to involve more individuals and organizations in efforts to abolish nuclear weapons. The initial meeting began with a focus on historical and current efforts, and then moved into a brainstorming session, which yielded a wealth of potential activities for this coalition.

One important initial action has been getting people (and organizations) interested (and involved) in the U.S. Navy’s proposal for a second wharf for handling Trident missiles at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor (at a time when we should be downsizing our nuclear arsenal). The coalition has been working to get individuals and groups to attend meetings, and submit testimony and comments in opposition to the Navy’s proposal.

The movement to abolish nuclear weapons has been re-energized by recent political events, and the Washington Nuclear Disarmament Network has the potential to be a significant player on a regional level. Working together with common purpose, our coalition can engage significantly more organizations and individuals in our region, and educate, motivate and incite them to work together towards our ultimate goal – nuclear abolition.

There are other networks in other areas; a great example is the Los Angeles Area Nuclear Disarmament Coalition. Perhaps there is one in your area. If not, what are you waiting for??? Start your own! Make some contacts, start networking, and put it together. Be the change!

Towards Nuclear Zero (and Peace),


Notes: This post is an adaptation of the article written for the July 2009 Ground Zero Newsletter. Click here to read the newsletter, which is full of great content thanks to the input of many dedicated Ground Zero members. The image used in this post is from the Nukes of Hazard Blog, a project of The Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation.