"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

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Confronting the Bomb - A Message of Hope


The more I immerse myself in the movement to abolish nuclear weapons, the more I am humbled by the dedication of so many others engaged in the movement now, and since even just before the dawn of the nuclear age.

These are the people who make up what H.G. Wells called an "open conspiracy" of people who have come to their right minds, and who are deeply engaged in the struggle to move humanity beyond the state-of-war to build a world community based on genuine justice and peace.

Historian, Lawrence Wittner, begins his book "Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Disarmament Movement" with a prophecy that relates to this "open conspiracy":
This notion of a society of the righteous, committed to saving the world from its own folly, had deep roots in world history. It can be traced back at least to the fourth century, to the Babylonian Talmudic teacher Abbayah. According to this Jewish savant, in each generation there existed at least thirty-six righteous people (lamed-vav-tzaddikim, in Hebrew) upon whom the survival of the world depended. Jewish fiction and folklore took up the idea of these hidden saints, who played a prominent role in kabbalistic folk legend of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and in Hassidic lore after the eighteenth century.
This paragraph (and prophecy) sets the stage for Wittner's well-documented and dramatic history of the movement to abolish nuclear weapons and for the central premise of his book - that it is not the conventional explanation of "deterrence" that has saved the world from nuclear annihilation over the past 65 years, but a "massive nuclear disarmament movement."  This is the true story of how real, grassroots citizen activism brought very real pressure to bear, not only only on the U.S. government, but many other governments as well, to control the arms race and prevent nuclear war.

Wittner peels away layers to describe the early critics of "The Bomb" even when it was only a concept in the minds of physicists.  We get a sense of the tension that existed between the scientists of the Manhattan Project and government officials.  A number of those scientists attempted to warn President Roosevelt of the dangers of the use of atomic weapons, not the least of which was that it would "precipitate a race in the production of these devices between the United States and Russia..."

Alas, the bombs were dropped, and Wittner takes us chapter by chapter, through the entire history of nuclear weapons and the tension between governments and abolitionists. We see the ups and downs of the movement, along with governments' (sometimes drastic) responses.  We see that presidents, politicians and diplomats really were influenced by the pressure brought to bear by what was at times a huge movement to ban the bomb.

Toward the end of the book Wittner shows us how and why the nuclear disarmament movement faded after the end of the Cold War.  However, he also describes positive steps that occurred during this time, such as the variety of treaties created, signed and ratified that effectively banned "nuclear weapons from most of the southern hemisphere."

Lawrence Wittner  (Photo by L. Eiger)
As Wittner reflects on the past and ponders the future he states that "most government officials - particularly those of the major powers - had no intention of adopting nuclear arms control and disarmament policies."  His conclusion is that it was the "vast wave of popular resistance" that forced them to compromise and exercise restraint.

Wittner's book is a tribute to what he refers to as possibly "the highest form of democracy" - "citizen activism."  For all the "pathology of the nation state" Wittner has hope, but he is also clear that "if nations continue to follow the traditional 'national security' paradigm, then - sooner of later - their leaders will resort to nuclear war..."  So he asks us if we are up to the task of meeting this challenge, of changing the status quo.

He ends on a note of hope.
But an examination of the history of the nuclear disarmament movement inspires a greater respect for human potential.  Indeed, defying the national barriers and the murderous traditions of the past, millions of people have joined hands to build a safer, saner world.  Perhaps, after all, they will reach it.  
Wittner, with his academic discipline coupled with an engaging style, has given the nuclear abolition movement a great gift - a book that provides us with not just a linear history of the movement, but a holistic understanding of how the movement has succeeded and how we can (and must) re-vitalize the movement to continue the struggle for a nuclear weapons-free world.



Saturday, March 5, 2011

Help Mayors for Peace Grow!


As the only cities to have suffered the horrific effects of nuclear weapons, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have consistently sought to persuade the world that nuclear weapons are inhumane, continually calling for their total abolition. In 1982, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki established Mayors for Peace to promote the total elimination of nuclear weapons as a vital step toward genuine and lasting world peace. The Conference was registered as a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council in May 1991.

Since its inception Mayors for Peace has gradually built up its membership of mayors of cities around the world acting in solidarity towards a world without nuclear weapons.  By 2003 when they launched their 2020 Vision Campaign, Mayors for Peace had 500 member cities.  As of March 2011 there are 4540 members in 150 countries and regions around the world.

The 2020 Vision Campaign aims for the global abolition of nuclear weapons by the year 2020, the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Working with many other organizations the 2020 Vision Campaign has built momentum with "The Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol", a road map to its goal of nuclear abolition by 2020, and "Cities Are Not Targets (CANT)", that sends a clear message to nuclear weapon states that cities are no longer willing to be held hostage to the threat of use of nuclear weapons.

There are currently 150 mayors for peace members in the U.S.  As one of the world's two largest nuclear powers, we can do better.  Washington State, and particularly Puget Sound, is home to the single largest concentration of operational nuclear weapons, and that makes it even more important for mayors in our region to join Mayors for Peace in solidarity with other mayors working toward a nuclear weapons-free world.

Washington State has two current mayors who are members; Mayor Marilyn Strickland of Tacoma and Mayor Mary Verner of Spokane.  Other participating cities - where previous mayors were members - include Seattle and Olympia.

Maren Clifton and Kyle Jorgensen have started a Washington Mayors for Peace Campaign.  Their goal is to contact every mayor in Washington State and invite them all to join and support the goals of Mayors for Peace.  They can't do it alone!  Here is their request:
As we send information to mayors (which we have organized by county), we would like to coordinate with local individuals and groups to follow up, write letters, or visit mayors in person to express the need for nuclear disarmament. If you are interested in getting involved or would like to know more, please contact us via telephone at (253) 219-6409, or email M4PWashington@gmail.com.
Best Regards,
Maren Clifton and Kyle Jorgensen
This is going to be a tough one; we live in a state with not only Hanford and Bangor (two major nuclear installations), but also one with a very large overall military presence.  It will take a great deal of work to break down the old thinking that nuclear weapons create security and are a credible "deterrent".

Please support Maren's and Kyle's efforts.  Contact them and find out how your city can join Mayors for Peace.  A nuclear weapons-free world is possible - with our efforts.



P.S. - If you live outside Washington State click here and then click here to download materials to present to your mayor.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Nuclear Weapons: An Even More Inconvenient Truth!!!


"Environmentalists: Wake up! There is a greater and more urgent threat to the climate than even global warming: the threat posed by nuclear weapons."  Thus begins a provocative and compelling post by Time.com Ecocentric Blogger Eben Harrell on February 25, 2011 (Why Nukes are the Most Urgent Environmental Threat).

Nuclear weapons, and the phenomenal risks they have always posed to the environment as well as the very survival of humanity, have long been off the radar of the environmental community.  Let's face it; they have enough to worry about with major issues like climate change, air and water pollution, ozone depletion, and genetic engineering just to mention a few.  The last thing they need on their already loaded plate is NUCLEAR WEAPONS!!!

I think it is safe to say that nuclear weapons ARE an environmental issue, and in fact probably the ultimate one at that.  Let's face it, even though global warming and its associated climate change is going to produce some pretty disastrous consequences we CAN (and will have to) deal with them.  However, should even a very small percentage of the world's nuclear weapons (think India and Pakistan) detonate all bets are off.  We will be helpless to deal with such huge consequences.

If anyone thinks current air pollution problems, ozone depletion, and climate change predictions are bad, just think about the massive (radioactive particulate) air pollution, major ozone depletion and astronomical climate change (think really cold temperatures) that would follow the scenario that scientists have been studying.  Scientific studies over the past decade on the effects of limited nuclear war have demonstrated that even a limited nuclear exchange with 100 or less Hiroshima-sized weapons (and that's nothing compared to the size of the warheads in the U.S. and Russian arsenals) would cause unprecedented climate change.

We are talking major cold temperatures, a huge reduction in sunlight reaching the ground, and thanks to the really big hole it would create in the ozone layer most of us would be living in a giant unregulated tanning salon (extreme levels of UV radiation).  All this would cause massive agricultural failures and subsequent global famine.  Steven Starr has written extensively on this subject.  And just one more thing; the survivors would (thanks to all that radioactive fallout) suffer mutations that would produce harmful reproductive effects to subsequent generations.
Temperature changes due to limited nuclear war (Source: Steven Starr)
While I found Harrel's initial post a compelling read, it seems that many environmentalists did not! Harrel posted again on March 3rd (Nuclear Weapons and Climate Change: Part Two), saying that he had received a lot of "feedback" from environmentalists who don't have a problem with the studies, but they just don't think it's a problem that should be on their radar based on the low probability of a nuclear war ever happening.

Harrel does an excellent job of discussing probability and statistics, and the fact that no matter how small the probability of such an event is the catastrophic global consequences of nuclear war are so great that it is simply an unacceptable risk!!!  And how do we reduce such an unacceptable risk to zero???  Get rid of every nuclear weapon; an astronomical task indeed, but one we have to take on and continue until the job is done.

Harrel's post reminds me that the issue of nuclear weapons affects everyone and everything.  They ARE an environmental issue, and in a very real sense they are an even more inconvenient truth than global warming and its associated climate change.  If that is the case, perhaps we should all take them more seriously and work together to abolish them.



Click here to learn more about the consequences of nuclear war at Steven Starr's Website.