Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘nuclear weapons’

When I began a review of notes from my early years with AFSC, I already remembered many of the details of the New Hampshire peace movement in the early 1980s. Following the lead of AFSC in Vermont, we coordinated the introduction of resolutions into dozens of Town Meetings in March of 1982 calling on the United States and Soviet Union to halt—or “freeze”–all further production, testing and deployment of nuclear warheads and the missiles and planes designed to deliver them to targets across the globe. The surprising success of the Town Meeting campaign, in communities which by and large voted Republican, caught the attention of national political leaders and changed the discourse over nuclear weapons at a time in which a popular president was leading a massive military build-up against a foe he termed “the evil empire.” Within three years, Ronald Reagan had shifted from a strategy based on waging and winning a nuclear war with the Soviet Union to one built around negotiations for nuclear limits. In 1985, Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev came close to agreeing to the abolition of nuclear weapons. The basic story is clear in my memory.

But there were a lot of details of the peace movement’s vibrancy which had slipped from my memory. For example, the month after Freeze resolutions were adopted in 48 of the 61 New Hampshire towns which considered them, my staff report mentioned plans for a “New Englanders for Peace” march in Portsmouth, with 1000 people expected. The following month, rather casually, my report said 2500 people marched from Pierce Island, across the Piscataqua River from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to Pease Air Force Base in Newington. Fourteen busloads went from New Hampshire to New York for the massive peace rally in Central Park in May 1982, timed to coincide with a Special Session on Disarmament at the United Nations.

Meanwhile, seventeen organizations, including the NH People’s Alliance and the NH chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, were participating in a NH Fair Budget Coalition, which sought to get the attention of elected officials to skewed federal budget priorities. My notes report that among the 40 or 50 people attending an April 1983 “fair budget” forum were Congressman Norm D’Amours and Will Abbott, then state director for Congressman Judd Gregg. “I set up a ‘penny poll,’” my notes say, “where people got the opportunity to ‘vote’ on how they wanted their tax dollars spent; military spending proved very unpopular compared to health care, education, transportation, and housing.”

And as I contemplate our current situation, in which a president averse to diplomacy and enamored of nuclear weapons drives a mostly horrendous foreign policy with little public resistance and shifts the public treasury more and more to military programs, I have to wonder why we were able to mount an effective peace movement in the Reagan period and seem to be unable to do so now.

I offer some thoughts on this and invite yours.

“We are surrounded by wars and rumors of war.”

First, let’s look at the current situation. Paul Shannon summed it up recently in a talk at the conference on “The Next Two Years and Beyond,” held in Boston shortly after the 2018 election. After describing the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Yemen, with weapons sold to U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, Paul observed, “That’s just one war, Yemen.’ He went on:

But we are surrounded today by wars and rumors of war:

A new base in Syria

War in Afghanistan

Troops back in Iraq.

Drone attacks all over.

Our president withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal even though Iran lived up to all its requirements. Instead he imposes deadly sanctions on Iran that will kill many as they did in Iraq under Bill Clinton. And he builds a dangerous alliance with Saudi Arabia and Israel specifically to confront Iran. A massive new war is not out of the question.

Our president has announced he will withdraw from the INF nuclear treaty with Russia, the very treaty that ended the cold war in the late 1980s.

Meanwhile Washington continues Obama’s trillion-dollar modernization of our nuclear arsenal.

The Pentagon’s new nuclear posture review makes using nuclear weapons thinkable.

NATO conducts military exercises near the Russian border after Russia has conducted its own massive military maneuvers. And the demonization of Russia by liberals and the Democrats rolls on.

And tragically we see the growing glorification of the military as the only institution in the country that Americans feel proud of.

Paul says, “The peace movement is building itself up again to counter these dangers and offer alternatives.” I hope this is not just wishful thinking.

It’s not that there is no activism. Consider the 2017 “Women’s March,” considered “the largest single-day protest in U.S. history” (although the largest assembly, in Washington, was still smaller than the 1982 disarmament rally in New York). Or consider the Families Belong Together rallies of 2018, when mobilizations took place in some 700 cities and towns to protest the cruelties of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement practices.

The Peace Movement is Hard to Find in “The Resistance”

And yet, the anti-war movement is hard to detect amidst the “resistance” to Trumpist assaults on democracy and human rights. Opposition to militarism and ranks low on the progressive agenda. Presented with a resolution my own town passed earlier this year calling for a shift of public resources away from the military, my liberal Congresswoman said the issue ranks too low among her constituents’ concerns for it to matter.

Imagine you are a high school junior, born in 2001. Your country has been at war in Afghanistan for your entire life, but you will rarely hear about it in what passes for the news. And while working class people continue to enlist in the military – perhaps out of a sense of patriotism, perhaps out of a need for gainful employment with benefits, perhaps for lack of other attractive options – you may not know there are people in your own community who oppose the war and want it to end. If you think about it at all, you might conclude that perpetual war is a normal state of being.

It might be said that the urgency of other issues – racist police practices, institutionalized xenophobia, climate disruption, toxic masculinity come to mind – distracts attention from international events and U.S. foreign policy. But when I think back to the 1980s, I recall a period disturbingly similar to the present period, yet with a powerful peace movement.

Donald Trump’s Political Ancestry

In a sense, Reagan can be seen as Trump’s closest political ancestor. Coming out of the world of entertainment, with little interest in policy details and an understanding of the world based on the plots of movies in which he starred, he was known as “the great communicator” for his ability to sway people with platitudes and a promise to return America to a (white) paradise that never was. Reagan’s domestic policy priorities were tax cuts, deregulation, and increased military spending at the expense of human welfare programs. Sound familiar?

Reagan brought with him into his administration a troop of ideologues who would be right at home in the Trump White House. There was Attorney General Ed Meese, a Reagan confidante who was forced to resign in the midst of a corporate bribery scandal. As top law enforcer, Meese believed there was no need for police to inform suspects of their right to remain silent. “The thing is,” he told US News and World Report, “you don’t have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That’s contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect.” (Meese later served on Trump’s transition team.)

There was James Watt, the Interior Secretary who believed environmental destruction was a sign that the second coming of Jesus was at hand. There was Oliver North, who ran arms to Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries out of the National Security Council after Congress barred the CIA from doing it themselves. There was Chester Crocker, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who engineered the “constructive engagement” approach to South African apartheid as a friendlier alternative to the Carter administration’s human rights focus. And there was General T.K. Jones, head of civil defense planning in the Pentagon, who famously said of nuclear war, “If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it.”

Resistance in the Reagan Era

The people rose up. When the AIDS crisis emerged, gay activists protested the administration’s callous disregard for their lives and forced the pharmaceutical industry to produce affordable drugs. The anti-apartheid movement spread from city to city, state to state, and campus to campus, forcing governments to withdraw economic cooperation with the South African regime, aiding in its eventual collapse. Nearly half a million people joined the AFL-CIO sponsored Solidarity March in Washington after Reagan fired more than 11,000 striking air traffic controllers.

A massive solidarity and anti-intervention movement grew up in response to the administration’s aggression against Nicaragua and its support for brutal right-wing regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala. People of faith flocked to the border between Nicaragua and Honduras to “witness for peace.” Churches offered sanctuary to immigrants who had fled violence only to be denied a lawful right to remain in the U.S. Activists developed a “pledge of resistance,” a plan for nationwide sit-ins at local Congressional offices in the event of a Nicaragua invasion. When the administration declared an economic embargo instead, “Pledge groups across the country planned and executed acts of civil disobedience across 80 cities in 16 states, with over 10,000 demonstrators and 2,000 arrestees,” according to the Global Nonviolence Data Base. Pledge of Resistance actions expanded to 42 states by 1985.

The nuclear disarmament movement, which had been quiet since atmospheric testing was banned in the early 1960s, sprang back into life. With the 1979 “Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race,” the short paper by Randall Forsberg that outlined a demand for a US-USSR nuclear freeze, as a rallying point, the movement spread rapidly in response to the Reagan administration’s nuclear build-up, its doctrine calling for the USA to “prevail” in an all-out nuclear war, and the president’s inclination to see the US-Soviet conflict as a battle between good and evil. It wasn’t just the Freeze Campaign itself. There was Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament, inspired by Dr. Helen Caldicott’s apocalyptic warnings. Beyond War, a California-based group including ex-CIA officials, reached professional class audiences with the message that war was “obsolete” in the nuclear age. Physicians for Social Responsibility provided clinical warnings about the actual health implications of nuclear war. Bridges for Peace, Promoting Enduring Peace, and others promoted people-to-people exchanges with communities on the other side of “the iron curtain.” Ground Zero, founded by a former National Security Council staff member who didn’t even support the Freeze, ran educational programs on nuclear dangers alongside the rest of the movement.

Within a rather short time, the movement grew large enough to affect pop culture. I remember the “Bloom County” comic strip making friendly fun of the New England town meetings with a character introducing a resolution to fill missile silos with pudding. “99 Luftballons,” a German pop song, became “99 Red Balloons,” a warning about the danger of accidental nuclear war in a hit English language version. The movement reached its biggest cultural impact with the 1983 release of a TV film, “The Day After,” depicting the aftermath of a nuclear war. According to my staff reports, I joined the publisher of the right-wing Union Leader newspaper and a few others for a live, post-film panel discussion afterward at the local ABC affiliate.

By 1985, Reagan’s attitude had been adjusted. A new Soviet leader, determined to find a way out of endless conflict, made it possible for the US and USSR to get back on track for nuclear arms control if not on a path toward abolition. By the end of the decade, the Cold War was over, leaving too many people with the impression that the danger of nuclear war was in the past. But we had made a mark on history.

Why were we able to build such a powerful movement?

For one thing, Reagan was elected barely five years after the United States was booted out of Vietnam. By 1975, the war there was not only massively unpopular, but the resistance movement had developed a powerful critique of the U.S. policies which got us there in the first place. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had put it at Riverside Church in 1967, “the war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.”

“These are revolutionary times,” Dr. King said. “All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born.” For growing numbers of participants in the anti-war movement, the United States wasn’t just wrong, it was on the wrong side. In other words, the war was not just built on lies, it was built on a deeply rooted and largely bi-partisan policy of aggressive imperialism. And with the ideology of the war system based in extreme anti-communism, the ideology of the peace movement was generally anti-anti-communist if not decidedly leftist.

By the mid-70s, the peace movement was looking at the U.S. role in the Caribbean, in Central and South America, in South Africa and the “frontline states,” and in the oil-rich Middle East. That Reagan’s election came before such lessons had been forgotten made it easier to mobilize the public to oppose a reprise of Cold War militarism.

Another development was the rise of the movement against nuclear power, especially in New England where the Freeze movement would find its first active expressions. After years of largely ineffective anti-nuclear intervention by mainstream environmental groups, the shift to nonviolent direct action at nuclear construction sites in Montague, Massachusetts and Seabrook, New Hampshire gave mostly young “No Nukes” activists a chance to apply lessons learned from anti-war, civil rights, and feminist struggles of the previous period. The Clamshell Alliance, the network of locally based New England groups which led the Seabrook protests, was unhesitant about linking opposition to nuclear power and weapons. It was internationalist in orientation, actively seeking ties to the anti-apartheid movement and to groups challenging the pro-nuclear, anti-communist Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.

Although the Clamshell peaked in 1978, New England was still peppered with local No Nukes groups when Reagan was elected two years later. Not only did those groups provide fertile ground for a revived nuclear disarmament movement, they provided leaders with community and political organizing experience. Here we might single out for special attention Randy Kehler, the Vietnam era war resister credited with inspiring Daniel Ellsberg to release the Pentagon Papers. Kehler later settled in Franklin County, Massachusetts, where he was active in the local Alternative Energy Coalition opposing the Seabrook and Montague nukes. In 1980, he was the lead organizer of the referendum campaign that first put the nuclear freeze to a popular vote.

Why Not Now?

What I’m trying to understand is why a similar form of resistance, focused on U.S. foreign and military policy and especially the danger of nuclear war, has not arisen since Trump’s election. It’s not like we weren’t warned when candidate Trump revealed he had no idea what the “nuclear triad” is, or when he reportedly asked about the nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, “if we have them, why can’t we use them?”

Could it be that the intense anti-war sentiment aroused by George W. Bush’s war in Iraq has thoroughly dissipated? At the time, it seemed like anti-war sentiment was not based just on reaction to American body bags but to a fuller critique of U.S. policy in southwest Asia. Didn’t significant parts of the anti-war movement develop an analysis that probed deeper than W’s personal animus against Saddam Hussein and the orchestrated campaign of lies about weapons of mass destruction?

Could it be that the trauma induced by the 9/11 terrorist attacks was so deep that the American public has been cowed into accepting anything done in the name of national security? That’s a tempting theory, but what, then, do we make of the massive movement that opposed the Iraq war? Recall the demonstrations in 150 U.S. cities and hundreds more across the globe on February 15, 2003, termed “the largest protest event in human history.” The NY Times equated the anti-war movement to a “superpower” rival of the U.S. and its military allies.

Yes, the “baby boomers” who grew up under the shadow of The Bomb and who hid under their desks in civil defense drills were more sensitive to nuclear dangers than the millennials who grew up after the Cold War had ended. But where is the foreign policy agenda of the baby boomer progressives who make up such a large component of the anti-Trump resistance?

Did the election of Barack Obama, who ran for president as an anti-war candidate and left office as droner-in-chief, cast a magic spell over the public? Can the fact that the massive nuclear build-up began with Obama’s approval account for the fact that Trump’s policy – largely an extension of his predecessor’s – make it immune from serious scrutiny? Were progressives that reluctant to criticize Obama that their critical capacities were wiped out?

Which brings me to the relationship between progressives and the Democratic Party. Could it be that progressive activists find it harder to distance themselves from the Democrats than they did in earlier generations? The 1960s anti-war movement arose in resistance to a Democratic president with liberal tendencies on the domestic front. While the movement later found champions among Democratic Senators like McCarthy and McGovern, and some of its leaders (e.g. Tom Hayden) found their way into Democratic politics, it did not lose its ability to critique a bi-partisan foreign policy consensus rooted in Cold War ideology and the dictates of capitalism.

That Hilary Clinton was a hawk offers little explanation, for foreign policy played little role in the 2016 campaign and her support was largely based on anti-Trump sentiments.

What of Bernie Sanders, who led a serious (he called it a “political revolution,” after all) alternative approach that almost captured the Democratic Party? I recall one of his earliest campaign stops in Concord, New Hampshire, months before the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, when he was asked about the power of the military-industrial-complex. Acknowledging its unwarranted influence, Bernie was quick to shift to more comfortable territory. “The military-industrial-complex is enormously powerful, no question about it,” he said, adding “You have on Wall Street six financial institutions that have assets that are equivalent to sixty percent of the GDP of the United States. You have big energy companies who are unbelievably powerful. So, I think what you have is a ruling class in America.” Then he was back to the power of insurance and drug companies to block progress toward single-payer health care.

Bernie’s campaign, consistent with his Congressional career, was built on economic issues: jobs, wages, health care, education. For Sanders (and much of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party), even international trade is considered primarily as a domestic issue. Despite Hilary’s reputation as a hawk, Bernie never tried to make an alternative to the bi-partisan national security consensus a significant component of his campaign. Could that be why his legions of followers have failed to do so as well?

Two months before the 2018 election, Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation wrote “the progressive left’s national security policy has been mostly missing in action.“ That opinion is hard to argue with, and there are plenty of good outlines for what such a policy would be. But without some clamor from below, we can’t expect an agenda to have much clout.

Earlier this week, the town council in Durham, New Hampshire, approved a resolution calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Seacoast Peace Response, a local group formed after the 9-11 attacks, is working with activists in other communities to bring similar resolutions before City Councils and Town Meetings in the coming months. With the 2020 New Hampshire Presidential Primary about 14 months away and the tide of possible presidential candidates visiting the Granite State starting to rise, the timing is excellent.

Another ray of hope comes from the Poor People’s Campaign: a national call for moral revival. Following Dr. King’s lead, the campaign sees militarism, along with racism, poverty, and ecological devastation as inter-related pillars of an unjust system that needs radical change. As a new Congress takes office, this is a good time for a new peace movement to make its voice heard.

What do you think it will take?

December 7, 2018

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Concerned about militarism? Watch the budget, not the parade.

This was published first in the Concord Monitor on February 15, 2018.

President Trump’s proposal for a massive military parade has aroused bountiful criticism, including from 89% of the 55,000 Military Times readers who responded to an online survey. But if we’re concerned about a slide into military rule, I’d suggest looking away from the parade and paying more attention to the budget just approved by Congress.

“There is widespread agreement in both parties that we have cut the military too much,” observed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan just prior to the vote adding some 165 billion dollars to the Pentagon budget over two years. Of the bi-partisan consensus, the Speaker was correct. The Democratic Party’s talking points seemed to be that they, too, wanted a higher military budget although they would insist on a boost to non-military spending, as well. Even the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which to its credit has put forward an annual alternative budget that shifts funds from military programs to domestic priorities, issued a statement about the parade but said nothing about the budget its members had just voted on.

As to cuts in the military budget, Ryan’s analysis needs scrutiny. While the military budget has indeed dropped from its peak at the most intense times of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, inflation-adjusted defense spending levels are now higher than they were during the U.S. war in Vietnam and most of the Cold War. The FY 17 level of spending, $634 billion, takes up more than 50% of the discretionary spending approved by Congress. And that doesn’t even count the money going to veterans’ affairs, homeland security, the secret budgets that fund the CIA and National Security Agency, or the portion of the Energy Department’s budget devoted to nuclear weapons.

The deal raises the level of military spending by $80 billion in 2018 and $85 billion in 2019. As Politico reports, over two years, “the military will receive at least $1.4 trillion in total through September 2019 to help buy more fighter planes, ships and other equipment, boost the size of the ranks, and beef up training — a level of funding that seemed a long shot just months ago.”

The non-military part of the budget gets boosted by a lesser amount: $63 billion the first year and $68 billion the second, bringing its share to $605 billion. If you do the math, that means military programs will continue to capture 54% of the funds in the “discretionary budget,” that is, the budget Congress controls with annual appropriations. It’s that figure, more than the number of generals in the cabinet and the size of Trump’s parade, that I find alarming.

The details of the budget still need to be worked out, but there’s little doubt it will include down payments toward a new generation of nuclear weapons. Not only is the Trump administration continuing the Obama administration’s plan to replace the entire array of nuclear warheads and the planes, missiles, and submarines designed to deliver them, the recently released Nuclear Posture Review calls, as well, for new mini-nukes that could be deployed and presumably used on the battlefield. The official price-tag for the package is now $1.2 trillion, but some analysts, including former Defense Secretary William Perry and General James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, think $1.7 trillion is a more realistic estimate.

Perry and Cartwright believe we’d be safer by spending less. “If we scale back plans to replace the nuclear arsenal, we will actually improve our security,” they wrote recently in the Washington Post. They advocate cancelling plans for new land-based and cruise missiles, for starters.

I’d go further, and suggest the militarized approach to security needs to be re-thought. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way a little over fifty years ago: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Our actual security is better protected by reducing nuclear threats through multi-lateral reductions consistent with the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, global attention to climate change, creation of civilian jobs that pay living wages, ending racist and patriarchal violence, and prioritizing housing and health care. That would be worthy of a parade!

Read Full Post »

This ran as an opinion article in the Concord Monitor on March 30, 2017.

When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “all options are on the table” with regard to North Korea, he was indicating that the United States is considering attacking the country with nuclear weapons.  That’s the real “nuclear option.”

The United States maintains an arsenal of some 6800 nuclear warheads, one-fourth of them deployed on land-based missiles, submarine-based missiles, or long-range bombers.  Most of them carry many times the explosive force of the first generation nuclear bombs that killed more than 200,000 people in Japan in 1945.  The warheads on land-based missiles are kept in high alert status, meaning they can be launched within minutes of a suspected attack, perhaps before that attack is even verified. 

And while official policy still speaks of “deterrence,” it is now and long has been US military doctrine to consider using nuclear weapons in pre-emptive attacks, including against North Korea.  As Donald Trump asked, if we’re not going to use them, “why are we making them?”

The Trump administration is pushing ahead with a plan hatched during Barack Obama’s term to do a complete replacement of the U.S. nuclear arsenal at a cost of one trillion dollars.  That’s a new generation of land-based missiles, submarine-based missiles, and land-based missiles, plus a new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile.  Then, there’s a new generation of warheads, designed to be more “usable.”  

The authority to use U.S. nuclear weapons – which could set off massive famine on top of direct casualties – rests with Donald Trump, the commander-in-chief.

Eight other countries also have the capacity to launch nuclear weapons:  Russia, France, Britain, Israel, India, Pakistan, China, and yes, North Korea, which is believed to have about a dozen warheads on what by U.S. standards are primitive missiles.   

The danger that any of these countries might detonate their terrible weapons of mass destruction, and that conflicts between them could lead to nuclear exchanges that would literally threaten the future of life on the planet, is the “nuclear option” that ought to be keeping us awake at night, not the prospect of a change in the Senate’s rules for approving judicial appointments.

The good news is that talks started March 27 at the United Nations on a treaty that would ban nuclear weapons.   Although the USA and other nuclear powers are boycotting the event, more than one hundred nations are behind the new push.  “We need to find a new way to inspire and motivate the public in support of disarmament, in the same way that they have been energized to respond to the challenge of climate change, an existential threat facing humanity,” commented Kim Won-soo, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

Congress is also taking notice.  Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) has introduced legislation, S.200, “to prohibit the conduct of a first-use nuclear strike absent a declaration of war by Congress.”  As the bill states, “the framers of the Constitution understood that the monumental decision to go to war, which can result in massive death and the destruction of civilized society, must be made by the representatives of the people and not by a single person.“  The bill has a parallel version in the House, H.R. 669, sponsored by Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA).  (No members of New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation have yet signed on as co-sponsors.) 

Another piece of good news:  two weeks ago voters in the little town of New London, New Hampshire, voted 73 to 45 in support of a resolution calling for an end to the trillion dollar nuclear build-up, the de-alerting of land-based missiles, and talks leading to global nuclear abolition consistent with U.S. obligations under the 1965 Non-Proliferation Treaty.  At other times in our history, it was grassroots action like New London’s that grew strong enough to get world leaders stepping back from the nuclear brink.  It’s time once again to exercise our anti-nuclear option. 

Read Full Post »

P8090019

Despite sweltering heat and the apparent denial of visas to more than 200 activists and diplomats from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the World Social Forum kicked off its first full day of activities today in Montreal, with more than 200 workshops on topics such as “Struggles for the defense of land: feminist resistance and solidarity against extractivism,” “Strategies for creating spaces for social engagement and participation in monitoring and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the Americas,” and “Fair Trade Hot Topics.”

The proceedings were marred by the absence of the delegates whose visa applications were rejected by the Canadian government, despite months of work by the Forum organizers.  According to an article published in TruthOut, “at least 234 community organization leaders and representatives were denied visitor visas to attend and give presentations at the international conference, including persons who were invited and had Canadian sponsors.”

Organizers estimate that as many as 70% of those who needed visas – mostly people from places other than the USA and Europe – were blocked from attending.  Some U.S. visitors reported annoying treatment by Canadian immigration officers at the border, but they were allowed in.

Given the dispersed nature of the events, spread out among dozens ofP8100077 locations, it was hard to tell how many people were present.  I spent the morning with a couple dozen activists, mostly from the USA and Canada, discussing the imperative of nuclear weapons abolition. 

Just back in the western hemisphere from the World Conference Against A&H Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee reported that the Japanese peace movement is excited about diplomatic initiatives that may lead to talks next year at the United Nations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. 

P8100064 The nuclear powers, it must be said, are not ready to go along.  But 127 nations have already signed the “humanitarian pledge calling for such a ban, which could ”create a new international atmosphere for negotiations against nuclear weapons,” commented Reiner Braun of the International Peace Bureau. 

Kevin Martin of Peace Action finds in the humanitarian pledge the stirrings of a re-born movement against nuclear weapons,P8100070 which must be  delegitimized by any mechanism we can find.  He also called for following the counsel of Martin Luther King, Jr., and linking struggles for peace and disarmament to those against racism and what Dr. King called “extreme materialism.”

I also sat in on a discussion of “Militarism and Climate Change,” put on by Voice of Women for Peace, a Canadian group.  This featured a call for world military spending to be drastically cut, with the liberated funds used to invest in fossil fuel alternatives.  That’s a good idea, but I hope it’s not the limit of our imagination for addressing the urgent need to rapidly move away from putting more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Afterward, I biked across town to a small theatre for a showing of “Mirar Morir,” a documentary about the disappearance and presumed murders of 43 Mexican college students two years ago.  (You can watch the trailer here.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

[The Concord Monitor published this on May 8, 2016.]

[In the original published version of this story, I confused two interactions that Erin Placey had with Senator Barack Obama in 2007.  This is the revised, corrected version.]

News that President Barack Obama is considering a trip to Hiroshima brought back memories of meeting him on his first trip to Concord, early in his presidential campaign. Given a heads-up that the Illinois Senator was headed for the Eagle Square Deli, colleagues and I went there in time to order lunch, find a table, and wait for his still small entourage.

Obama worked the room, escorted by Ann McLane Kuster, then a local attorney, now our Representative in Congress. When he reached our table I asked the Senator a critical question about “free trade” agreements, but that’s a story for another day.

As Kuster was trying to get him to the next table, Erin Placey, my 24-year old colleague, grabbed Obama’s hand for a shake. Once she had his attention, Erin said she wanted to know if Obama would pursue the abolition of nuclear weapons should he become president.

Obama responded quickly that he had dedicated considerable attention to halting nuclear proliferation, but Erin was not satisfied.

“Under Article 6 of the Non Proliferation Treaty,” she said in no uncertain terms, “we are obligated to work for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.”

The former law professor was a bit taken aback by Erin’s directness and the specificity of her statement.   He let on that he needed to look into it more deeply.

Look into it he did.

Six months after meeting Erin Placey in Concord, Barack Obama delivered a speech at DePaul University where he pledged, “Here’s what I’ll say as president: America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons.”

Five days later, Erin Placey saw Obama again at an apple orchard campaign stop in Londonderry, New Hampshire.   By then, she had been to Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a delegate to the World Conference on Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. There, she met peace activists from all over the world, including several “Hibakusha,” as the survivors of the atomic blasts are known in Japan. The Hibakusha, dwindling in numbers as the years pass, are the moral leaders of a movement that demands nuclear weapons must never be used again and must be abolished.

For Erin, who grew up in southern Maine with family members employed at the local nuclear submarine base, the trip had a profound effect.

“Thank you so much for your comments at DePaul, and also for your comments about applying and adhering to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,” she told Obama in Londonderry. She continued to say how moved she had been by meeting with Hibakusha and learning first-hand about “the horrible atrocities that they went through.”

After taking office as president, Obama still seemed to be paying attention and took his nuclear-free vision to the world stage. In a much-heralded speech in Prague, Obama told the world, “as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Despite a promising start, the president has not lived up to his stated commitment. He did complete negotiations and won ratification of the New START Treaty, which achieved modest reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons. He initiated a series of “nuclear security” summits aimed at lessening nuclear dangers. And against serious political odds he reached a deal with Iran that can prevent another country from joining the nuclear “club.”

But instead of continuing on the path toward “a world without nuclear weapons,” his administration is now backing a trillion dollar plan for an entirely new generation of nuclear warheads, along with new bombers, submarines, and missiles that could deliver them to targets across the globe. “When Obama stopped pushing his nuclear policies in 2011 (save for Iran), the nuclear-industrial complex took over,” Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund commented in a recent article.

Speaking recently at MIT, former Secretary of Defense William Perry said, “The danger of a nuclear catastrophe is higher today than at any time during the Cold War.”

“It may not be too late,” Cirincione says. “Before a new arms race begins in earnest, Obama could move to delay or cancel some of the new weapons, notably the new nuclear cruise missile and the new ICBM, as former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry urges. There is no shortage of other recommendations. But he will have to be bold, as bold has he was at the beginning of his presidency.”

And that brings us back to Erin Placey.

Erin still wants Obama to have an experience like the one she had in Hiroshima ten years ago. “Don’t just visit ground zero,” she wants to tell him. “Spend time with the people. Make time to meet publicly and privately with the A-bomb survivors, the Hibakusha. Allow your soul to be moved by their life-long unwavering commitment to ensuring that this level of human atrocity never happens again.”

“Allow your resolve to be strengthened by theirs and use your remaining time in office to get us back on the path toward a nuclear free world,” Erin advises.

Read Full Post »

20160402_150123

William Perry with Dr. Ira Helfand

The initial down payments toward the production of an entirely new generation of missiles, submarines and bombers designed to deliver a new generation of nuclear warheads are already in the federal budget. The ultimate pricetag would be in the vicinity of a trillion dollars if all the weapons on the Pentagon’s shopping list are produced. But it’s not too late to stop the nuclear assembly lines and get back to the business of nuclear abolition. That was the emphasis of a conference on “Reducing the Dangers of Nuclear War” held April 2 at MIT in Cambridge

“Once you start bending metal, it’s almost impossible to stop,” Joe Cirincione said at one of the workshops. Cirincione, a former staff member of the House Armed Services Committee who now heads the pro-disarmament Ploughshares Fund, said that means we have two to three years to stop the new weapons systems. “This is our moment,” he said.

The conference brought together an impressive array of activists and scholars, plus William Perry, the former Secretary of Defense who has joined the call for nuclear weapons abolition. “The danger of a nuclear catastrophe is higher today than at any time during the Cold War,” he warned. Perry is particularly alarmed by the proposal for a new cruise missile, the nuclear armed version of which would be indistinguishable from one carrying non-nuclear explosives until after it detonates. Eight thousand American and Russian nuclear weapons were dismantled while he was at the helm at the Pentagon, he said, but “we’re going backwards today.”

Given the stakes, “backwards” is an understatement. As Dr. Ira Helfand of Physicians for Social Responsibility reminded the conference attenders, detonation of a nuclear bomb over a major city would not only kill huge numbers of people in an instant, but by destroying hospitals and the doctors and nurses who work there, the ability to respond to burns and other injuries would be crippled. And as Alan Robock, a professor of environmental science from Rutgers stressed, detonation of a relatively small share of the world’s nuclear arsenal could throw so much smoke into the upper atmosphere that it could bring on a global cooling process so severe that food production would fall worldwide by 20 to 40% for a 5-year period.

20160402_162939-1-1

Mary Popeo of Global Zero with Joe Cirincione

“Only nuclear disarmament will prevent catastrophe,” he said.

It’s not just the number of nuclear weapons that poses a danger, it’s also their design. One of the features of the warheads now being pursued by the US nuclear weapons labs and the corporations that run them (on a for-profit basis) is increased accuracy. Aron Bernstein, an MIT emeritus professor of physics, said “when we make the missiles more accurate, we make them more likely to be perceived as a first strike weapon.” They might even be more likely to actually be intended for first strike or battlefield use, something which should not even be contemplated but which becomes an option for military strategists once they enter the arsenal.

Nuclear weapons have proven to be no use against terrorists or the regimes with which the USA has been in conflict in recent years. They certainly make no contribution to efforts to fight climate change, mass migration, growing inequality, and other dilemmas that ought to be top priorities. Whether “deterrence” even works is debatable. But nuclear weapons have proven useful to US leaders time and time again, said Joseph Gerson of the AFSC, who has documented the ways in which nuclear threats have backed up foreign policy objectives starting with their use in Japan 70 years ago. And they are certainly useful to the corporations that stand to get the contracts for new missiles, subs, and bombers.

That’s why the conference wasn’t just about spreading the alarm, it also spread news about a variety of ways to challenge the nuclear-industrial-complex. For a prime example, Cambridge’s Mayor Denise Simmons used the occasion to announce her city’s new policy of divesting city funds from corporations that build nuclear weapons. In this, her administration has the aid of a new web-based tool from MIT’s Future of Life Institute. The Responsible Investing Made Easy tool lists companies that produce nuclear weapons, cluster bombs, and landmines. It also gives grades to mutual funds which claim to be socially responsible. (Spoiler Alert: some of the funds have investments in other financial firms that invest in weapons makers.) The Netherlands-based Don’t Bank on the Bomb project has another set of useful lists.

Short of nuclear abolition there are steps, such as taking missiles off high alert status, which can reduce nuclear dangers. Ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and further nuclear reductions are important steps in the right direction. But for any of these steps to take place, the movement against nuclear weapons needs to grow. Stay in touch with AFSC and your local Peace Action chapter to get involved.

Read Full Post »

This article was first published in the Concord Monitor on November 27, 2016.

$1 trillion for nuclear weapons

The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, passed by Congress and recently signed by President Obama, includes in its 1,320 pages plans for an entire new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons. It’s a big – and expensive – step in the wrong direction.

The NDAA establishes policy and spending guidelines for actual appropriations. It calls explicitly for the United States to redesign our nuclear weapons and “modernize or replace” the submarines, missiles, and bombers designed to deliver them to targets all over the world. The price tag for the whole package is estimated to be in the vicinity of $1 trillion dollars over 3 decades.

How such commitments get made, at a time when our president received the Nobel Peace Prize because he pledged to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, shows that what a previous President, Dwight Eisenhower, called the “military industrial complex” is as powerful as ever.

Take the Long Range Strike Bomber as an example. The Air Force has just awarded a $21 billion contract to Northrop Grumman to build 21 of nuclear-capable plane. According to the Center for Public Integrity, “Lobbyists and officials at Northrop Grumman have spent years greasing the wheels on Capitol Hill to ensure congressional support for the program and for the firm’s central role in it.”

Since 2010, individuals associated with the Virginia-based corporation have contributed $4.6 million to 224 members of Congress who sit on key committees, such as Armed Services and Appropriations. The company has laid out another $85 million for a troop of 100 lobbyists, among them five former members of Congress.

Another program would design and build a new submarine, generally known as the “Ohio-class replacement,” or SSBN(x). The Navy wants 12 of them, at a cost estimated at $100 billion. Each sub will be able to launch 16 missiles, each missile with up to 8 independently targetable nuclear warheads, each warhead ranging from 100 kilotons (or nearly 8 times the size of the bomb that demolished Hiroshima) to 475 kilotons (more than 36 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb).

In other words, we are talking about a range of 12,000 to 55,000 Hiroshimas.

Unsure where they would get the money for this nuclear overkill capacity, Navy officials hatched an idea called the “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund,” a budget gimmick which enables the Defense Department to shift money from other accounts into the submarine construction budget. The plan had an ally in a key position to help.

“The Navy’s effort to find non-Navy offsets to pay for its new ballistic missile submarines was thought a hopeless cause when it began last year, Breaking Defense reported. “But with the help of House Armed Services Committee seapower subcommittee chairman Randy Forbes (R-VA), the Navy has so effectively lobbied Congress that the plan received a strong vote of support earlier this year on the House floor and made it through conference unscathed.” Breaking Defense called the funding mechanism “a naked budget grab at the expense of sister services.”

Congressman Forbes’ district, in southeastern Virginia, sits next to the Norfolk Naval Station, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and Huntington Ingalls’ shipyard in Newport News. OpenSecrets.org lists “Miscellaneous Defense” and “Defense Aerospace” as the two business sectors most devoted to his election campaigns. Among Forbes’ most faithful donors over his 13-year Congressional career are shipbuilders Huntington Ingalls and General Dynamics, as well as Lockheed Martin, which builds the Trident missiles (at a cost of $37 million each). Other Forbes backers include Leidos, Honeywell, Northrup Grumman, and BAE.

In addition to the new bomber and new submarines, the NDAA also includes funds for new missiles and “modernized” nuclear warheads to be built by companies including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and others, all with PACs and teams of lobbyists working hard to win access to the taxpayers’ money.

Eisenhower Warned Us

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” President Eisenhower warned in his farewell speech in 1961. He could not have been more prophetic when he added, “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

There is no presidential power more awesome than authority over the nation’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. For the chief executive, there is no responsibility greater than the need to prevent global nuclear holocaust. Yet the topic rarely comes up on the presidential campaign trail.

That can change if voters and reporters pay heed. Candidates for president should be asked how they will make sure the military industrial complex does not have unwarranted influence over our foreign and military policy. As Eisenhower said, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »