Vigiling at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor

Vigil at naval base gateResponding to Comments from
People in Cars, Newspaper Articles and the Curious

Susan Crane

A couple of times a week  we’ve been standing in front of Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, holding signs, as people come and go at shift-change time.  We’ve been joined by local activists as well as Malcolm, a member of Veterans for Peace.

Some coming off the base wave to us or return peace signs while others yell at us to “go home,” and some give a thumbs down or half a peace sign, which I figure is better than none.  Some from the base have stopped to talk with us.  “We need our firearms.”  “Where would we be without war?” “We don’t want to be taken over by Nazis, or communists, or El Qaida.”    “These nuclear weapons keep us safe”  Some have simply asked us why we are there.

And then there have been the responses to articles in the newpapers–most recently there have been 90 responses, most quite hostile, to an article that my son, Chet Collins, wrote for the Ukiah Daily Journal.

I’m thankful for the people who wave, stop to talk, or send  comments.  Dialogue is important, and in response  there are three things I’d like to mention:  economics, international law, and my faith.

Economics: We hear that the Pentagon has been given 655.9 billion dollars for 2010, which doesn’t include money set aside for military construction, military housing or nuclear weapons upgrades and upkeep. The money for nuclear weapons comes out of the Department of Energy budget, and it will be at least 52.4 billion dollars in 2010.

If we add those numbers together, the Pentagon budget, and the nuclear weapons budget, we get about 708 billion dollars.

So when politicians talk about not having enough money for education, for healthcare, for jobs programs, for fixing roads, bridges, dams, for cleaning up rivers, or taking care of natural resources, we have to remember that the money, the resources are there.  And we can only use them once: we can fund life or death; peaceful projects, or warmaking projects.

Internationally, there are many issues that are causing suffering and death–you can list many of them–but let’s look at just one issue: water. About 1 billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water today.  And at least 25,000 children die each day from lack of clean water, lack of nutrition and simple medical care.

What would it cost to build drinking water wells or get water to people who need it?  Some figures point to 10 -13 billion dollars.   Or for, say, basic education/literacy for all who need it? $6 billion. or sanitation (waste processing) for all who need it? $8 billion.

But our government has chosen to invest in arms instead of people. And consequently, other governments have done the same to keep up.  We will never be secure while there are so many others who are without food, water and education.  It’s an unjust situation for us in the US to be using more than our share of world resources, and building weapons to threaten and oppress people around the world.

Frida Berrigan, Senior Program Associate of the Arms and Security Initiative, sums up the global situation clearly: In the last decade, global military spending had increased by 45 percent.  While the world economy had collapsed, environmental devastation had spread and poverty had widened, Governments had chosen to invest in arms instead of people.  It took considerable political will to cut global military spending, and some would argue that building up the military actually delivered national security.  But military overspending came at the expense of other essential forms of security ‑‑ such as the need for adequate food, water and jobs.  A nation was in fact only secure when its people had clean water, food, health care and schools, not weapons. (Human Development is Human Security roundtable at UN conference in Mexico)

Then, there is the matter of international law.  There is a set of treaties and law that the US has agreed to, and that law becomes, under the US constitution, the highest law of the land, to be upheld in every court by every judge.

Now you can ask any soldier, and they will tell you that it’s against international law to indiscriminately kill civilians. It’s a pretty basic concept; and you can find it in the army field manual. Nuclear weapons indiscriminately kill civilians. And the weapons themselves are the problem.  US nuclear weapons are just as potentially dangerous to the world as Iranian nuclear weapons.

And these nuclear weapons destroy the environment, kill animals, and cause genetic damage for generations to come.  And all the way from the mining, research, production and testing, people are exposed to radiation and chemically toxic poisons, and cancer, sickness, suffering and death are found in clusters in areas around, and downwind of research, production and testing sites.

Most of us are unfamiliar with the idea of international law and the idea that our country could be doing something illegal.  The idea that there actually is a body of international law, and that we could be held accountable, like the people in Germany were with the Nuremberg trials, seems preposterous.  “Of course you broke the law”  is what I hear, and even when I say that there are times when it’s legal to break down a locked door and go into someone else’s home, (the rescue-a-child-on-third-floor-of-burning-building example), the understanding lasts for a fleeting second, and then the prevailing logic of empire sets back in.

And thirdly…there are the teachings of my faith.  My faith teaches that we are to love one another, and even love our enemies.  So, according to what I’m taught, even if I want to kill others, I’m told no, that’s not a loving thing to do.  It’s really not very complicated. Our conscience prompts us to choose life, not death.  And that doesn’t mean that we do nothing, but it means that we live in just-relationships with others.  If you need water, I share what I have; that sort of thing.

So now, what were those questions?  “We need firearms.”  What do we need firearms for? Even if you want to argue that we need guns to kill animals to eat them, it’s a far leap to argue that we need nuclear weapons in our national stockpiles.  We don’t need them, and they are already killing people as they sit in the stockpile, and sit on the Trident submarines.

Where would we be without war?  I’m not suggesting that we sit around and do nothing with people who don’t agree with us.  Active nonviolence takes a lot of work, and needs to be practiced.  We need to work hard at cooperating with others, and figuring out ways to achieve justice for everyone.  It’s not easy.  We would have to care for the other people, and realize that everyone’s life is equally  important.

The Mayors for Peace are calling for all nuclear weapons to be eliminated by the year 2020. They propose  a step by step program that is attainable.  It’s worth looking into so that more cities become a part of this international movement.

Additionally, we might ask ourselves:  why are people angry at us?  Is it because we have nearly 1000 military bases in foreign countries?  Is it because the the threat of use of nuclear weapons is the cornerstone of US national security policy?  Is it because the U.S. uses more than it’s share of the world’s resources?

These are difficult questions that relate to difficult challenges, and they are questions that require us to look within for solutions.  It is time to begin the conversation about our place in the world, and how the U.S. can bring itself into just-relationship with the rest of the world.  So let’s begin to ask the questions that will lead us away from war and towards peace, and away from death and towards life.  But let’s begin now!

One Response

  1. “1/2 a peace sign” – that’s a keeper for me…..it’s all about how you associate it I guess….

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