published in “My Turn”, guest opinion section of The Kitsap Sun
March 1, 2010
On November 2, 2009, five activists ranging in age from 60 to 83 cut through the fence and entered the vast Naval Base Kitsap/Bangor, Washington. They walked the base for 4 hours that night, passing in full view of military personnel engaged in the early morning shift change. Then, cutting through two high security fences, they entered the Strategic Weapons Facility where nuclear weapons are stored. There, they were stopped by the Marines.
Today, four months later, the five wonder if Navy authorities are so embarrassed at the unprecedented security breach that they want it to go away and be totally forgotten. The government initially filed misdemeanor charges, but then abruptly withdrew them, and has not yet brought new charges. They clearly do not want the Plowshares action to get any more exposure.
A more optimistic view would be that the Navy and U.S. Federal District Court took their message to heart, and agree with the International Court of Justice that the Trident D-5 nuclear weapons can not be used or threatened to be used, and also believe, like the Plowshares, that the nuclear warheads are immoral according to the tenets of their faith (or conscience).
The U.S. Constitution, which members of the military have sworn to protect, states that treaties ratified by Congress become the supreme law of the land, to be upheld in every court by every judge. These treaties include the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Charter, and Nuremberg Principles. These documents make clear that weapons used to indiscriminately kill civilians and poison the earth for generations are illegal.
Since the first-strike Trident D-5 missiles are illegal, the Plowshares activists went on the base where these weapons are held. They were there to bring attention to an ongoing crime. They were on the base to say: “Look, here are illegal weapons! They are right here! We need to disarm them!”
On Jan. 6, 2010, the five had an arraignment date in the U.S. Federal District Court in Tacoma, Washington. However, the week before, the five were told by the Assistant U.S. Attorney that the misdemeanor charges were dropped and that felony charges were being considered.
On March 3, 2010, one of the five Plowshares activists, Lynne Greenwald, goes to trial in Federal District Court for merely stepping over a blue line in front of the base on August 6, 2009. Lynne faces up to 6 months in prison for walking across the blue line during a protest against the nuclear weapons that are held on the base, and on the Trident subs.
The military claims that nuclear weapons are safe and well guarded. Nuclear weapon security has increased since 9/11, and on various government Web sites (for example, National Nuclear Security Administration) we can hear how well guarded and secure the U.S. nuclear materials and weapons are purported to be. Yet the action of the Disarm Now Plowshares showed clearly that the security of these weapons cannot be assumed, and over 100 Plowshares actions give evidence that there is no security for these hellish weapons.
At the same time, there is no safe way to contain and store radioactive waste, and the chain from mining the uranium, processing the ore, building weapons and using them contaminates the earth and poisons people, and causes deformities in unborn children. The new $14 million fence the Navy is planning to build at the naval base will not protect the people of Bremerton, Tacoma, Seattle and other Puget Sound cities from radioactive emissions, nor will it protect the earth, water or air from contaminants if there were ever an accident with the nuclear weapons.
The proposed $14 million could be better used to hire teachers, clean up the environment, help people with food or housing, green energy research, or build up the infrastructure of our nation.
As the Navy seeks to increase the security of its nuclear weapons we would all do well to consider just what kind of security our nuclear weapons afford. Each nuclear warhead can cause the incineration of hundreds of thousands of human beings, the slow and painful deaths of the remaining victims, and the long-term radiation effects on survivors and subsequent generations. Besides the disastrous consequences, we need to consider the underlying, systemic violence that dictates the continued reliance on these omnicidal weapons. We need to imagine a new way that does not involve constant preparation for the end of life as we know it. We need to choose life, not death.
With Lynne Greenwald, Steve Kelly, S.J., Bill Bichsel, S.J., and Sr. Anne Montgomery, RSCJ