The following article was written for this blog and is presented with the permission of the author.
The Matrix is a movie about people trying to unplug from a collective dream, controlled by machines. The energy generated by living humans provided the power for the machines to operate. People are plugged into a computer program that keeps them happy and content, although none of it is real. It's a story about not accepting an illusion, about wanting to be free.
I can't help but compare the movie to acts of civil disobedience against nuclear weapons. American business interests extend to every part of the world with a sense of entitlement and manifest destiny. U.S. military bases in 86 countries are positioned to keep other countries in line, and the threat of nuclear weapons is an integral part of the system. It becomes more apparent that the concepts of deterrence and mutually assured destruction are rationales for first-strike capability. In light of ongoing missile programs by the United States and others, the Non Proliferation Treaty is a meaningless piece of paper. The nuclear weapons industry is big business, and the collective dream is funded by the political and military machinery that keep it alive.
It concerns me that in retirement many former high-ranking military leaders go on record against nuclear weapons but didn’t do so while on active duty. Even Daniel Ellsberg in the book Doomsday Machine, admits he didn't want to be locked up for life by revealing the U.S. nuclear program. We know that the government comes down hard on anyone who steps outside the status quo. American society functions as a prison without walls. The objective is to keep people comfortable and thereby controlled to keep the program running smoothly.
My challenge is trying to step outside the dream when it comes to nuclear weapons. I'm always trying to see the big picture connecting military spending to a neglect of poverty, homelessness, racism, healthcare, education, housing, care for children and the elderly, infrastructure, and other human concerns. Addressing these issues is seen as expendable, while spending $100 billion on a new missile system is somehow seen as acceptable. The unthinkable becomes unquestioned reality.
I live in Olympia, Washington about 70 miles from the Navy’s submarine base in Bangor. The base contains the third largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world and is home base for eight Trident submarines. Each Trident has 20 missile tubes (down from 24 since the New Start Treaty), and each missile can carry up to eight warheads ranging from 100 to 450 kilotons. Each sub could destroy the planet. And yet, much of the population is either oblivious or thinks this armament necessary—perhaps the only ways to cope with a situation so unbelievable. Or, you can do something about it.
On Mother’s Day 2019, when a peaceful demonstration against nuclear weapons took place at Bangor, I decided to cross the county line blocking traffic to the base. This was a modest proposal, perhaps equivalent to the “widow’s mite” in the Christian Bible (Mark 12: 41-44, Luke 21: 1-4). I was arrested, but I was not facing years in prison as a consequence. For me it was a chance to "unplug" from the system by contributing to the reservoir of energy that counters the status quo. Landmines, chemical and biological weapons are considered unacceptable by most of the international community. We must move nuclear weapons into that same category of collective thinking. The United Nations’ Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a step in the right direction despite the unwillingness of nuclear nations to sign on. It is my hope that there is a rising awareness of the problem and that individuals, cities, states and nations will do what they can to confront and reject the nuclear option in whatever ways are available to them. I see my small gesture as part of a much larger movement that hopefully will prevail. There is no guarantee of success, but people of goodwill still need to do what they can despite uncertainty. We carry on in faith, full of meaning and purpose, because we believe in the goodness of life, not death and destruction.
The mitigation judge in Kitsap County Court was extremely attentive to our presentations and reduced our fine to $5.00. I remember making several comments: One was about wanting a future for my children and grandchild; another was about imagining, when I'm bannering against nuclear weapons on the highway overpass, what it would be like to see a mushroom cloud on the horizon, and to wonder what I would do?
Usually when bannering for the weekly one-hour event, despite the hundreds of horns and waves in support, there are three to four incidences of obscene gestures. Without exception, they come from young men in vehicles that embody a macho image—like a pick-up, Jeep, or sports car. It's painful to see, in that it reveals how deeply invested the dominant culture is in thinking nuclear weapons are needed or even helpful. We are plugged into the dream and, if unchecked, it has the power to completely absorb the populace.
Lastly, the hardest thing for me to grasp, much less to communicate, is that with nuclear weapons there are no second chances. It's not like we will be able to sit around and think about what just happened; we will simply cease to exist. And perhaps those of us who are killed instantly will be the lucky ones.
These are the thoughts that underlay both my decision to cross the line and my showing up, week after week, to banner against nuclear arms. I want to be awake and alert to what might help prevent these weapons from ever being used again.