Arresting the Wrong Suspects

NEW YORK, NY -- The United Nations are meeting this month to talk about the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
At about 11 a.m. today (Apr 28) I was handcuffed with 21 other anti-nuclear realists at the entrance of the US Mission to the UN in New York City. I say “realists” because the media will not pay attention to US nuclear weapons unless there is somebody taken off to a jail.

Barrels of ink are spent on Iran’s non-existent nuclear threat. Iran has no nuclear weapons. The US military has 9,000 at hand, with about 2,000 ready to use at the whim of the president.

Our band of nuclear abolitionists was ordered to quit blocking the doorway or face arrest. We basically agreed that US hypocrisy in demanding disarmament of others while it Reigns No. 1 in nuclear bomb threats was worth blockading for a day. Twelve men and 10 women were cuffed, packed into a pair of police vans, and driven down to the 17th Precinct.
Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken to the UN Gen Assembly the day before, promising to continue with the status quo and speaking poetically of a world free of nuclear weapons. I skipped the bull and listened to Jay Coughlin of Nuclear Watch South explain the White House’s plans for three new H-bomb factories (one each in Tenn., Kansas and New Mexico) and the building of 80 new warheads every year until 2070.

In the paddy wagon with my fellow suspects, we waited a few hours for the cops go through the motions of a routine booking. David McReynolds, 85, a retired staff member of the War Resisters League, asked us all to watch when he exited the wagon to see that he didn’t lose his balance. I wondered if I’d have the guts to keep doing these actions if I get to the wobbly decades.
Somebody said we should share a few political jokes. Being who I am, I offered: “Why are statistics just like prison inmates?” No guesses came, so I punched. “If you torture them enough, they’ll tell you anything you want to hear.”

Prison jokes are easy to come by among a bunch of political dissidents. A few more were tossed around before we finally got into the precinct. I sat in the holding cell next to a playwright who is trying to get a script staged involving the jail-house relationship between Dorothy Day and a colleague who shared a jail cell for 90 days. Dorothy, a founder of the Catholic Workers movement, and her friend had been jailed in New York City for refusing to obey civil defense orders to go down into fallout shelters during the “duck and cover” era of nuclear war planning. Their act was a simple case of refusing to lie about nuclear weapons. They were realists who knew well that the enormous firestorms ignited by nuclear bombs suck the air out of fallout shelters where the terrified masses all suffocate. The fact is there is no defense if it happens and the living would envy the dead.

These days, nuclear war planning goes on 6 stories below the Strategic Command headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha. Deep in Strat-Com’s sub-basements is the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff. This team of technicians is highly paid to select people and places to be incinerated by our nuclear attacks. The targets are inside the territories of US allies and friends -- China, Russia, India, Pakistan -- and inside non-nuclear states like Iran (which hasn’t got a nuclear weapon) and North Korea (which has 3 nuclear bombs and no way to deliver them).

These preparations have been going on underground for decades, and a few thousand hard-bitten nuclear-obsessed types have been crying ‘foul’ about it the whole while. I was in a holding cell full of them, and it was a relief to be there.  

Our complaint, which will be on full display at a June 24 court arraignment, is that producers, deployers and trigger men in control of US nuclear weapons are outlaws, dangerous sociopaths, and part of a terror cell beyond anything  the suiciders can conceive.

I’ve only seen this legal argument succeed in court twice. Still, those “not guilty” verdicts are enough to convince me that the law is on our side. Dumb-dumb bullets, nerve gas, poison, land-minds, cluster bombs, chemical and biological weapons are all known to be illegal. Nuclear weapons do all the damage of these devices combined, -- plus mutagenic and teratogenic damage to endless generations, -- but they are “legal”? I don’t believe it.

While State Parties to the NPT argue over thermonuclear throw-weight and weapons’ “survivability,” I’ll stick with the realists in the dock -- at least until the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff is charged with disturbing the peace.