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Arresting the Wrong Suspects

New York, New York

At the United Nations here this month, talk is focused on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). At about 11 a.m. Apr. 28, I was handcuffed with 21 other nuclear realists after blocking an entrance to the US Mission. I say “realists” because US media won’t pay much attention to US nuclear weapons unless somebody is taken off to a jail.

Barrels of ink are used detailing Iran’s non-existent nuclear arsenal. The US has about 2,000 nuclear weapons ready to launch and used as ticking time bombs every day by presidents the way gunslingers can extort the loot without ever pulling the trigger. Deterrence it is not.

When we were ordered to leave or face arrest, we called ourselves crime-stoppers and asked the officers to arrest the real scofflaws. We were packed into vans and driven to the 17th Precinct. Our band of nuclear abolitionists concluded a long time ago that US nuclear banditry and pollutionism was worth dramatizing for a day, or a month, or a lifetime.

We talked while the cops worked through the booking routine. David McReynolds, 85, the long-time staff member of War Resisters League (Ret.), asked us all to watch when he exited the van 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.

The day before, Sec. of State John Kerry double-spoke to the Gen. Assembly, promising to both continue with US nuclear posturing and dream of a nuclear-free world. I skipped the puffery and listened to Jay Coughlin of Nuclear Watch South explain the US government’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 1996, the World Court declared the NPT to be a binding legal obligation to denuclearize. We got charged with it, but it’s the US that has refused a lawful order.

Back in the police truck, time dragged. Somebody said we should share a few political jokes. Q: “Why are statistics just like prison inmates?” A: “If you torture them enough, they’ll tell you anything you want to hear.” Bad prison jokes are easy to come by among political dissidents.

Finally inside the precinct, I sat in the holding cell next to Jerry Goralnick, a playwright with The Living Theatre, who is trying to get a script staged involving the jail-house relationship between Dorothy Day and a colleague who shared a cell for 90 days. Day, a founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and her friend were jailed in New York City for refusing to obey civil defense officers and go down into fallout shelters. It was during the delusional era of “winnable” nuclear war. Their defiance was a simple case of refusing to lie about nuclear weapons. They were realists who knew that the 10-square-mile firestorms ignited by H-bombs suck all the air from fallout shelters where the huddled then suffocate. They knew there is no defense under such nuclear conflagration, that survivors would envy the dead.

These days, nuclear war planning goes on 6 stories below Strategic Command HQ at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha. Deep in Strat-Com’s sub-basements, technicians with the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff select people and places to be incinerated if need be. The targets are lands belonging to US trading partners, allies and friends that have the Bomb — China, Russia, India, Pakistan — and non-nuclear countries like Iran and North Korea (which has 3 nukes and no way to deliver them).

This target planning has been going on for decades. A few thousand hard-bitten, nuclear-obsessed optimists have been crying “foul” about it the whole while. I was in custody with 21 of them for a few hours. It was a relief to be there.

Our complaint, which should be on display at our June 24 court arraignment, is that the US producers, deployers and trigger men using nuclear weapons (the ones we’re responsible for), are outlaws and dangerous sociopaths, part of a terror cell making bomb threats, which they wrap in a theatrical hoax called “deterrence.”

I’ve seen this legal argument succeed in court only twice, but those not-guilty verdicts convince me that the law is on our side. Dumb-dumb bullets, nerve gas, poison, land-minds, cluster bombs, chemical agents, and biological weapons are all illegal, banned by Treaty Law. Nuclear warheads do all the harm of these outlawed weapons combined — plus mutagenic and teratogenic damage to multiple generations. The State Department says the Bomb is unfortunate but legal, but the Secretary Has No Clothes.

While United Nations members argue this month over whether possession of H-bombs violates the NPT, I’ll stay with the realists just out of handcuffs — at least until the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff and Mr. Kerry are charged with disturbing the peace.

John LaForge works for Nukewatch, an environmental justice group in Wisc., and edits its quarterly newsletter.

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

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