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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/25/19

Sacred Weapons?

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Kings Bay Plowshares defendants speak on eve of trial Robert
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By Ward Wilson, executive director of RealistRevolt

On April 15, 2018 seven Catholic peace activists snuck onto the naval base at Kings Bay, Georgia, the home base for ten of the navy's eighteen nuclear-armed Trident submarines. They hit a statue with a hammer. They poured out some of their own blood (donated earlier and saved for the purpose). And they spray painted some anti-nuclear graffiti on a sidewalk. Then they waited patiently to be arrested. Their goal, they said, was to bring attention to this vial issue.

They face up to 25 years in prison.

Seven people, ranging in age from the late fifties to early seventies, now known as the Kings Bay Seven, clearly mature, religiously committed adults, who were entirely non-violent face a quarter of century in jail because of some spray painting and trespass. The only way the punishment fits the crime is if nuclear weapons are some sort of sanctified, magic weapons that really do guarantee our survival and make us great. But that isn't the case.

The inevitability of nuclear war is as certain as human nature and as clear as the logic of three short sentences. First, "All human beings are fallible." No man or woman is perfect. From the lowest private to the highest leader, we all make mistakes. Second, "Human beings are involved in nuclear deterrence." We make the threats, we evaluate the threats, we decide how to respond. Nuclear deterrence is not some computer that runs unattended in a climate controlled room. Human beings are involved at every step. And third, "If human beings are prone to folly (and we are), and if human beings are involved in nuclear deterrence (and we are), then nuclear deterrence is inherently flawed. It will fail.

Seven decades of reassurances cannot change the facts. Despite claims that nuclear deterrence has worked perfectly, nuclear deterrence has already failed. If nuclear deterrence has never failed, how did the Russians blockade Berlin in 1948 when the United States had a monopoly on nuclear weapons? If nuclear deterrence has never failed, how did the Chinese join the Korean War (after the United States moved nuclear-capable bombers to Guam and "leaked" the move)? If nuclear deterrence has never failed, how did President Kennedy blockade Cuba, despite knowing that such an action risked nuclear war? If nuclear deterrence has never failed, how did the Israelis get attacked in the Middle East War of 1973? (The fact that they had nuclear weapons had been reported in the New York Times.) If nuclear deterrence has never failed, why did the Argentines attack the Falkland Islands (held by the nuclear-armed United Kingdom) in 1982? And so on.

Nuclear weapons advocates say that these are not failures of nuclear deterrence because they did not lead to nuclear war. But that is like saying that when the brakes on your car fail, if there isn't a catastrophic outcomeif you don't end up deadthen your brakes can't have failed. The outcome of a car accident, like the outcome of a nuclear crisis, is determined by many factors. Of course nuclear deterrence can fail but other factorsluck or happenstance or timely actions by otherscan keep nuclear war from occurring.

Nuclear deterrence has failed and will fail. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara famously said that the only thing that prevented nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis was "luck." One day our luck will run out and we will find ourselves in a catastrophic nuclear war. If we continue to rely on nuclear deterrence, it's not a question of if, it's just a question of when.

Despite the plain and undeniable danger, our nuclear weapons policies are rarely questioned. Pat reassurances and stock phrases pass for public debate. But the ideas that supposedly justify keeping a nuclear weapons arsenal were formulated during the Cold War, a time of enormous fear, and no one does their best thinking when they're afraid. Basic assumptions of our policylike the reliability of nuclear deterrenceare obviously flawed.

Raising questions about policies that risk our nation's survival is not rude or impolitic or unpatriotic, it is a civic responsibility, a basic duty of every citizen. Drawing attention to these dangerous policies is essential. The minor infractions that these seven used in an attempt to raise public awareness were not unreasonable given the stakes.

The law may demand punishment for spray painting and trespass. And maintaining the dignity of the law is essential for a democratic society. But it is difficult to avoid the appearance of pettiness in a case where the aim of the crime is the preservation of our nation, when the goal is to prevent catastrophic war, when people clearly acted for the greater good. The harm is so small and their intention so high that any harsh punishment of their actions risks the appearance of injusticean injustice which would inevitably weaken, not strengthen, respect for the law.

I urge you to support the Kings Bay Seven.

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I'm an independent scholar who has written about nuclear weapons issues for 25 years. I've been published in International Security, Dissent, and The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. I believe that nuclear (more...)
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