For this week’s Peace of History:
Our friends the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 will be sentenced on June 8, 29, and 30 for their nonviolent protest actions on April 4, 2018 -- the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. On that day, seven Catholic activists entered Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Mary’s, Georgia to follow the prophet Isaiah’s command: “beat swords into plowshares.” None in the group were younger than 55, and the oldest was 78 -- not youths cutting their teeth on their first direct action, but a group of seasoned activists with decades of experience between them. The activists brought an indictment charging the United States government for crimes against peace according to international law. They hung banners and crime scene tape, symbolically and nonviolently disarmed the base, and then were arrested -- all to remind us of the perennial existential threat of the U.S. nuclear weapons program.
What exactly is the danger? The Trident-II (D-5) missile is the latest model of a special type of missile with a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) -- essentially, a single missile containing several warheads capable of striking a single or multiple targets. MIRV missiles are almost exclusively used for nuclear weapons, and were pioneered by the United States in the late 1960s. Nuclear missiles have been a part of the U.S. Navy’s submarine arsenal since 1958, and the current Trident-armed Ohio-class submarines (as well as the new Columbia-class submarines currently in production to replace them) are the descendants of the Polaris nuclear missile-armed submarines the Committee for Nonviolent Action protested against in 1960. These vessels were built -- and continue to be built -- at the Electric Boat division of General Dynamics in Groton, CT.
The most advanced nuclear warhead currently in the U.S. arsenal is the W88: 455-475 kilotons. Although the U.S. is treaty-bound to limit the maximum number to four, up to eight W88 warheads can fit in a single Trident-II missile. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 14 kilotons, which killed 150,000 people in moments. A single Trident-II missile can carry between 1800-3800 kilotons.
The Ohio-class nuclear submarine carries 24 Trident-II missiles, each missile capable of destroying more than 100-200 Hiroshimas -- each within 15 minutes of launch. No other vessel has ever carried more destructive power on earth. It is truly “the world’s deadliest nuclear weapon.”
The U.S. Navy has 14 of these submarines deployed secretly across the world.
But aside from addressing the literal existential danger of actually using this arsenal to strike, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 emphasizes a more insidious danger: the continual moral degradation of our society by positioning implicit threats of nuclear annihilation behind much of our foreign policy. They invoke the United Nation’s Charter, the Nuremberg Principles, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the ongoing United Nations negotiations regarding the prohibition of nuclear weapons -- all of which the United States government violates with its nuclear arms program. In frank terms, the United States government has use
While the danger is especially heightened under this administration, as when President Trump threatens to resume nuclear weapons testing, for instance -- the truth of the matter is that the arsenal is preposterously dangerous for a single person, democratically elected or not, to control. In 1983, it was indeed President Reagan at the helm when a false alarm in the Soviet Union reported that five American missiles had been launched -- it was just one man, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, who may have averted nuclear war that day by continuously convincing his superiors to confirm the report before acting. Just a few months later, the Soviet military mistook an elaborate NATO war exercise as preparations for a surprise nuclear strike and prepared itself accordingly. However, many of the other infamous nuclear incidents occurred under Democratic Presidents. Under President Carter, the year 1979 had at least four false alarms at NORAD, at least one of which resulted in a request to the president that he make a decision to retaliate within 3 to 7 minutes. Under President Johnson, radar-interference caused by a solar flare was misinterpreted as Soviet jamming in preparation for a first-strike, and thus nearly led to a U.S. nuclear bomber counter-strike. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 occurred as a direct result of Democratic President Kennedy’s aggressive action in the Bay of Pigs a year before. And we must not forget that the only world leader to ever command the use of nuclear weapons in war was Democratic President Truman, bringing to completion the project begun by his Democratic predecessor FDR.
Moreover, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, and regardless of whether or not the weapons are ever actually used again in war, the costs of the nuclear arms program continues to mount: the ecological cost, the human cost, the moral cost. The Kings Bay Plowshares 7’s actions remind us of our own individual responsibilities to humanity. Under the Nuremberg Principles, “Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity...is a crime under international law.” To what extent are we complicit in the crimes of our government? Certainly, we are not blameless: we, who pay taxes, who enjoy cheap consumer goods, who sometimes stay silent when we know we shouldn’t. On April 4, 2018, seven Catholic activists stopped being silent and took a stand.
As written in the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 Action Statement: “Dr. King said, ‘The greatest purveyor of violence in the world (today) is my own government.” This remains true in the midst of our endless war on terror…Nuclear weapons kill every day through our mining, production, testing, storage, and dumping, primarily on Indigenous Native land.
...As white Catholics, we take responsibility to atone for the horrific crimes stemming from our complicity with ‘the triplets [of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism].’ ...We cannot simultaneously pray and hope for peace while we bless weapons and condone war-making.”
Read their whole statement and learn how you can help here: https://kingsbayplowshares7.org/mission/