On July 28, 2012, we entered the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and shut it down in an act of non-violent resistance. We hung protest banners, poured human blood and spray-painted graffiti with messages of peace on the uranium facility’s walls. Calling ourselves the Transform Now Plowshares, we tried to stop the continuation of our country’s nuclear weapons production, because it is illegal, immoral and irrational. The reckless quest for enduring nuclear superiority has led our country and our world into a harrowing danger zone in which the threat of planetary annihilation hangs over all of creation.
Because of our action, Y12, a charter facility of the Manhattan Project from which the uranium that obliterated Hiroshima 70 years ago was issued, stopped its deadly work for more than two weeks. We were subsequently charged for property damage and sabotage, tried and sentenced to three to five years in federal prison. After two years imprisonment, an appellate court threw out our sabotage conviction this past May and ordered our resentencing. Our next court date is Sept. 15.
But the challenge to resist nuclear weapons is not ours alone. It is a shared responsibility, and a shared opportunity to secure a future for our human family and for Mother Earth.
Nuclear weapons remain poised to destroy all life on the planet, something no rational person would want. These weapons have been involved in many accidents, and we know they can be set off unintentionally. Despite these dangers, our government has continually updated plans to fight and supposedly win a war using nuclear weapons. Our soldiers repeatedly prepare and train to launch them. As a matter of longstanding international law, nuclear weapons, which are designed to unleash massive indiscriminate destruction on civilians, are weapons to commit war crimes. In fact, preparing to use such weapons is itself a war crime.
Simply mining for the uranium and assembling the weapons already kills many people. Workers in nuclear bomb factories regularly die from many types of cancer. The late scientist Rosalie Bertell estimated many years ago that 10 million people have died from the building and testing of nuclear weapons.
We need to be particularly concerned about nuclear weapons today because many nations are beginning the process of spending massive amounts of economic resources to upgrade and expand the death-dealing power of nuclear weaponry. The U.S. alone is preparing to spend a trillion dollars on this effort. This is unconscionable.
The great religious traditions teach that we ought to act on behalf of life and to intervene for the downtrodden and poor, the orphans and widows. The vast resources dedicated to killing and preparing to kill are a waste and a theft from those who are destitute and in need, and thus contradict that divine directive to cherish and serve life itself. In conscience, we must struggle against the massive forces of death if we are to fulfill our commitment to practice compassion and love for people, life and the planet.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu used to say to his opponents in the latter days of South Africa’s Apartheid: “Come over to the winning side.” We believe that the forces for life and love are stronger than the forces of death and destruction. We invite everyone to join the struggle in order to be on the side of hope and life, even though it often looks as if we are not on the winning side.
We urge people to join the struggle against nuclear weapons because we believe, as Rev. Martin Luther King taught, that voluntary suffering can have a redemptive effect. The efforts we make to resist nuclear weapons and the empire they support can touch the consciences of our opponents. Our efforts can wake up others to the dangers of trying to dominate the world.
We need to struggle against the forces of death because the system will not change itself. We saw that federal prosecutors and the district court judge were willing to dismiss former Attorney General of the United States Ramsey Clark’s testimony that nuclear weapons are unlawful. They were content to act as if it is lawful to prepare to destroy all life on Earth.
There are those of us whose lives have actually predated the birth of the bomb and have special responsibility to pass on our stories of hope and possibility. We are all, in varying ways, part of this 70-year nightmare, and need to claim what the Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings – the hibakusha – have so faithfully upheld and shared: that this sin will not, cannot be repeated ever again in human history. We who remember life before the bomb must join with later generations, empowered to keep that sacred promise to future generations and to the planet itself.
As we return to Oak Ridge this weekend to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the catastrophic atomic bombings of Japan, we invite all people once again to the ancient prophecy voiced by Isaiah, and to its promise:
Come let us go up to the mountain of God, to the house where God lives.
That God may teach us God’s ways. That we may walk in God’s paths …
For God will bring justice among the nations and bring peace between many peoples.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nations will not lift swords against nations. No longer will they learn to make war.
Come, let us walk in the light of God.