Open Letter from the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center
On behalf of the Transform Now Plowshares
Our Dear Sisters and Brothers,
We send warm greetings and many thanks to all who actively engage in the transformation of weapons of mass destruction to sustainable life-giving alternatives. Gregory Boertje-Obed (U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas) Michael Walli (Federal Correctional Institution McKean, Bradford, Pennsylvania) and I are sending you some of our observations and concerns on the 2nd anniversary of our Transform Now Plowshares action.
On July 28, 2012, after thorough study of nuclear issues, and because of our deepening commitment to nonviolence, we engaged in direct action by cutting through four fences at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the U.S. continues to overhaul and upgrade thermonuclear warheads.
On that day, two years ago, when we reached the building where all U.S. highly-enriched (bomb-grade) uranium is stored, we prayed and also wrote messages on the wall, such as “The Fruit of Justice is Peace”. (Realistically, the higher and stronger fences built as a result of our nonviolent incursion can never keep humans safe from inherently dangerous materials and weapons.) We acted humbly as “creative extremists for love”, to cite one of our most important and revered leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr.
There are a number of reasons for what we did. We three were acutely mindful of the widespread loss to humanity that nuclear systems have already caused, and we realize that all life on Earth could be exterminated through intentional, accidental, or technical error.
Our action at the Y-12 site in Oak Ridge exposed the storage of weapons-making materials deliberately hidden from the general public. The production, refurbishment, threat, or use of these weapons of mass destruction violate the fundamental rules and principles by which we all try to live amicably as human beings. The United States Constitution and the Laws of War are intended to ensure the survival of humanity with dignity. However, it is abundantly clear that harmony and cooperation among nations can never be achieved with nuclear weapons. (These arguments, we assume, will be made on our behalf during the eventual appeal of our convictions that accused us of sabotage, though it was never our intention to harm our country.)
Our “crime” was to draw attention to the criminality of the 70-year-old nuclear industry itself and to the unconscionable fact that the United States spends more on nuclear weapons than on education, health, transportation, and disaster relief combined.
We three Transform Now Plowshares consider it our duty, right, and privilege to heighten tension in the ongoing debate of Disarmament vs. Deterrence because history has repeatedly taught us that the policy of deterrence doesn’t lead to security, but rather to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. During our trial, the U.S. prosecutors and the U.S. courts accused the wrong people when they claimed that we violated the law, because what we did was to make America’s citizens aware of egregious preparations for mass murder.
We took action because we were acutely aware that our government has failed to keep its long-standing promise to pursue nuclear disarmament. (As Ramsey Clark testified during one of our pre-trial hearings, the U.S. entered into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in the 1960’s because our country was finally facing up to the severe human and environmental consequences of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as to the hideous results of countless nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. government within and beyond our own borders.)
One of our pressing concerns is that U.S. prosecutors and the courts adhere to an obsolete view of security with no cognizance – or consciousness – of the horrific effects caused by nuclear weapons. Greg, Mike, and I believe that, undeniably, the U.S. is in a state of denial. It’s what Hannah Arendt called not evil, but the banality of evil. “There’s nothing deep about it. It’s nothing demonic! There’s simply the reluctance ever to imagine what the other person is experiencing, right?” (Hannah Arendt, "Eichmann was Outrageously Stupid" in The Last Interview and Other Conversations, Melville House, Brooklyn 2013, p. 48).
We citizens cannot permit ourselves to be rendered passive and mute by the banality of evil! Only complete nuclear disarmament can save humanity. At stake is the honor and dignity of the Hibakusha, along with the physical, environmental, emotional, and psychological trauma long suffered by victims of the nuclear system, from uranium miners to down-winders. (From 1946 to 1958, Marshall Islanders were bombarded with 67 atomic and thermonuclear tests that were carried out by the United States.)
Michael Walli, Greg Boertje-Obed and I are in U.S. prisons because, ironically, our action at Oak Ridge was based on the common sense reality that we human beings have endured more than enough destruction and exploitation. We believe that we citizens can exercise our collective power to consciously transform our nation’s priorities. We all need to actively insist on more humane uses for the billions of dollars now budgeted for the nuclear weapons/industrial complex.
Two years ago, as we neared the building in Oak Ridge, we were extremely surprised by the ineffectiveness of the system that supposedly guarded our nation’s most important National Security Complex. We believed that we were about to expose the source of unfettered violence that has led to the chronic spiritual and economic decline in the U.S. As it turned out, it was the laxity of the security system at Y-12 that caught the attention of the courts and the mainstream media. Security weakness became the big story. There was no mainstream acknowledgement that the national security complex is rotting from its own irrelevance.
Most surprisingly, our July 2012 action and our court cases have revealed that it is not the U.S. government that is in control of the nuclear weapons complex, but in reality it is the corporations that are in control through their solicitation and manipulation of endless funding for the refurbishment of unlawful thermonuclear warheads. We three are incarcerated because we stood up to a nuclear weapons industry that is kept thriving by the interlocking and obsolete institutions that subscribe to the long-discredited notion that law and security can be enforced by ever-greater force.
Regarding the $22.8 billion contract awarded to the Y-12 site in Oak Ridge and the Pantex plant in Texas, for the refurbishment of thermonuclear warheads and a new Uranium Processing Facility (UPF), the relevant corporations don’t actually operate under the long-discredited myth of “nuclear deterrence”. Rather, corporations such as Babcock and Wilcox, Lockheed, and Bechtel operate under limited liability subsidiaries, joint ventures, consortiums, and partnerships for the main purpose of making profits by engaging in huge nuclear weapons production/refurbishment contracts. By this time, Congress certainly is aware that valid contracts can be issued only for the dismantlement of all nuclear weapons and for the environmentally-sound treatment and disposition of all nuclear materials.
In order for the U.S. to negotiate for nuclear disarmament in good faith, we say it is essential to peaceably transform these very corporations so that they are no longer able to violate the most basic moral and legal principles of civilized society by deliberately precipitating planetary self-destruction.
We thank you for your letters and your concerns. We ask you to support the Republic of the Marshall Islands in their current legal actions against the United States in U.S. federal court and against the U.S. and all the other nuclear weapons states in the International Court of Justice, for failure to eliminate their respective nuclear arsenals. You can learn more and add your support by signing the petition at www.nuclearzero.org.
Greg, Michael and Megan
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