People of the Bomb


The People of the Bomb

The bomb first was our weapon.  Then it became our diplomacy.  Next it became our economy.  Now it's become our culture.  We've become the people of the bomb.

- E. L. Doctorow

Nowhere is this more true than here in New Mexico, where the University of California (Los Alamos) and the Lockheed-Martin company (Sandia) are fast becoming world leaders in the production -- no longer just the design -- of nuclear weapons.  These products are "weapons of mass destruction," a term that also includes chemical and biological weapons.  Making weapons like this is not quite an ordinary job.  Let's face it:  making weapons of mass destruction is not a great deal different than making ovens in case a Holocaust is needed someday.

Even within the class of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons are uniquely destructive.  Dr. Siegfried S. Hecker, LANL's Director, told Congress in March that nuclear weapons "are unique in their ability to inflict massive damage to a target -- swiftly and surely ...nuclear weapons are the `big stick' that defends our homeland..."  And let no one doubt, Dr. Hecker said, that "we" would be "unwilling or unable to use the nuclear weapons in our stockpile."

This kind of bellicose rhetoric is new.  It projects what the "warheads" hope will be a new consensus of legitimacy for nuclear weapons, a watershed shift in perception and hence funding.  Already the nuclear weapons budget is considerably higher, in constant dollars, than it was on average during the Cold War.  And it is growing.  Hecker promotes weapons of mass destruction to keep the money flowing to his lab -- by the truckload if possible. 

Hecker is not alone.  He is more than matched by Sandia Director Paul Robinson, who told the Los Angeles Times that any further reductions in the U.S. arsenal would require, in his view, increased targeting of the Russian people. 

These men are assumed to speak for all their employees.  In the language of political pork, the lingua franca of Congress, they are assumed to speak for the rest of the state as well -- we, the people of the bomb. 

The labs' nuclear promotion begins, but does not end, with weapons of mass destruction.  One of Los Alamos' tactical goals is now to create what it calls "Our Plutonium Future," in part through its "Global Nuclear Vision Project," a series of meetings between the nuclear elite of many nations that is designed to work out an agenda to shape public policy and perceptions regarding "all things nuclear."

Walking its talk, Los Alamos is now poised to begin manufacturing "pits," the plutonium cores of nuclear weapons. But this too is just the beginning.  Lab managers hope to please their "customers" (their term) in other ways as well, including establishing the capability to make complete thermonuclear explosives.  These barbaric missions are painted with an Orwellian rouge that disguises self-serving manipulation; flashy euphemisms cover repulsive realities.  Service, so to speak, with a sordid smile. 

The fact that a university would strump for such work is an education in itself. 

The labs' future thus looks a lot like the past, only more so.  But what about the rest of us -- downwind, downstream, and down dollar?  What does our future hold?

I think you can see it, approaching from the next century like a highway sign: 

Welcome to New Mexico!

World Capital of Weapons of Mass Destruction 

Whether visible or invisible, that would be our sign, our identity, our legacy to our children and to our land.

Not long ago a Hispanic farmer was asked:  "What does the Rio Grande mean to you?"  "It is the river of righteousness," was the reply.  In these vivid, memorable words we hear a heart and mind not separate from the world -- a world which is flowing, intrinsically ethical, and fundamentally Good. 

That River will flow forever, but the path of nuclear weapons, the path we are choosing, does not lead by these waters.  Where does it go?  Through the Jornada del Muerto.  I am afraid there will be nothing for us to drink there.  And I am not sure tourists will continue to find it so very attractive either. 

It is simply no good to try to build a culture on weapons of mass destruction.  These weapons do not deter threats to our "national security;" they are threats to our security.  They do not deter "rogue states;" they define rogue states.  Those who make them do not protect us from terrorists; they are terrorists, witting or unwitting.  These weapons deter nothing but the military budget cuts we so plainly need to finance our schools, care for our families, and protect our communities. 

More than this, these weapons corrode our conscience, undermine the authority of the state they supposedly protect, and attack the democratic freedoms they purport to guard.  They and the fraudulent paradigm of "security" they embody distract us from the urgent cries of a world -- our only world -- being relentlessly crushed beneath the bulldozers of greed. 

In a world of inverted values, where our local masters of war patriotically promote weapons of mass destruction, a firm and joyful "No!" from the barricades is a liberating "Yes!" to human life and the generations yet to come. 

Greg Mello

Los Alamos Study Group
July 14, 1997

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