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"Forget the Rest" blog


We have the freedom to prevent catastrophe, if we accept it.

December 23, 2006

Dear friends --

The pending decision to build additional U.S. weapons of mass destruction at enormous expense, on top of the huge arsenals we already have and in the absence of any “peer competitor” (as they say) is remarkable, in one perspective, and merely automatic in another. However you look at it, such an action would further commit our benighted country to its current policies of global terror.

Meanwhile the true, urgent threats we face are of quite a different character. Massively misjudging the greatest threats to our civilization in this way could well be fatal to it, if not to most of creation. It would certainly be a colossal “intelligence failure,” far overshadowing even the invasion of Iraq, but probably there would not be a commission of inquiry.

Collapse could occur directly through nuclear war or indirectly, simply through the failures of consciousness and democracy implied by harboring and building such weapons. Not to put too fine a point on it, nuclear weapons imply a strong cultural devotion to death-oriented solutions. They corrode culture. They make us stupid. They enable national foolishness and an unmanly, unwomanly cowardice where security is concerned, when wisdom and courage are desperately needed.

Can there be any doubt that civilization is nearing a fateful hour? We who inhabit the semiconscious shadows of mass culture usually don’t want to think about this. We’d rather be helpless, or too busy, buried under thick layers of denial, dead before death to our predicament. Dead to the world, as we say.

There is another perspective. “[D]oes the individual,” wrote Carl Jung, “know that he is the makeweight that tips the scales?”

How do we each, personally, accept that responsibility?

I think we accept it gratefully and with joy. Is there any other way? “We were born for such a time as this.” Accepting the reality of the kairos hour into which we are born means leaving our fears behind and awakening to a freedom in which we can act – “speaking,” as Gary Snyder once put it, “new words for the first time.”

I am not talking just about putting a bumper sticker on our car, although that is fine. I am not talking about just writing to our congressperson and senators, although that is fine. I am not talking about just going to a rally or demonstration, although that is fine too. I am not talking about just supporting the Los Alamos Study Group, although that is very welcome and we can’t do our work otherwise.

I am talking about changing our expectations of what is possible, reviewing our lives, our financial arrangements, our careers, our personal relations – everything. I am talking about a searching inquiry that opens up new possibilities aligned with our deepest yearnings, and receptive to the cries for help we hear. I am talking about taking risks, possibly mortal ones. I am talking about real sacrifice that disappears so fast in the rear view mirror that we forget about it. Is there any freedom otherwise? The “ American Way of Life” is largely over, and if we don’t find another better one, we won’t live – period.

Our leaders are the way they are because we have not yet done this. There is nobody to blame.

From long experience I am aware of many fairly efficient ways to stop the nuclear warhead programs of the NNSA. Doing so still takes commitment and resources. Skills, knowledge, confidence, and the authority that comes with them will grow if the basic commitment is there and can be sustained over time.

The same is true in other policy areas where a broad social consensus already supports the work.

What’s most needed is to liberate our personal resources of all kinds so that activists, existing ones and the new ones we all can free from the less-important work they are now doing, can work – and work in a locally-accountable manner.

The resources are more than adequate, even in New Mexico . The state’s total personal income will be about $75 billion this year. If just 1% of 1% of this were spent to support the independent, non-governmental actors needed to catalyze a new direction for our state, we could have roughly 200 additional activists, scholars, and leaders – many times the number active today.

Or suppose committed progressives tithed to save the planet from destruction, like many religious people tithe to support their churches and its activities? Is that too much to ask, to save the planet? Those 2,000 or so new leaders would shed a lot of light in this state, primarily because of the way they would be supported.

So there’s no point in whining. We have the power if we want it.

These new activists would not be accountable to the inherently-conservative foundations that often exert determinative influence on most policy nonprofits today, guiding them in directions that support 99% of the existing economic and political order. Joe or Jane activist would work for you and your friends.

Shall we worry about the resulting fragmentation, the lack of “message discipline?” No. What unites people across the barriers of race and class, across boundaries of organizations, are common aspirations and deep-rooted, universal values. Nothing else does the trick.

Does this seem utopian? The hard facts staring us in the face suggest that in the not-too-distant future, converging (but still largely avoidable) economic, environmental, and social crises will cost each and every one of us far, far more than any tithe. Quite possibly they will cost us everything. There is absolutely no indication that government in the U.S. today, at any level, is rising adequately to meet this unique, unprecedented occasion.

Further, if we do not act, a good many of the bright young people whom we might have set upon the peacemakers’ path, the earth stewardship path, will instead waste – yes, at this point, waste – their early adult years in conventional careers. Or they will become casualties, because they know full well what is coming and they do not see the adult leadership they know is required.

Where, actually, are the adults? Overall, they have been missing for a long time now. Too many people are just not growing up. Too many people do not recognize that the future of the community depends upon them. Too many people think they are too busy, or too disempowered, or too threatened, or too whatever. They should get over it.

We harbor the largest and most active WMD facilities in the world right in our own communities, in Santa Fe , Los Alamos , Espanola, and Albuquerque . Our state is home to nearly half the U.S. warhead enterprise and if we include nearby Amarillo it is more than half.

We don’t need to see another mushroom cloud to know that the perversions for which these facilities are pillars are killing people today, from Palestine and Iraq to Espanola and Santa Fe . Fantasies of nuclear “deterrence” are necessary for fantasies of empire. “Nuclear deterrence” is just a polite way to say “Be very afraid and do what I say or I will utterly destroy your family, your mosque, and your people to get what I want.” To Americans it means, “Don’t think about any of this. Shop.”

So what’s the answer? Does the answer lie in big crowds and the celebrities necessary to attract a lot of people? Probably not. The downward course of empire will now be increasingly hard on a lot of people – hard for the duration. Fuel will be expensive. The big crowds aren’t coming to the disarmament fair, and there’s no reason to think their arrival would change anything. Celebrities, though they may mean well, weaken local organizing and initiative, leaving passivity in their wake. Crowds don't think clearly either, if at all. Mass phenonema are what we have too much of.

Neither is a loose “vision” of disarmament the answer. There is a regrettable tendency these days to assert a vague "vision" for disarmament without taking the practical steps right in front of us to achieve it.  Having a “vision” of nuclear disarmament is just too cheap. That and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee, as they say.

In this regard, I am strongly convinced that the activist effort which, nationally, has already gone into the bogus "Complex 2030" process would have been more than adequate to stop the CMRR project by now, a very real pit production plant annex in the throes of congressional controversy.  Further, I do not think that stopping the momentum toward pit production should be all that hard either, since we've done it twice before at LANL (1990, 1997) and since it is now plagued by very serious practical problems and above all a total lack of genuine "mission need."  Another ten years and it may be too late to start pit production at LANL, provided new and renewed buildings aren’t built for the purpose. The world will be a very different place too.  The need for a humane, green security paradigm may be evident to a great many more people – and, perhaps more powerfully, this country will be even more broke than it is today. It will certainly be more desperate as well; our struggle is largely about how to name the disease so the right cure will be chosen -- more war, likely including nuclear war, or humane cooperation and reinvestment in life.

In a few years, looking back we will realize that we took one or another of the two forks in the nuclear road in the first decade of the 21st century. Either the world will be more frightening because of that choice or we will have chosen the better path. There is not much middle ground and little time to temporize.

To an uncanny degree, the “we” that chooses one nuclear policy or another may mean “we in New Mexico.” That means just a few people, speaking for billions. When Congress is distracted and overwhelmed, it responds post-hoc to problems. Work is triaged. No problem, no attention. Unless we can make pit production a problem, it will be assumed there is none. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. If we want a different form of investment in New Mexico, something other than a plutonium maquiladora, we had better squeak up.

It is as well a moment of decision for New Mexico ’s society and economy. If LANL makes pits, pits will define the lab as a whole – its budget, its culture, and its other possibilities. Since LANL is the largest corporate entity in northern New Mexico and has a disproportionately large (negative) effect on the region’s economic planning, politics, and cultural identity, pit production would also increasingly define northern New Mexico, limiting and excluding kinder possibilities to a degree as yet unknown.

So far, sixty years of data suggest that LANL has not helped New Mexico ’s economy and likely has harmed it. The nub of the matter and in my view the most incisive summation of the whole regional economic issue lies in a remark made by economist Dr. William Weida: “The greatest single thing holding back the economy of northern New Mexico is New Mexico ’s collective inability to admit that nuclear weapons are morally wrong.”

As activists and policy reformers, we cannot win on any nuclear issue, even the secondary (and often peripheral or surrogate) issues like safety and environmental protection, without making nuclear disarmament the centerpiece of our efforts. The disarmament narrative is the keystone of all NGO success involving the nuclear labs and plants. Outside that context the safety, management, and environmental issues will neither be salient relative to other issues in society nor will they ever find their proper sense of proportion. Nuclear disarmament is the best policy message from virtually all perspectives, allowing fresh and powerful cross-issue alliances, articulating basic values deeply held, and expressing what polls say is by far the most popular policy choice.[1]

Since disarmament is in all truth the most pragmatic as well as the most moral policy choice and is legally required as well, the disarmament message gives great power – truth-power – to its advocates.

Hasn’t the time come for all of us to say, as simply and clearly as possible, that nuclear weapons are obsolete? Hasn’t the time long since come to talk seriously about getting rid of them? Stop funding them, stop investing in them. This year. We urgently need to address very real threats to humankind and all nature, and we can't do both. Nuclear weapons – with their death-oriented ideology, their inherently-corrupt and anti-democratic institutions at every level, their great costs and irrevocable environmental commitments, their unboundable hazards, their untoward political and academic influences, their intellectual and moral corrosion – damage our society and security. They aren’t just a forgettable little add-on to the cultural scene, or a minor deformation in our national character. They are central to what we have become as a people and getting rid of them is core to the transformation we need to be the people we want to be. LANL’s primary mission is the production of danger and threatened mass death, and its managers are well on their way to making a lot more of it. We easily have the power to say, "no thanks," but we actually have to do so.

Greg Mello

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