The hidden heart of the Transform Now Plowshares story is one most of the media misses—the colossal failure of security systems at Y12 is too good a story to pass up. That story is likely to continue to challenge the real story for attention as the trial of Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice and Michael Walli begins on Tuesday, May 7.
But the reason there is a plowshares trial is not because Megan, Michael and Greg exposed security failures at Y12.
The real story is more serious, captured succinctly by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark on the witness stand at a pre-trial hearing on April 23: The life of the planet is at risk from this one plant in Tennessee.
That’s why they came to Y12. Megan said, “Our focus is on the illegal activities that are being carried on.” Greg said, “Y12 is trying to build the Uranium Processing Facility. They want $7.some billion dollars to keep building nuclear weapons for fifty, sixty more years, and we believe this is a key time in history to say ‘No’ to more nuclear weapons.”
The statement they read on the morning of July 28 to the guard who met them first was clear: “We come to the Y-12 facility because our very humanity rejects the designs of nuclearism, empire and war. Our faith in love and nonviolence encourages us to believe that our activity here is necessary; that we come to invite transformation, undo the past and present work of Y-12; disarm and end any further efforts to increase the Y-12 capacity for an economy and social structure based upon war-making and empire-building.”
The reason there is a plowshares trial is simple. The government can not allow Michael, Greg and Megan to expose the real security scandal—the false security of nuclear weapons that has cost us more than 7 Trillion dollars since 1943 and will cost us hundreds of billions more in the next ten years unless it is stopped.
The truth behind their action applies to nuclear weapons as surely as it applies to the massive security apparatus that failed to keep them from painting words of hope on the weapons grade uranium warehouse in the wee hours of a Saturday morning last July.
Security is an illusion.
The quest for security attempts to banish risk, threat and danger; the quest for security relies on fear and uncertainty; the quest for security requires the abandonment of trust and hope—it is a deeply cynical endeavor with the appetite of a cannibal. The more we strive for security, the more our trust and hope are consumed; the loss of trust and hope fuels greater insecurity and we come full circle. It is a circle of the damned.
Nuclear weapons are a clear example of the illusory nature of security. For decades, beginning with the carefully constructed mythology of the victors—that Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved lives—generations have been taught that nuclear weapons provide security, protecting us from the nuclear weapons of our enemies.
Even if the first impulse to develop military nuclear power was a sincere effort to create a magic weapon that in one horrible moment would put an end to war; even if those who built Little Boy and Fat Man believed (mistakenly, it turns out) they were in a kill-or-be-killed atomic arms race with the Third Reich—soon enough nuclear proliferation changed the nature of the beast. When only one nation had the Bomb, it was the weapon to end war. As soon as a second nation had a Bomb, they were a requirement to remain free. Nonproliferation professions ring false to non-nuclear nations. They know that every nation that possesses a nuclear weapon is responsible for every other nation’s possession of them. Starting with us.
And in the meantime, as the weapon meant to secure us compelled other nations to develop weapons and policies that placed us in the gravest peril we have ever known, across the country and around the globe, these same weapons poisoned the air, water and soil around the manufacturing plants and the test sites; these same weapons damaged hundreds of thousands of workers, destroying their health and their lives and, far too many times, taking their lives. These same weapons contaminated plants and animals and humans who were exposed to fallout from testing—that is the physical damage that robbed many thousands of us of the security the weapons were supposed to provide.
Nuclear weapons also stripped our souls of the security that comes from aligning our actions with our beliefs—integrity of the soul is not possible when one threatens creation itself, hundreds of millions of human lives and entire species of animal and plant life, in the name of securing a way of life, a political ideology or an economic base.
This is the way nuclear weapons corrupt the very security they are advertised to provide.
Three weeks ago in Oak Ridge, the National Nuclear Security Administration spent $41,000 on a string of bike racks they hastily lined up on the roadside to prevent a gathering of peaceful demonstrators in the traditional spot for protests at the main gate leading to Y12. The $41K fence is just temporary; it will be replaced by a $150,000 barbed wire fence—all an attempt to silence the voices calling for peace. Free speech and free assembly are rights guaranteed by the first amendment, primary and fundamental rights of a free people—but they have to go if they challenge nuclear weapons. This is the nature of the corruption inherent in the nuclear enterprise.
In our shame, we do not speak of them. That’s one of the reasons most of the media wants to talk about the little security scandal at Y12 but averts its eyes from the existential scandal Ramsey Clark articulated so clearly: The life of the planet is at risk from this one plant in Tennessee.
On April 30, National Public Radio ran a short piece on All Things Considered about the Plowshares action and trial. It was produced by a local NPR newsman who lives in Oak Ridge. I listened carefully as he referenced the work at Y12 three times. Listeners around the country learned that Y12 stores weapons grade uranium; they were left without the slightest clue that Y12 also—as its main mission—manufactures thermonuclear secondaries for the ultimate weapons of mass destruction. Listeners heard not a single word about why the Plowshares resisters entered Y12 that night, nothing about the Uranium Processing Facility, the $7.5 billion bomb plant to be, the determination to continue building nuclear weapons for generations to come.
The purveyors of nuclear weapons should feel insecure. Those who stand to make billions of dollars in profits from constructing the UPF; the men and women in Congress who will approve the money and take campaign contributions from the contractors who build and operate the plant; the businesses who line up for handouts without considering the nature of the work they are doing—the world has renounced their nuclear weapons. The World Court has declared them contrary to the highest law there is: common humanitarian law. The President of the United States has declared a firm commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons.
Why are the weaponeers not feeling insecure? Because they learned the first lesson of security for bomb builders in the secret days of the Manhattan Project. It is simple, not even a whole word: Shhhhhhh!
The continuation of the “enterprise” as the weaponeers have taken to calling their nasty business, relies on the system running along as it has for the last fifty years and everyone keeping their mouth shut about it unless that mouth is open to receive a tasty morsel of pork from our elected hogsloppers in Washington. When they put up a fence and hang a No Trespassing sign on it, everyone step back. Step across the line, they’ll bring you to court where the judge will say, “An action can be moral and at the same time illegal” and send you to prison. Shhhhhh!
As long as we accede to the demand to keep silent, the “security” industry rolls on, fueled by hundreds of billions of tax dollars, crushing everything in its path—trust, hope, rights, even security itself.
This is the scandal the Plowshares resisters hope to transform. They offer themselves in sacrifice to inspire us to speak, to say out loud the emperor has no clothes, to demand from our elected officials a path to the only kind of security we can rely on in this world—a security that realizes risks are real and seeks to mitigate them by building relationships of trust and understanding and mutual dependence. We must give up some things to live in that kind of world. We must assume some risks even as we ask others to assume risks. We must bear the burdens of uncertainty equally with others. Nuclear weapons, the weapons of bullies, have no place in a world moving toward real security. Nuclear weapons attempt to shift all the risk and all the danger onto others—the resulting imbalance further undermines our security. The bully has to be taken down—unless the bully can be transformed.
Our nuclear stockpile does not protect us against attack, nuclear or otherwise. There is no nation with the capacity and will to attack us with nuclear weapons, though if we continue to lead the world in nuclear proliferation, if we build new production facilities while denying others the right to do the same, we will one day have enemies who have both the will and the capacity to threaten us.
What would transformation look like?
Imagine a world in which we grow more confident of our safety and security year after year instead of feeling less confident and more threatened. That world will not happen as long as we rely on nuclear weapons because it can not—nuclear weapons undermine the confidence we seek to secure with them.
So the Plowshares activists and Ramsey Clark? They are on to something real and serious, something fundamental and profound. They condemn nuclear weapons and the UPF and the plans to build more bombs, and they call for a transformation. The imagery is prophetic—it points the way to a more secure, healthy, righteous and hopeful future: swords into plowshares. From weapons of death to implements of life. From fire to food.
Shhhhh! The weaponeers, the corporate profit-takers, the workers in the death factory want us to be quiet because the simple imagery makes the choice too clear.
It is a choice. If you are among those inspired by Greg, Megan and Michael, or even if you just appreciate the depth of risk they undertook and the sacrifice they bear still—speak. Say it, write it, email it, publish it, demonstrate it.
This is a key time in history, said Greg Boertje-Obed.