Why I Resisted Nuclear War Preparations at Hanscom

Shout Heard Round the World at Lexington Battle Green, May 27, 2018 Shout Heard Round the World at Lexington Battle Green, May 27, 2018

This article appeared in the Dedham Times, June 9, 2018

Pat Ferrone

Pat Ferrone

There was no stealth, no secrecy, and no violence in the low-key, but potent, event that occurred at Hanscom Air Force Base on the Sunday, May 27, of Memorial Day weekend. Organized by Mass Peace Action and a working committee, months of meetings culminated in a witness and action meant to draw attention to the relatively recent designation of Hanscom as the location of the Program Executive Office (PEO) for the Nuclear Command, Control and Communications Systems (NC3). According to the Department of Defense, it will “manage a portfolio of 17 programs valued at $1.2 billion that provide survivable and endurable communications for the nuclear enterprise… Additionally, the directorate is responsible for integrating over 60 individual nuclear command, control, communications systems that underpin and enable nuclear deterrent systems.”

After gathering at First Parish (UU) church in Lexington, approximately 40 people walked the streets of the town, distributing leaflets about Hanscom’s deep connection with the robust $1.3 Trillion commitment of the U.S. to “modernize” US nuclear resources, greatly increasing the threat of a nuclear exchange, either by design, or accident. In their 2018 assessment of current threats to our very existence, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, honorable purveyors of moral and scientific acuity, moved the minute hand of the “Doomsday Clock” to two minutes before midnight, indicating the world’s“vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change and new technologies emerging in other domains,” noting, “The greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm.” Precisely choosing their words in reference to the danger, the Bulletin’s writers speak of “looming threats,” a “bleak overall picture,” and the “downward spiral of nuclear rhetoric between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.” They also starkly remind us that “humankind has invented the implements of apocalypse.”

And yet, despite the outcry coming from myriad sources, seemingly “rational” explanations continue to be proffered by military and governmental leaders to justify the upgrade and fine-tuning of our land, sea and air nuclear capabilities. Members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation speak of the positive impact of Hanscom’s new mission, citing the jobs created, the economic benefits to the state, and the ways in which it will “help protect our nation,” as if technically superior nuclear weapons and delivery systems can assure the safety of US citizens, and allow us to rest in peace at night. The fact is, it’s a lie, to be discredited and resisted by all human beings who value life for our world and its global community.

A 4 mile walk from Lexington Center to Hanscom following the leafletting was led by monks from the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett Massachusetts. They drummed and chanted, their mindful presence a somber reminder of the seriousness of our focus. We walked alongside Veterans for Peace, (whose stunning flags were lofted high) and members of MA Peace Action; representatives from faith communities and nonviolent anti-nuclear peace activists carried signs reading “Nuclear Resistance is an Act of Love and Hope,” and “The Human Race Cannot Coexist with Nuclear Weapons.”

On public land a short distance from the entrance to the base, in the chill of late afternoon, Michelle Cunha, Assistant Director of Mass Peace Action, Professors Elaine Scarry of Harvard University and Jonathan King of MIT, and Dr. Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee, each spoke passionately about the insanity of nuclear weapons – harbingers of apocalyptic devastation if used; and in present time, rabid thieves of life-giving funds for human-based programs, the mending of infrastructure and elemental needs like health care, education and housing.  All these necessities go wanting due to grandiose plans for an overhaul of our nuclear arsenal and the creation of smaller, sleeker and more deadly “tactical” weapons which only increase the justification and likelihood of their use.

At the conclusion of the talks,  and following the almost gentle warnings from the Lincoln police that we would face arrest by going beyond the delineated marker, six witnesses to the goodness of life, and in symbolic resistance to our country’s allegiance to nuclear ensnarement, ‘crossed the line,’ and were promptly arrested for trespassing. Metal handcuffs were clicked in place, processing followed, and a court date designated. (In some ways, it felt bizarrely light-hearted with conversations and the careful, rather friendly, handling of each of us.) Two days later, after hours of waiting in Concord District Court, and the acceptance by the judge of our signed explanatory statement, all charges were laid aside and we were dismissed.

Who can tell what effect, if any, there might be as a result of  our small, nonviolent gesture of resistance. And yet, no matter. It still seems crucial that our voices arose from deep within – rooted in gratitude for the plenitude and richness of life -and we spoke out. Maybe others will do the same, before it’s too late. Truly, aren’t the ignominious events of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki enough of a reminder of the genocidal horror that would result if even one of the hydrogen bombs in our current arsenal – 50 times more powerful than those of 1945 – is used?

Finally, as a person who carries within her the call of the gospel to try to love both friends and enemies unconditionally, and to extend that realm of care beyond my local tribe, I am encouraged in active resistance to the horrendous violence of nuclear weapons by recent words of Pope Francis who said, “The threat of their use as well as their very possession is to be firmly condemned,” and by Elaine Scarry, who wrote in “Thermonuclear Monarchy,” “…by the solitary invention of nuclear weapons” (the earth’s surface) has “been converted into a surface where all that swims or swoops or skips or sways – arabesque of aliveness so hilariously inventive they are like laughter itself – can, within a few hours be burned, sickened, and slain.” With these words, I am granted permission to resist, while remembering all we must save.

Pat Ferrone is Massachusetts state coordinator of Pax Christi and a member of St. Susanna’s Parish, Dedham