Once again we are all paying our federal income taxes this month. We do this as “the price of civilization” – to pay for the services we value and rely upon – disaster relief, help during the pandemic, wildfire protection, food security, a host of others, and… nuclear weapons?
What part of civilization do they represent? Just who exactly is helped by nuclear weapons? The current situation in Ukraine shows clearly that the old excuse – they deter the aggressive inclinations of other nations – is not valid. It also shows that – far from providing security – their presence in the hands of the Russians is preventing the NATO nations from protecting Ukrainians from attack.
Polls repeatedly show that most Americans would prefer the elimination of nuclear weapons by all nations. Why then, in a country “of the people, by the people, for the people,” are we still shelling out tens of billions every year for these death machines that we do not want? Why are we not joining much of the rest of the world in signing the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons? Behind and beneath all the security rhetoric lies the truth. If we “follow the money,” we can see it immediately.
A small number of large corporations are getting fabulously wealthy by creating and building these weapons. In order to guard their money machine, they make large contributions to the campaigns of congresspeople, especially those who sit on key committees and hire lobbyists by the hundreds to swarm the halls of Congress. If anyone gets off the bus, they insinuate that s/he is “soft on defense,” an accusation that sends most lawmakers and presidents scurrying for cover. In addition, the contractors spread out their operations to bring government spending into as many congressional districts as possible. In this way, they persuade us that nuclear weapons are at least inevitable and indispensable, and perhaps even desirable in the “real world.” Those of us who seek their elimination are dismissed as misty-eyed dreamers.
But who are the “misty-eyed dreamers” really? Are they the ones who ask how many times we can escape a Cuban missile crisis, a confrontation with North Korea or China, or the current Ukrainian demand for a no-fly zone without triggering an atomic holocaust? Could they be the ones who point out that nuclear weapons are non-performing assets that gobble up funds but cannot be used for any purpose? Are they the ones saying “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” and actually mean it?
Or are they the ones who assure us that playing with the fate of life on earth is a sane way to proceed? The ones who tell us to tend to our knitting and leave these matters to “those who know best?” The ones who are laughing all the way to the bank?
Who are the patriots here and who are the traitors? Isn’t a patriot one who loves and protects his/her country? Isn’t a traitor one who intentionally endangers that country? Forget red vs blue, left vs. right, military vs. civilian. This concerns all of us because no one has much of a chance of surviving a nuclear war, the residual radiation, or the “nuclear winter” that would follow a nuclear exchange. We all want a future for our children, our grandchildren, and ourselves.
So isn’t it time that we change the conventional wisdom about nuclear weapons? Isn’t it time to say no to the currently planned commitment of 1-2 trillion of our tax dollars to nuclear weapons “modernization?” Can we find the moxie to demand that our elected representatives grow the backbone to say no to the nuclear weapons plutocrats? Can we admit to ourselves that predatory corporations like Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics (the Big Five nuclear weapons contractors) are not our friends?
Tax Day is a great time to think about these matters but thinking about them once a year is not enough. We must really care about them. And caring about them is not enough. We must act to change them. Contact your Congressional representatives now and tell them to vote against nuclear weapons modernization.
Michael Carrigan and Peter Bergel are retired Executive Directors of Oregon PeaceWorks, a statewide Oregon-based peace organization.