“When the power of love is greater than the love of power the world will know peace.”
I was recently present for an astonishing conversation that worked its way from near-death experiences to the Bikini hydrogen bomb test in the South Pacific. More than one man in our group had a father who had participated, in some historic way, with nuclear weapons. A fond acquaintance, Patrick, whose father, Dr. Tom L. Edmondson, saved his life when he was 10 years old said, “The house I grew up in had my father’s first-hand photographs of the Bikini mushroom cloud hanging in the kitchen.”
Without one word of public debate the world woke up on an August day to the staggering face of atomic energy. On that day, 600,000 nuclear workers were institutionalized in secret cities building nuclear bombs. The decades which followed would see trillions of tax dollars lavished to build a nuclear industry with classified budgets kept even from Congress.
The horror of nuclear weapons was sold to the people as saving lives by winning the war quickly. The hydrogen bomb, which started the Cold War by obliterating the island of Bikini in 1946, was effectively glossed over by fun, scanty new bathing suits and an explosion of consumerism blasted into orbit by sexy advertising and easy credit — the American Way of Life.
Factories in a chosen few countries cranked out a half-million pounds of atomic gold, that is, plutonium, of which only 15 pounds can make a bomb like the one that destroyed Nagasaki. Soon our home planet had 30,000 atomic weapons aimed at it, each with the destructive force of 1,000 Hiroshimas. The government-sponsored nuclear industry operated in secret and without environmental oversight for decades until uranium from what neighbors thought was a dog-food factory turned up in an Ohio resident’s well and widespread contamination at the nation’s vast complex of nuclear weapons factories came to light.
Heavily subsidized and protected from liability, the nuclear industry also built over 400 nuclear reactors around the globe to produce electricity, and several full-scale nuclear meltdowns are being endured by Earth’s inhabitants as well as contamination from mining and manufacturing at every step of the uranium fuel chain.
How can ordinary citizens possibly bring the powerful and secretive atomic age to a safe closure?
Public response to the fact of uranium, plutonium and hydrogen bombs that could destroy whole cities was swift and clear. The
grassroots Ban the Bomb movement started from the heart of radical Christians who could see that nuclear weapons threaten all life on God’s earth and who refused to accept from the start the abomination spawned by the military industrial complex.
Spiritual leaders stood at the forefront of a citizens movement which challenged the morality and legality of nuclear weapons in the courts of justice. Ordinary people joined priests and nuns to get arrested for acts of creative nonviolence and civil disobedience such as hammering a solid gold replica of a nuclear weapon in General Electric’s corporate office or blocking a train transporting nuclear weapons. These simple acts of human resistance to nuclear annihilation bore fruit in 1996 when the International Court of Justice found nuclear weapons possession and threat of use to be illegal.
The Bomb itself contains important lessons. The pictures of the whole Earth which inspired an environmental movement were sent from rockets developed to deliver nuclear weapons which could destroy the other side of the Earth. The powerful mushroom cloud showed us that we are all in it together. And the atom itself teaches us the power that is expressed in a critical mass.
Although the nuclear industry seems entrenched and intractable, it is not even 70 years old, less than one human lifetime. For all its power and captive adherents, nuclear is beginning to crumble under its own unnatural weight. Wholesale production of nuclear weapons on our planet has ceased. The last nuclear weapons test occurred 20 years ago. The trend for nuclear power is steadily downward due to reactor aging and even if the most optimistic version of the so-called “nuclear renaissance” is produced, it will not be enough to overcome the trend. Meanwhile, solar and wind power are sprinting ahead and shaping a much more wholesome future for our planet.
Martin Luther King Jr. testified clearly about the power of love when he said, “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
Nuclear Watch South and Georgia WAND are fine examples of the proverbial “small group of thoughtful, committed people who change the world.” Nuclear technology represents an extreme of a dangerously outmoded way of living based on fear and competition. When we swing back towards love and cooperation a new world will be possible.
Join us in protesting, marching, meeting, testifying and organizing to create a nuclear-free future! Mobilizing our hearts, minds, and bodies we will unleash the power of love in the people as we sing the immortal Georgia WAND song, “if we can only start a chain reaction of the human heart what a wonderful world this will be!”
Glenn Carroll is a visual artist and long-time coordinator of Nuclear Watch South, a grassroots environmental organization established in 1977, which frequently collaborates with Georgia WAND on nuclear issues. Current campaigns include stopping Georgia Power’s reactor expansion at Vogtle and shutting down the MOX plutonium fuel project at Savannah River Site. www.nonukesyall.org