Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial for the masses of war victims

Just about 26 years ago we gathered at a thermonuclear command site in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to mark Memorial Day, but not to honor or commemorate those who picked up guns or shot off bombs. We held a Memorial Day gathering for the victims of nuclear weapons past, present and future. We had a head"stone" made of cardboard, painted to that effect. We were family friendly, lots of little children and young parents, most of us in our 20s or 30s with a few older folks, and it represented at least one component of the general opposition to this facility in the UP. Indeed, there had been referenda in all counties in the UP on this facility and approximately 80 percent of Yoopers had voted against it. The US nuclear navy went right ahead and built it. Jimmy Carter was president when he promised then-governor Warren Knowles that it "would never be built against the wishes of the people of Michigan," but Ronald Reagan ignored the votes and the promise in blatant disregard of democracy (with defenders of democracy like that, who needs enemies?).

We resisted and pulled all the survey stakes, and we delayed it, but it was finally completed and so on Memorial Day we built a symbolic peace command and hung photos of children and other beloved future victims of nuclearism on it. A number of us stayed, had a nice campfire in the state forest by the entrance to the facility, sang, told stories, and passed around the then-new Doctor Seuss Butter Battle book. We went to our tents or vehicles and slept, preparing for the confrontation in the morning.

Four of our resisters--Kurt Miron, John Sherman-Jones, Jeff Leys and Charlie Turvey--stood in symbolic blockade in the early light. The navy came, called the sheriff, our lads were arrested and driven to Ishpeming, and the rest of us went out for breakfast. I said goodbye to all and went out to the facilty to a section of it that was even more remote (it was a cabled antennae that carried a signal some 56 miles through the forest and pumped it into solid copper grounds that went deep into the granite to create a signal that would then be receivable on all nuclear subs simultaneously, globally). I took my swede saw (a three-foot lightweight sort of muscle-powered bowsaw) and cut down one of the poles supporting the antennae, cut off the top six feet, carried it out of the woods, loaded it into my raggedy old Pinto wagon, drove to Marquette to some activist friends and dropped it off. I went back to Ishpeming and visited my four buddies in jail and told them I had done it. We all felt very good, we got them bailed out, we went for pizza and beer (I subsequently quit drinking even beer, but that wouldn't be for another three years), and I turned myself in to the sheriff the next morning.

So that is part of what Memorial Day means to me. My first felony for peace. My combat buddies in the nonviolent war against nukes, ready to pay the price of incarceration rather than support the unsupportable--either Mutually Assured Destruction or Nuclear Utilization Target Selection (MAD or NUTS--great choice). Thinking of the arrogance of memorializing the warriors who would be safer in the event of a nuclear war than would the civilians. Indeed, even in our modern wars, in every one since Vietnam, civilians pay a far higher price than do armed troops. We don't understand that in the US because we wage war on other people's soil, but at least 90 percent of war deaths are civilians. The days of gallant warriors on the field of battle are long gone and instead it's war in and on the villages with "collateral damage" (six-year-old girls) safely ignored or dismissed by the occasional pronouncement of 'regret.' Right.

Time to rethink Memorial Day. Time to honor all the victims of the worst stupidity humankind has ever ignited--war. Memorial Day was originally for the poor guys who were in the trenches out literally in those fields. They were the victims of war a century ago. Now they are just a minor component of the war dead and they are the ones who cause it all. They volunteer to shoot bullets and bombs. Little children and peaceful farm families or villagers don't volunteer to host a war but they are killed in far greater numbers than the armed ones we so lovingly remember on this weekend. As long as we sacralize and venerate them, war is easier to wage. We don't count the costs and those costs keep mounting. Without a new perspective, we stay stuck on a groove that is ultimately demonstrably radically maladaptive. Time to evolve.

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