Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation
Working for peace, social
justice and principled nonviolence since 1976
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The Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation’s TV program airs on Monday 1:30 pm, Wednesday 5 pm, Thursday 9 pm and will air twelve times through the month. You and other people everywhere can watch it on TV or through our website, www.olympiafor.org, soon after it has debuted on TCTV.
“Preventing Humanity’s Suicide”
by Glen Anderson, producer and host of this TV series
The Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation’s March 2014 TV program “connects the dots” between three serious issues: nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and the climate crisis. The program also explores how human beings deal with – or avoid dealing with – these serious issues.
Bernie Meyer is our guest for this hour because he deals with substantive issues in fresh ways, and with wisdom and with profound humanity.
The specific context for this month’s program is that Bernie had deliberately trespassed onto the Trident nuclear submarine base in Kitsap County, Washington. He did this act of civil resistance in order to nonviolently express his profound concern about nuclear weapons. He was scheduled for a trial in federal court on December 16, 2013, but one week before the trial date, the federal prosecutor dropped the charges. Bernie had prepared a powerful statement that he wanted to read during his trial, so instead I invited Bernie to share his information and insights on the TV program you are watching now.
Our TV interview begins by summarizing Bernie’s long history of conscientious actions for peace and social justice. As a young Catholic priest he challenged the Church to do more for peace and social justice. In 1969 he and some other conscientious Catholics committed nonviolent civil disobedience at Dow Chemical’s lobbying office in Washington DC, because Dow was producing napalm and other horrible chemical weapons and selling them to the US government to be used in the war in Vietnam. The activists waited to be arrested. Bernie and others served time in a federal prison.
From 1973 to 1978 Bernie lived in Denver, Colorado, and became concerned that the US government was making parts for nuclear weapons nearby at Rocky Flats. He started his activism against nuclear weapons there.
In 1978 he moved to Seattle, started opposing the Trident nuclear submarine in nearby Kitsap County, and became active in the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action (www.gzcenter.org), which was located next to the Trident base.
Bernie carries out his work openly and ethically, grounded in nonviolence.
Bernie’s study of Mohandas Gandhi – the Mahatma – has also deepened his grounding in nonviolence and his methodology. He has portrayed Gandhi “in character” and brought his authentic message to address our modern situation, not only in the US but also throughout India, where many people know him as “the American Gandhi.”
In 2007 – dressed as Gandhi – Bernie walked from Faslane, Scotland, where the UK’s Trident nuclear submarine is based, to London, England. Along the way he learned more about the Sellafield nuclear power plant that very seriously polluting the Irish and English coasts with radiation.
Since the 1940s the Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington has been seriously polluting the area there while producing nuclear weapons material and nuclear power.
Every year at the Trident base, the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action organizes three nonviolent actions: on Martin Luther King holiday weekend in January, on Mothers Day weekend in May, and on an August weekend near Hiroshima and Nagasaki days.
On May 2, 2013, Bernie’s mother died in Cleveland, Ohio. Nine days later, after returning from her funeral, Bernie took yet another nonviolent action at the Trident base. Mothers Day began as a day for women to declare peace. Its founder, Julia Ward Howe, had written a powerful proclamation affirming that mothers do not want their sons to fight and die in wars. To honor his loving and compassionate mother, Bernie read Julia Ward Howe’s Mothers Day proclamation while walking across the federal line onto the Trident base. He was immediately thrown to the ground and arrested.
He wrote a statement that he wanted to read in court. The federal prosecutor dropped the charges, so we are designing this TV interview around Bernie’s work and the information and insights from the statement he had prepared for the court. Since the government would not let him convey these in court, we will do so on TV and on the internet. (Two statements from Bernie are posted at www.gzcenter.org)
Often when people deliberately and nonviolently break a law they want an opportunity to explain their action to the court. Sometimes they want to make a “necessity” defense – to assert that they had to break a small man-made law that is outweighed by a “higher law” calling us to make peace or protect the environment. Judges typically deny defendants this opportunity to claim “necessity.” For example, during his trial for the 1969 action against Dow Chemical (maker of napalm), the judge prevented Bernie and the other defendants from mentioning the Vietnam war.
For his nonviolent action on May 11, 2013, Bernie wrote a powerful statement that he intended to give to the judge at the trial that had been scheduled for December 16, 2013. His statement included these words.
[W]e humans are self-destructing and taking living creatures, as we know and experience them, along with us. This is most graphically expressed by the actual explosion of nuclear weapons. … What we don’t see is the radiation poisoning from all phases of radiation development and waste, except when a Chernobyl or a Fukushima occurs. Even then, most of the destructive effects are hidden due to the invisibility, the tastelessness, and the soundlessness of radiation. My actions are meant to throw light to turn humanity away from self suicide.
Bernie had planned to attend your federal court trial dressed as Gandhi. The testimony he wanted to read during the trial included these words:
Your Honor, I come as Bernie Meyer, called “American Gandhi” in India and the United States. Gandhi has been one of my teachers since the 1960s. I have been portraying Gandhi for almost 12 years, including the last eight in India. I present the historic Gandhi and I apply his principles and insights to today’s realities. The reason I come to court today as Gandhi is that his last words have been prescient and I see them as fulfilled now. It is a message I tried to communicate on May 11th at Sub Base Bangor.
Bernie’s testimony also included this:
On the day before he was assassinated on January 30th 1948 Margaret Burke-White, journalist for Life magazine, asked Gandhi, “How would you answer the atom bomb with nonviolence.” For Gandhi nonviolence is ahimsa in Hindi, “unwillingness to do harm,” love every person. Gandhi replied, “Nonviolence is the only thing the atom bomb cannot destroy. I did not move a muscle when I heard that the atom bomb destroyed Hiroshima. I said, ‘Unless humanity adopts nonviolence and ends the atom bomb, it will be suicide for mankind.’”
Your honor, this observation by Gandhi has been fulfilled today in ways that even Gandhi did not fully see. With nuclear radiation now unleashed in the world coupled with extreme climate change humanity may be approaching its last days. All we can do is face the reality in its fullness and change ourselves and our way of life to preserve whatever life will remain.
People deny the effects of radiation from nuclear power. People deny the possibility of nuclear war. People deny climate change.
The reason I entered the road on May 11th at Sub Base Bangor is to say the flames are invisible. Life on earth is being destroyed. Beginning with the whole process of nuclear development from ground extraction to ground waste deposits, we need to face the reality of human extinction potential, to face our mortality. Nuclear weapons are the tap root of mental images creating denial. The Trident Bomb is the most visible representative of nuclear destruction.
Albert Einstein said the “the invention of nuclear weapons have changed everything, except man’s thinking.”
Man’s thinking is centered in the images the ego creates. When humans place themselves as God, instead of creatures of nature, human thinking is based on illusion. In the case of radiation, as Gandhi said, it is suicide.
Bernie’s study of nuclear weapons has led him to read several books by the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, including The Broken Connection. Lifton wrote several books about people’s psychological reactions to the horrible things they have experienced or done. He also wrote about wrote about psychological numbing and about “nuclearism.” Nuclear weapons have messed with our psychology as individuals and as a society.
In the 1950s Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, dismissed the danger of radiation from testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, which was common at that time. Teller stated:
“Radiation from test fallout is very small. Its effect on human beings is so little that if it exists at all, it cannot be measured. Radiation from test fallout might be slightly harmful to humans. It might be slightly beneficial. It might have no effect at all.”
The 1986 nuclear power disaster at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union and the 2011 disaster at Fukushima Japan have killed and seriously injured many more people than any of those governments (or our own government) will admit. The ongoing dangers from Fukushima are extremely serious for the Pacific Ocean, the western coast of North America, and everyone else. Credible scientific reports assert that thousands of people have already died as a result from Fukushima.
Likewise, the climate crisis is much more serious and urgent than governments or mainstream media would have us believe. Some of the world’s top climate scientists say we are already maxxing out the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution that the atmosphere can accommodate without disrupting the climate.
Bernie and Glen are active in the Olympia FOR’s “Confronting the Climate Crisis” group. People can contact the group at (360) 352-6327 email@example.com and see much information on the Climate page at www.olympiafor.org
Bernie’s powerful statement to the federal court pointed out that people are in denial about all of these problems: nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and the climate. The Olympia FOR’s April 2013 TV program is about “Consequences of Denying Hard Realities.” See the TV Programs page at www.olympiafor.org
One of the hard realities, of course, is the fact that every person will eventually die. When people deny their mortality they act out in ways that are unhealthy for themselves and others. This denial allows individuals and societies to act out with behaviors that are dangerous and self-destructive, but sometimes unconscious.
For example, denying our own mortality allows us to act as though the earth’s resources were limitless, and that the climate can continue absorbing more carbon dioxide than the scientists tell us is possible without causing very serious problems.
Also, denying our own mortality allows us to make war on other nations without recognizing that the US’s violence against them will provoke them to hate and attack us.
A powerful write about this kind of denial was Ernest Becker. Many people have carried on his work through research and writings after his death in 1974. See fascinating information at www.ernestbecker.org
Becker came to believe that the vast majority “of the evil which forms the narrative of human history stems directly from the unconscious and uncritical allegiance to the symbolic meaning systems” in their societies and nations, which they absorbed from early childhood. “Rather than becoming a center of rational free choice, the individual blindly fights to protect those internalized models of power on which his life has come to depend.” Becker recognized that people can be educated to better understand these and choose alternatives that will be more psychologically healthy. (These quotations come from Part 2 of an informational series on www.ernestbecker.org)
Subconsciously many people sense that their lives lack real meaning. Advertising tells us we’ll find meaning by driving a new car or wearing stylish clothes or buying the newest electronics.
Our mortality is humbling. But we can deny our mortality and grab power by destroying other things and destroying other people and destroying our environment and climate. This gives us the illusion of power and pushes away the fear that we are mere mortals, and that sometime we too will die.
Bernie’s statement to the federal judge pointed out the deadly results of nuclear weapons and nuclear power and the radiation that comes from both, even under normal circumstances. Bernie wrote that he intended his actions to throw light on reality so humanity would turn away from suicide.
Bernie’s statement “connects the dots” among a number of important issues, including:
Both as individuals and as a society, we need to confront these hard realities head-on. We need to break out of our numbing and our denial and face these things. We need to recognize that “the emperor has no clothes.” Also (and again both as individuals and as a society), we need to turn these problems around.
Nuclear weapons, nuclear power, radiation, and the climate crisis are real problems. Ignoring them will not make them go away.
The big problems of the real world are so huge and overwhelming that people feel powerless to solve them. Therefore, we react with a psychological defense mechanism that simply shuts them out of our awareness so we can deny that these problems exist.
But deep down, subconsciously, we know the problems do exist, so our denial causes internal stress.
Our society’s powerful entities – governments and giant corporations – also react by censoring the bold people who are trying to alert us to the dangers.
When we work on these issues, let’s also develop strategies and resources that empower people to solve the problems. This would free people from their denial and immobilization, so they could become part of the solution.
The Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action offers a lot of information and opportunities for action. See www.gzcenter.org. Also at Ground Zero’s website, you can read the letter Bernie Meyer wrote to the judge, and the statement he intended to read in court. Both are posted at www.gzcenter.org.
For insights into the “denial of death,” see information from the Ernest Becker Foundation, www.ernestbecker.org
March 2014 “Preventing Humanity’s Suicide”
This program will air on TCTV channel 22 for cable subscribers in Thurston County:
-- Every MONDAY at 1:30 pm
-- Every WEDNESDAY at 5:00 pm
-- Every THURSDAY at 9:00 pm
Sometimes we produce special programs. These air on TCTV at various dates and times.
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