Today marks the anniversary of the Trinity test, where the United States detonated the first nuclear device. I ponder the perilous journey we have taken since that first test of a nuclear bomb in the desert of New Mexico on July 16, 1945. Since the United States dropped the first two bombs on Japan soon after Trinity, nuclear weapons have never been used by one nation against another, although we have neared that precipice numerous times. Since those first two bombs the U.S. built a total of over 70,000 nuclear warheads and bombs at astronomical costs, both economic and human.
As the United States and the Soviet Union fought the Cold War from their respective development laboratories and weapons factories, planners on each side continuously struggled to stay ahead of the other. Somewhere along the way, someone got the bright idea that submarines loaded with nuclear tipped missiles were the perfect way to keep the enemy guessing. After all, a sub bristling with nuclear weapons could sneak around the seven seas, ready to launch an attack, totally surprising the enemy.
Trident was the culmination of this demonic drive – the ultimate first strike weapon (even thought the US Government calls it only a second strike weapon); today some of the Navy’s 14 Trident nuclear submarines, loaded with Trident D5 missiles, silently roam the seas, ready to launch their deadly missiles on the order of the President of the United States. Just one of these submarines would, if it were to launch all its missiles armed with a full complement of 455 kiloton warheads (rather than the smaller 100 kiloton model), unleash the equivalent of nearly 7000 Hiroshimas (the Hiroshima bomb was between 12.5 and 15 kilotons), and could kill hundreds of millions of people. What madness is this?
Yet, while tens of thousands of people labored to develop and build this system of mass destruction (Trident), others worked to resist the madness – to let others know that we were preparing the seeds of our own destruction. For Trident, it all began with the early 1970’s when a missile designer named Bob Aldridge was at Lockheed Missiles and Space Corporation working on the first Trident missile design. Bob recognized something about the maneuvering reentry vehicle that he was designing; it was designed “to home-in on underground missile silos in a nuclear first strike” (Ground Zero Newsletter, Vol. 7, Issue 3, July 2002). Bob’s conscience got the better of him (something that has not happened to the vast majority of nuclear weapon scientists or engineers), and after a family retreat following Christmas 1972 Bob submitted his resignation letter to Lockheed.
A year later Bob met with Jim and Shelley Douglass and told them of his remarkable journey from missile designer to student of nonviolence, and briefed them on the plans to create what would be known as Sub Base Bangor (West Coast home of the new Trident fleet) on the shores of the Hood Canal in Washington State, just 20 miles from Seattle. And so the seeds of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action were sown by a person with the courage to follow his convictions.
In 1977 Jim Douglass and John Williams found 3.8 acres of land with a small house right next to the Bangor fence. What a find! A year later (the first Trident missile was deployed in October 1979) Bob Aldridge sent Jim and Shelley Douglass an urgent letter warning of the first strike threat that Trident represented. First strike meant that Trident would likely be used to deliver a preemptive surprise attack of overwhelming force on the Soviet Union (not a pretty picture).
Jim and Shelley Douglass, and many others continued building the Ground Zero community (which was preceded by the Pacific Life Community) as they worked in common resistance to Trident; blocking the railroad tracks on which the “White Trains” brought the nuclear warheads, leafletting at the gates of Bangor and blocking the gate, and building awareness of the dangers (as well as the immorality and illegality) of Trident and all nuclear weapons.
Jim and Shelley produced some wonderful writings along the way, including Dear Gandhi: Now What? Letters from Ground Zero, and JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters. The Douglasses received the Pacem in Terris Peace and Preedom Award in 1997.
Jim and Shelley will be joining others at Ground Zero Center to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of Ground Zero on July 30th. Everyone is invited! We expect fpeople from the Pacific Life Communities, Live Without Trident, Armistice, Agape, peace walkers, fence climbers, tracks vigilers, USS Ohio blockaders, Wednesday overnighters,pagoda builders, leafleters, potluckers, plaintiffs, defendants, lawyers, Bangor workers and fellow travelers. It’s a chance to reflect on what drew us to GZ, to catch up with friends, and to create an oral history.
It will also be a time to look within and ask, “Where do we go from here?” At seventy-two years of age, aren’t nuclear weapons due for retirement! 122 nations said “YES” to that question just over a week ago when the United Nations passed the historic Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The culmination of decades of resistance and campaigning against nuclear weapons, the negotiations brought together diplomats and civil society to prohibit these horrific devices made by human hands that are capable of bringing about human extinction. Enough!
We, the people of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, are dedicated to the abolition of Trident and ALL nuclear weapons. This is no naive pipe dream. Humanity is at (or is nearing) a fork in the long road that began with Trinity. Which fork we take (and the future of humanity) will depend not just on the political actions of the leaders of the nuclear-armed nations – we can no longer wait for them – but very much on the hard work of people like you and me, and organizations like Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. Please join us!
On the journey together,