Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Brunswick, ME, United States

The collapsing US military & economic empire is making Washington & NATO even more dangerous. US could not beat the Taliban but thinks it can take on China-Russia-Iran...a sign of psychopathology for sure. We must all do more to help stop this western corporate arrogance that puts the future generations lives in despair. @BruceKGagnon

Saturday, August 01, 2009


My talk yesterday went well at the International Symposium for Peace. There were about 300 people there including a slew of folks who work for the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. Following my speech I sat on a panel discussion that included Frank von Hippel, a Princeton University physicist who served as Bill Clinton's science advisor and had to give the final go-ahead for NASA to launch the Cassini space probe in 1997 that carried 72 pounds of plutonium-238 on-board.

I had a chance to talk with Frank about our campaign to oppose Cassini and found him to be a very nice and thoughtful man. He has already emailed me several documents that he thought might be of use to us.

Another person serving on the panel was a former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland who also worked at the UN. He began by touting Henry Kissinger's recent anti-nuclear weapons position and then said that Japan "should not be criticized for working on missile defense with the US." We need to be "more realistic" he suggested.

Frank von Hippel was solid on the need to reduce nuclear weapons but never mentioned US plans for missile defense as a serious obstacle to nuclear abolition. (No one else did besides me for that matter.) He did offer an interesting story though by recalling a public poll a few years ago that asked the American people how many nuclear weapons we have today. The majority replied 200 nukes. And how many do we actually need to protect ourselves? One hundred they responded. The fact is that the US today has several thousand nukes.

A Japanese professor of international relations was also on the panel and he recounted that while living in the US his child attended public school where the teacher told the class that the US had to drop the bomb on Japan in order to end the war. Noted historian Gar Alperovitz has this to say about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

The use of the atomic bomb, most experts now believe, was totally unnecessary. Even people who support the decision for various reasons acknowledge that almost certainly the Japanese would have surrendered before the initial invasion planned for November. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey stated that officially in 1946.

Hiroshima was selected because it was a significant, unblemished, mainly civilian target, available for the psychological effect of terror bombing. That's very explicit in the documents; it's not controversial. That's what they were doing. And ultimately some 300,000 civilians were killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Nuclear weapons now need to be put beyond the moral pale, to be made illegitimate throughout the world, and that will not happen until people speak up and cause a shift in the cultural base. That's not impossible. Now is the time to begin-particularly when many Cold Warriors see them as no longer useful. The silence is thundering among people who seem to care about these things but don't talk about them.

The way you change things is by slowly beginning to push forward. Over time something begins to happen. It happened in the feminist movement, the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement. All of those movements were totally dominated by a conservative culture that didn't seem to allow any progress until people of goodwill began to build and slowly, patiently, changed the culture. I believe it's possible to do that with regard to nuclear weapons.

In my closing remarks on the panel I quoted from two recent news articles that clearly showed the US, Japan, and South Korea are intentionally over-estimating the North Korean nuclear threat. Because of economic and technological challenges the North Korea launch infrastructure is 10-20 times below the level that was once estimated. North Korea's recent missile tests revealed to the US military that they have an outdated radar system and the Pentagon came away from that experience pounding their chest in joy saying that the US, with its massive technological superiority, was able to see things that were happening during the test that North Korea could not see.

This means that the US knows they could easily "take out" North Korea's missile launch system but there is a major public relations benefit to overrating the threat. The US embellishes the threat in order to create fear in the public which then translates to justification and support for a new arms race - the space variety.

I ended by telling the story about former president Dwight Eisenhower's warning to the American people as he left office that included the words "beware of the military industrial complex." I told the audience to beware of the growing Japanese military industrial complex that has recently successfully pushed through changes in their national space policy. Their "peaceful uses of space" language is now giving way to the militarization of their space program.

My greatest delight though was that an older Japanese woman, a medical doctor who has worked against nuclear weapons for many years, followed me with concluding remarks on the panel. She picked right up on the North Korea question and sternly stated that they were not a threat to Japan and that her country needed to step back, calm down, and resist making aggressive moves. It was the perfect ending and the first time during the panel discussion that anyone addressed any of the points I was making.

Today I move to a different hotel in Hiroshima as I will now be staying here another four days to speak at various conferences that will be held before and during the annual August 6 remembrance days.


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