Interview with Alice Slater

28.07.2019 - New York, USA - Tony Robinson

This post is also available in: Spanish, Italian

Interview with Alice Slater
Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, interviewed for The Beginning of the End of Nuclear Weapons, September 29, 2018, New York, USA (Image by Álvaro Orús)

On June 6th, we at Pressenza premiered our latest documentary film, “The Beginning of the End of Nuclear Weapons”.  For this film, we interviewed 14 people, experts in their fields, who were able to provide insight into the history of the subject, the process which led to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and current efforts to stigmatise them and turn the ban into elimination.  As part of our commitment to make this information available to the whole world, we are publishing the full versions of those interviews, together with their transcripts, in the hope that this information will be useful for future documentary film makers, activists and historians who would like to hear the powerful testimonies recorded in our interviews.

This interview is with Alice Slater, advisor to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, at her home in New York, on the 29th of September, 2018.

In this 44-minute interview we ask Alice about her early days as an activist, the work and impact of Abolition 2000, the NPT, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, World beyond War, what people can do to help eliminate nuclear weapons and her motivation.

Questions: Tony Robinson, Cameraman: Álvaro Orús.

Transcript

Hi.  I’m Alice Slater.  I’m living here in the belly of the beast in New York City, in Manhattan.

Tell us about your early days as an anti-nuclear activist

I’ve been an anti-nuclear activist since 1987, but I got my start as an activist in 1968, as a housewife living in Massapequa with my two babies, and I was watching television and I saw old news film of Ho Chi Minh going to Woodrow Wilson in 1919, after World War one, begging us to help him get the French out of Vietnam, and we turned him down, and the Soviets were more than happy to help and that’s how he became a communist.

They showed that he even modelled his Constitution on ours, and this is when the news showed you real news.  And the same night the kids at Columbia University were rioting in Manhattan.  They had locked the president in his office.  They didn’t want to go into this terrible Vietnam War, and I was terrified.

I thought it was like the end of the world, in America, in New York and my city.  These kids are acting up, I better do something.  I had just turned 30, and they were saying don’t trust anyone over 30.  That was their motto, and I went out to a Democratic Club that week, and I joined.  They were having a debate between the Hawks and the Doves, and I joined the Doves, and I became active in Eugene McCarthy’s campaign to challenge the war in the Democratic Party, and I never stopped.  That was it, and we went through when McCarthy lost, we took over the whole Democratic Party. It took us four years.  We nominated George McGovern and then the media killed us.  They didn’t write one honest word about McGovern.  They didn’t talk about the war, poverty or civil rights, women’s rights.  It was all about McGovern’s vice president’s candidate having been hospitalized 20 years earlier for manic depression.  It was like OJ, Monica. It was just like this junk and he lost very badly.

And it’s interesting because just this month the Democrats said they’re going to get rid of the super-delegates.  Well they put the super-delegates in after McGovern got the nomination, because they were so shocked that ordinary people going door-to-door – and we didn’t have an internet, we rang doorbells and spoke to people – were able to capture the whole Democratic Party and nominate an anti-war candidate.

So that gave me a sense that, even though I didn’t win these battles, democracy can work.  I mean, the possibility is there for us.

And so how did I become an anti-nuclear activist?

In Massapequa I was a housewife.  Women didn’t go to work then. In my junior high school autograph book, when they said your life’s ambition, I wrote down “housework”.  This is what we believed in those years.  And I think I’m still doing global housework when I just want to tell the boys to put away their toys and clean up the mess they made.

So I went to law school and that was quite a challenge, and I was working in full-time civil litigation. I was out of all my good works that I had done all those years, and I see in the Law Journal there’s a luncheon for the Lawyers Alliance for Nuclear Arms Control, and I said, “Well, that’s interesting.”

So I go to the luncheon and I wind up vice-chair of the New York chapter.  I go on the board with McNamara and Colby.  Stanley Resor, he was Nixon’s Secretary of Defence, and when we finally got the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty passed, he came up and said, “Now are you happy, Alice?”  Because I was such a nag!

So anyway, there I was with the Lawyers Alliance, and the Soviet Union under Gorbachev had stopped nuclear testing.  They had a march in Kazakhstan that was led by this Kazakh poet Olzhas Suleimenov, because the people in the Soviet Union were so upset in Kazakhstan. They had so much cancer and birth defects and waste in their community.  And they marched and stop nuclear testing.

Gorbachev said, “Okay, we’re not going to do this anymore.”

And it was underground at that point, because Kennedy wanted to end nuclear testing and they wouldn’t let him.  So they only ended testing in the atmosphere, but it went underground, and we did a thousand tests after it went underground on Western Shoshone holy land in Nevada, and it was leaking and poisoning the water.  I mean, it was not a good thing to do.

So we went to Congress and said, “Listen. Russia,” – our lawyers Alliance, we had connections there – “Russia stopped,” (you know Soviet Union after). “We should stop.”

And they said, “Oh, you can’t trust the Russians.”

So Bill de Wind – who was the founder of the Lawyers Alliance for Nuclear Arms Control, was president of The New York City Bar Association, and was part of the Dutch de Wind’s that had half the Hudson, you know, early settlers, real old-wine American – raised eight million dollars from his friends, put together a team of seismologists and we went over to the Soviet Union – a delegation – and we met with the Soviet Lawyers Association and the Soviet government and they agreed to allow our American seismologists to be placed all around the Kazakh Test Site, so that we could verify if they were cheating and we came back to Congress and said, “Okay, you don’t have to trust the Russians. We have seismologists going there.”

And Congress agreed to stop nuclear testing.  This was like an amazing victory.  But like every victory, it came with a cost that they would stop and wait 15 months, and provided that the safety and reliability of the arsenal and the cost and benefits, they could have an option to do another 15 nuclear tests after this moratorium.

And we said we have to stop the 15 nuclear tests, because it would be bad faith with the Soviet Union that was letting our seismologists in and I was at a meeting – the group now is called the Alliance on Nuclear Accountability – but it was then the Military Production Network, and it was all the sites in the US like Oak Ridge, Livermore, Los Alamos that were making the bomb, and I had left the law after the Soviet visit.  An economist asked me if I would help them set up Economist’s Against the Arms Race.  So I became executive director.  I had 15 Nobel laureates and Galbraith, and we joined this network to do a conversion project, like economic conversion in the nuclear weapons facility, and I got lots of funding from McArthur and Ploughshares – they love this – and I go to the first meeting and we’re having a meeting and we’re saying now we have to stop the 15 safety tests and Darryl Kimball, who was then the head of Physicians for Social Responsibility said, “Oh, no Alice. That’s the deal.  They’re going to do the 15 safety tests.”

And I said I did not agree to that deal, and Steve Schwartz who later became editor of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, but at that time was with Greenpeace, said, “Why don’t we take out a full-page ad in The New York Times saying ‘Don’t Blow It Bill’, with Bill Clinton with his saxophone.  They were all showing him with a nuclear explosion coming out of his sax.  So I go back to New York, and I am with the Economists, and I have free office space – I used to call these guys communist millionaires, they were very left-wing but they had a lot of money and they were giving me free office space, and I go into the head, Jack’s office, I said, “Jack, we got the moratorium but Clinton’s going to do another 15 safety tests, and we have to stop it.”

And he says, “What should we do?”

I said, “We need a full-page ad in The New York Times.”

He said, “How much is it?”

I said, “$75,000”.

He said, “Who’s going to pay for it?”

I said, “You and Murray and Bob.”

He says, “Okay, call them up. If they say ok, I’ll put in 25.”

And in ten minutes I raise it, and we have the poster.  You can see, ‘Don’t Blow It Bill’ and it went on t-shirts and mugs and mouse pads.  It was on every kind of merchandising, and they never did the 15 extra tests.  We stopped it.  It ended.

And then of course when Clinton signed the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, which was a huge campaign, they had this kicker in there where he was giving 6 billion dollars to the labs for sub-critical tests and laboratory tests, and they never really stopped, you know.

He said sub critical tests are not a test because they blow up plutonium with chemicals and they did like 30 of them already up in the Nevada site but because it doesn’t have a chain reaction, he said it’s not a test. Like “I didn’t inhale”, “I didn’t have sex” and “I’m not testing”.

So as a result of that, India tested, because they said we can’t have a Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty unless we preclude the sub-criticals and the laboratory tests, because they quietly had their bomb in the basement, but they weren’t up to us, and they didn’t want to be left behind.

And we did it anyway over their objection, even though you needed unanimous consent at the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva, they took it out of the committee and brought it to the UN. The CTBT, opened it up for signature and India said, “If you don’t change it, we’re not signing it.”

And six months later or so they tested, followed by Pakistan so it was another arrogant, western, white colonial…

As a matter of fact, I’ll tell you a personal story.  We had a party at the NGO Committee on Disarmament, cocktails, to welcome Richard Butler, the Australian ambassador that had pulled it out of the Committee over India’s objection and brought it to the UN, and I’m standing and talking with him and everybody’s having a few drinks, I said, “What are you going to do about India?”

He says, “I just came back from Washington and I was with Sandy Berger.” Clinton’s security guy. “We’re gonna screw India.  We’re gonna screw India.”

He said it twice like that, and I said, “What do you mean?” I mean India is not…

And he kisses me on one cheek and he kisses me on the other cheek. You know, tall, good-looking guy and I back away and I think, if I was a guy he would never stop me that way.  He stopped me from arguing with him but that was the mentality.  It’s still the mentality.  It’s that arrogant, Western, colonial attitude that’s keeping everything in place.

Tell us about the creation of Abolition 2000

This was wonderful.  We all came to the NPT in 1995.  The non-proliferation treaty was negotiated in 1970, and five countries, the US, Russia, China, England and France promised to give up their nuclear weapons if all the rest of the world wouldn’t get them, and everybody signed this treaty, except India, Pakistan and Israel, and they went and got their own bombs, but the treaty had this Faustian bargain that if you’d sign the treaty we’ll give you the keys to the bomb factory, because we gave them so-called “peaceful nuclear power.”

And that’s what happened with North Korea, they got their peaceful nuclear power.  They’ve walked out, they made a bomb.  We were concerned that Iran might be doing that because they were enriching their uranium anyway.

So the treaty’s due to expire, and we all come to the UN, and this is my first time at the UN.  I don’t know anything about the UN, I’m meeting people from all over the world, and many of the founders of abolition 2000.  And there’s one very experienced person there from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Jonathan Dean, who was a former ambassador.  And we all had a meeting, the NGOs.  I mean they call us NGOs, non-governmental organizations, that’s our title.  We’re not an organization we’re “non”, you know.

So here we are with Jonathan Dean, and he says, “You know, we NGOs we should draft a statement.”

And we said, “Oh yeah.”

He says, “I have a draft.” And he hands it out and it’s US Uber Alles, it’s arms control forever.  It didn’t ask for abolition, and we said, “No, we can’t sign this.”

And we got together and drafted our own statement, about ten of us, Jacqui Cabasso, David Krieger, myself, Alyn Ware.

We were all the old-timers, and we didn’t even have the internet then.  We faxed it out and by the end of the four-week meeting six hundred organizations had signed on and in the statement we asked for a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons by the year 2000.  We acknowledge the inextricable link between nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and asked for the phasing out of nuclear power and the establishment of an International Renewable Energy Agency.

And then we organized.  I was running a non-profit, I’d left the Economist’s. I had GRACE, Global Resource Action Center for the Environment.  So David Krieger was the first Secretariat at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and then it moved to me, at GRACE.  We kept it around five years.  I don’t think David had five years, but there was like a five year term.  Then we moved it, you know, we try, we didn’t want to make it…

And when I was at GRACE, we did get the sustainable energy agency through. We were part of the…

We joined the Commission on Sustainable Development, and lobbied and produced this beautiful report with 188 footnotes, in 2006, that said, sustainable energy is possible now, and it’s still true and I’m thinking about circulating that report again because it’s not really that out of date.  And I think we have to speak about the environment and climate and sustainable energy, together with nuclear weapons, because we’re in this crisis point.  We can destroy our whole planet either by nuclear weapons or by catastrophic climate disasters.  So I’m very involved now in different groups that are trying to bring the message together.

What have been the positive contributions from Abolition 2000?

Well the most positive was we drafted a model nuclear weapons convention with lawyers and scientists and activists and policy makers, and it became an official UN document, and it had a treaty; here’s what you guys have to sign.

Of course, it could be negotiated but at least we put out the model for people to see.  It went all over the world.  And the accomplishment of sustainable energy otherwise…

I mean those were our two goals.  Now what happened in 1998.  Everybody said well, “abolition 2000.”  We said we should have the treaty by the year 2000.  In ‘95, what are you going to do about your name?  So I said let’s get 2000 organizations and we’ll say we’re 2000, so that we kept the name.  So I think it was great.  It would network.  It was in many countries.  It was very non-hierarchical.  The Secretariat went from me to Steve Staples in Canada, and then it went to Pax Christi in Pennsylvania, David Robinson – he’s not around – and then Susi took it, and now it’s with IPB.  But in the meantime, the focus of Abolition 2000 was so NPT-oriented, and now this new ICAN campaign grew up because they never honoured their promises.

Even Obama. Clinton undercut the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: it wasn’t comprehensive, it didn’t ban tests.  Obama promised, for his little deal that he made where they got rid of 1500 weapons, a trillion dollars over the next ten years for two new bomb factories in Kansas and Oak Ridge, and planes, submarines, missiles, bombs. So it’s got tremendous momentum, the nuclear war mongers there, and it’s crazy.  You can’t use them.  We only used them twice.

What are the major flaws of the NPT?

Well there’s a loophole because it doesn’t promise.  The chemical and biological weapons [treaties] say they’re prohibited, they’re illegal, they’re unlawful, you can’t have them, you can’t share them, you can’t use them.  The NPT just said, we five countries, we’ll make good-faith efforts – that’s the language – for nuclear disarmament.  Well I was on another lawyers group, The Lawyers Committee for Nuclear Policy that challenged the nuclear weapons States.  We brought a case to the World Court, and the World Court let us down because they left the loophole there.  They said, nuclear weapons are generally illegal – that’s like being generally pregnant – and then they said, “We can’t say whether they’re illegal in the case where the very survival of a state is at stake.”

So they allowed deterrence, and that’s when the Ban Treaty idea came.  “Listen. They’re not legal we have to have a document that says they’re prohibited just like chemical and biological.”

We got a lot of help from the International Red Cross that changed the conversation because it was getting very wonky.  It was deterrence and military strategy.  Well they brought it back to the human level of the catastrophic consequences of the use of any nuclear weapon.  So they reminded people what these weapons are about.  We sort of forgot the Cold War is over.

That’s another thing! I thought the cold was over, my goodness, you know, what’s the problem?  I couldn’t believe how entrenched they were.  That stockpile stewardship program of Clinton came after the wall fell.

And then they were a group of old-timers that felt very bad because they had brought the World Court [into it].  I was on that board of the Lawyers Committee, I resigned because I came to make a legal argument.  They weren’t supporting the Ban Treaty because they were so invested in what they had done in the World Court that they were trying to argue, “Well, they’re already illegal and we don’t need a treaty to say they’re banned.”

And I thought that was not a good strategy for changing the conversation and I was dismissed. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I never heard anything so stupid.”

So then I quit the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy because that was ridiculous.

The NPT is flawed because of the 5 nuclear-weapon states.

Right. It’s like the Security Council is damaged.  It’s the same five states on the UN Security Council.  You know, these are the victors in World War II, and things are changing.  What changed, which I love, is that the Ban Treaty was negotiated through the General Assembly.  We bypassed the Security Council, we bypassed the five vetoes, and we had a vote and 122 nations voted.

Now a lot of the nuclear weapon States boycotted.  They did, they boycotted it, and the nuclear umbrella which is the NATO alliance, and the three countries in Asia: Australia, South Korea and Japan are under the US nuclear deterrence.

So they supported us what was really unusual and that never got reported which I think was a harbinger, when they first voted at the General Assembly whether there should be negotiations, North Korea voted yes.  Nobody even reported that.  I thought that was significant, they were sending a signal that they wanted to ban the bomb.  Then later they pulled…  Trump got elected, things went crazy.

At the 2015 NPT conference South Africa gave a very important statement

The Ban Treaty had started.  We had this meeting in Oslo, and then another meeting in Mexico and then South Africa gave that speech at the NPT where they said this is like nuclear apartheid. We can’t keep coming back to this meeting where nobody’s keeping their promises for nuclear disarmament and the nuclear weapon states are holding the rest of the world hostage to their nuclear bombs.

And that was tremendous momentum going into the Austria meeting where we also got a statement from Pope Francis.  I mean that really shifted the conversation, and The Vatican voted for it during the negotiations and put in great statements, and the Pope up till then had always supported the US deterrence policy, and they said deterrence was okay, it was all right to have nuclear weapons if you were using them in self-defence, when your very survival is at stake. That was the exception that the World Court made.  So that’s over now.

So there’s a whole new conversation happening now and we already have nineteen countries that have ratified it, and seventy or so have signed, and we need 50 to ratify before it enters into force.

The other thing that’s interesting, when you say, “We’re waiting for India and Pakistan.” We don’t wait for India and Pakistan. Like with India we took the CTBT out of the Committee on Disarmament even though they vetoed it.  Now we’re trying to do the same thing for Pakistan.

They want this treaty to cut-off fissile materials for weapons purposes, and Pakistan are saying, “If you’re not going to do it for everything, we’re not going to be left out of the plutonium race.”

And now they’re thinking of overriding Pakistan, but China and Russia have proposed in 2008 and in 2015 a treaty to ban weapons in space, and the US vetoes it in the Committee on Disarmament.  There’s no discussion. We won’t even allow it to be discussed.  Nobody’s bringing the treaty to the UN over our objection.  We’re the only country that’s feeling it.

And I think, looking forward now, how are we going to really get to nuclear disarmament?  If we can’t heal the US-Russian relationship and tell the truth about it we’re doomed because there’s almost 15,000 nuclear weapons on the planet and 14,000 are in the US and Russia. I mean all the other countries have a thousand between them: that’s China, England, France, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea, but we’re the big gorillas on the block and I’ve been studying this relationship. I’m amazed.

First of all in 1917 Woodrow Wilson sent 30,000 troops to St. Petersburg to help the White Russians against the peasant uprising. I mean what were we doing there in 1917?  This is like capitalism was afraid. You know there was no Stalin, there were just peasants trying to get rid of the Tsar.

Anyway that was the first thing I saw that was amazing to me that we were so hostile to Russia, and then after World War II when we and the Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany, and we set up the United Nations to end the scourge of war, and it was very idealistic.  Stalin said to Truman, “Turn the bomb over the UN,” because we had just used it, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and that was terribly frightening technology. Truman said “no”.

So Stalin got his own bomb.  He wasn’t going to be left behind, and then when the wall came down, Gorbachev and Reagan met and said let’s get rid of all our nuclear weapons, and Reagan said, “Yeah, good idea.”

Gorbachev said, “But don’t do Star Wars.”

We have a document that I hope you’ll show at some point “Vision 2020” which is the US Space Command has its mission statement, dominating and controlling US interests in space, to protect US interests and investments.  I mean they’re shameless. That’s what the mission statement says from the US basically. So Gorbachev said, “Yeah, but don’t do Star Wars.”

And Reagan said, “I can’t give that up.”

So Gorbachev said, “Well, forget about nuclear disarmament.”

And then they were very concerned about East Germany when the wall came down, being United with West Germany and being part of NATO because Russia lost 29 million people during World War II to the Nazi onslaught.

I can’t believe that. I mean I’m Jewish, we talk about us six million people. How terrible!  Who heard of the twenty-nine million people?  I mean, look what happened, we lost 3,000 in New York with the World Trade Centre, we started World War 7.

Anyway so Reagan said to Gorbachev, “Don’t worry. Let East Germany be united with West Germany and enter into NATO and we promise you we will not expand NATO one inch to the east.”

And Jack Matlock who is Reagan’s ambassador to Russia wrote an op-ed in The Times repeating this. I’m not just making this up.  And we now have NATO right up to Russia’s border!

Then after we boasted about our Stuxnet virus, Putin sent a letter oh no even before that.

Putin asked Clinton, “Let’s get together and cut our arsenals to a thousand and call everybody to the table to negotiate for nuclear disarmament, but don’t put missiles into Eastern Europe.”

Because they were already starting to negotiate with Romania for a missile base.

Clinton said, “I can’t promise that.”

So that was the end of that offer, and then Putin asked Obama to negotiate a cyberspace treaty. “Let’s not have cyber war,” and we said no.

And if you look at what America’s doing now they’re gearing up against cyber war, they’re gearing up against Russia’s nuclear arsenal, and if I can, I’d just like to read what Putin said during his State of the Union speech in March.

We’re demonizing him, we’re blaming him for the election which is ridiculous.  I mean it’s the Electoral College.  Gore won the election, we blame Ralph Nader who was an American saint.  He gave us clean air, clean water.  Then Hillary won the election and we’re blaming Russia instead of fixing our Electoral College which is a holdover from the white, landed gentry that was trying to control popular power.  Just like we got rid of slavery, and women got the vote, we should get rid of the Electoral College.

Anyway in March, Putin said, “Back in 2000 the US announced its withdrawal from the anti-ballistic missile treaty.” (Bush walked out of it).  “Russia was categorically against this. We saw the Soviet-US ABM Treaty signed in 1972 as the cornerstone of the international system together with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the ABM Treaty not only created an atmosphere of trust but also prevented either party from recklessly using nuclear weapons which would have endangered humankind. We did our best to dissuade the Americans from withdrawing from the treaty.  All in vain. The US pulled out of the treaty in 2002, even after that we tried to develop constructive dialogue with the Americans.  We proposed working together in this area to ease concerns and maintain the atmosphere of trust. At one point I thought a compromise was possible, but this was not to be. All our proposals, absolutely all of them were rejected and then we said that we would have to improve our modern strike system to protect our security.”

And they did and we’re using that as an excuse to build up our military, when we had the perfect opportunity to stop the arms race.  They each time offered that to us, and each time we rejected it.

What is the importance of the Ban Treaty?

Oh, now we can say they’re illegal, they’re outlawed.  It’s not some kind of wishy-washy language.  So we can speak more forcefully.  The US never signed the landmines treaty, but we don’t make them anymore and we don’t use them.

So we’re going to stigmatize the bomb, and there are some wonderful campaigns, uniquely the divestment campaign.  We’re learning from the fossil fuel friends that were saying you shouldn’t invest in nuclear weapons, and attacking the corporate structure.  And we have a great project that came out of ICAN, Don’t Bank on the Bomb, that’s being run out of the Netherlands, of Pax Christi, and here in New York we had such a wonderful experience.

We went to our City Council to divest.  We spoke to the finance chair of the council, and he said he would write a letter to the Comptroller – who controls all the investments for the pensions of the city, billions of dollars – if we could get ten members of the council to sign on with him.  So we had a small committee from ICAN, and it wasn’t a big job, and we just started making phone calls, and we got a majority, like 28 members of the City Council, to sign this letter.

I called my councilman, and they told me he was on paternity leave.  He had had his first child.  So I wrote him a long letter saying what a wonderful gift to your child to have a nuclear-free world if you would sign this letter, and he signed.

It was easy.  It was really great that we did that…

And also in the NATO States, they’re not going to stand for this.  They’re not going to stand for it because the people don’t even know we have US nuclear weapons in five NATO States: Italy, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Turkey.  And people don’t even know this, but now we’re getting demonstrations, people getting arrested, the ploughshares operations, all these nuns and priests and Jesuits, the anti-war movement, and there was a big demonstration of the German base, and it got publicity and I think that’s going to be another way to arouse people’s interest, because it went away.  They weren’t thinking about it. You know, war was over, and nobody really knew that we’re living with these things pointing at each other, and it’s not even that it would be deliberately used, because I doubt if anybody would do that, but the possibility for accidents. We could luck out.

We’ve been living under a lucky star.  There’s so many stories of near misses and this Colonel Petrov from Russia who was such a hero. He was in the missile silo, and he saw something that indicated that they were being attacked by us, and he was supposed to unleash all his bombs against New York and Boston and Washington, and he waited and it was a computer glitch, and he even got reprimanded for not following orders.

In America, just about three years ago, there was Minot Air Force Base, in North Dakota, we had a plane loaded with 6 missiles loaded with nuclear weapons that went to Louisiana by accident.  It was missing for 36 hours, and they didn’t even know where it was.

We’re just lucky.  We’re living in a fantasy.  This is like boy stuff.  It’s terrible.  We should stop.

What can ordinary people do?  World beyond War.

I think we have to broaden the conversation, that’s why I’m working in World beyond War, because it’s a wonderful new network that’s trying to make the end of war on the planet an idea whose time has come, and they also do a divestment campaign, not just nuclear but everything, and they’re working with Code Pink which is wonderful.  They have a new divest campaign that you can join.

I know Medea (Benjamin) for years.  I met her in Brazil.  I met her there, and I went to Cuba, because she was then running these trips to Cuba.  She’s a fabulous activist.

So anyway World beyond war, is www.worldbeyondwar.org.  Join. Sign up.

There’s a lot of things you can do for it, or with it. You can write for it, or talk about it, or enrol more people. I was in an organization called The Hunger Project in 1976 and that was also to make the end of hunger on the planet an idea whose time has come, and we just kept enrolling people, and we put out facts. This is what World beyond War does, the myths about war: it’s inevitable, there’s no way to end it.  And then the solutions.

And we did that with hunger, and we said starvation is not inevitable.  There is enough food, population is not a problem because people automatically limit the size of their families when they know they’re being fed.  So we had all these facts that we just kept putting out all over the world.  And now, we haven’t ended hunger, but it’s part of the Millennium Development Goals.  It’s a respectable idea. When we said it was ridiculous, and saying we could end war, people say, “Don’t be ridiculous. There will always be war.”

Well the whole purpose is to show all the solutions and the possibilities and the myths about war and how we can end it. And looking at the US-Russia relationship is part of it.  We have to start telling the truth.

So there’s that, and there’s ICAN, because they are working to get the story out about the Ban Treaty in different ways. So I would definitely check that out www.icanw.org, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

I try to get into some kind of local energy, sustainable energy.  I’m doing a lot of that now, because it’s ridiculous that we’re letting these corporations poison us with nuclear and fossil and biomass. They’re burning food when we have all the abundant energy of the Sun and the wind and geothermal and hydro. And efficiency!

So that’s what I would recommend for an activist.

What would you tell people who are overwhelmed by the scale of the problem?

Well, first of all tell them to make sure they register to vote.   They don’t have to take care of nuclear weapons, just take care of being a citizen!  Register to vote, and vote for the people that want to cut military budgets and want to clean up the environment.  We had such a fabulous election in New York, this Alexandria Cortes.  She lived in my old neighbourhood in the Bronx, where I grew up.  That’s where she lives now and she’s just had this extraordinary turnout against the real established politician, and it’s because people voted.  People cared.

So I think, speaking as an American, we should have required Civics to every senior in high school, and we should have only paper ballots, and as seniors they come to the election and count the paper ballots, and then register to vote.  So they can learn arithmetic, and they can register to vote, and we never have to worry about a computer stealing our vote.

This is such nonsense when you can just count the ballots.  I think citizenship is really important, and we have to look at what kind of citizenship. I heard this fabulous lecture by a Muslim woman in Canada.  In World beyond War, we just did a Canadian conference. We have to rethink our relationship to the planet.

And she was talking about colonialism that went all the way back into Europe when they had the Inquisition, and I never thought of it going back that far.  I thought we started it in America, but they were starting it when they threw the Muslims and the Jews out of Spain.  And they were doing it then and we have to re-think this.  We have to get in touch with the land, with the people, and start telling the truth about things, because if we’re not honest about it, we can’t fix it.

What is your motivation?

Well, I think I said at the beginning.  When I first became an activist I won.  I mean I captured the whole Democratic Party!  It’s true that the media defeated us.  We went to Congress and we won. We got them to do a moratorium, but we’re always losing while we’re winning.

I mean it’s like 10 steps forward, one step back.  So that’s what keeps me going. It’s not like I haven’t had successes, but I haven’t had the real success of a world without war.  It’s not just nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons is the tip of the spear.

We have to get rid of all the weapons.

It was so encouraging when these kids marched against the National Rifle [Association].  We had a hundred thousand people marching in New York, and they were all young.  Very few my age.  And they were registering people to vote online.  And this last primary that we had in New York, there were twice as many people voting in the primary as the year before.

It’s sort of like the 60s now, people are getting active. They know they have to.  It’s not just getting rid of nuclear weapons, because if we get rid of war, we’ll get rid of nuclear weapons.

Maybe nuclear weapons is very specialized.  You really have to know where the bodies are buried, and follow the ICAN campaign, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that war is ridiculous. It’s so 20th century!

We haven’t won a war since World War II, so what are we doing here?

What has to change in America to advance against war?

The money.  We have to rein it in.  We used to have a Fairness Doctrine where you couldn’t dominate the airwaves just because you had money.  We have to take back a lot of these utilities. I think we have to make our electric company in New York public.  Boulder, Colorado did that, because they were shoving nuclear and fossil fuel down their throats, and they wanted wind and sun, and I think we have to organize economically, socially.  And that’s what you’re seeing from Bernie.

It’s growing… We did public opinion polls.  87 percent of Americans said let’s get rid of them, if everybody else agrees to.  So we have public opinion on our side.  We just have to mobilize it through these horrible blocks that have been established by what Eisenhower warned; the military-industrial, but I call it military-industrial-congressional-media complex.  There’s a lot of concentration.

Occupy Wall Street, they brought out this meme: the 1% versus the 99%.  People were not aware of how mal-distributed everything was.

FDR saved America from communism when he made Social Security. He shared some of the wealth, then it got very greedy again, with Reagan through Clinton and Obama, and that’s why Trump got elected, because so many people were hurt.

Final thoughts

There’s one thing I didn’t tell you that might be interesting.

In the 50s we were so terrified of communism.  I went to Queens College.  That was the McCarthy Era, in America. I went to Queens College in 1953, and I’m having a discussion with somebody, and she says, “Here. You should read this.”

And she gives me this pamphlet and it says “Communist Party of America”, and my heart is pounding.  I’m terrified. I put it my book bag.  I take the bus home. I go directly to the 8th floor, walk to the incinerator, throw it down without even looking.  That’s how scared.

Then in 1989 or whatever, after Gorbachev came in, I was with the Lawyers Alliance, I went to the Soviet Union for the first time.

First of all, every guy over 60 was wearing his World War II medals, and every street corner had a stone monument to the dead, the 29 million, and then you go to the Leningrad cemetery and there’s mass graves, big mounds of people.  400,000 people.  So I look at this, and my guide said to me, “Why don’t you Americans trust us?”

I said, “Why don’t we trust you?  What about Hungary? What about Czechoslovakia?”

You know, arrogant American.  He looks at me with tears in his eyes. He says, “But we had to protect our country from Germany.”

And I looked at the guy, and that was their truth. Not that what they did was good, but I mean they were acting out of their fear of invasion, and what they had suffered, and we weren’t getting the right story.

So I think if we’re going to make peace now, we’ve got to start telling the truth about our relationship, and who’s doing what to who, and we have to be more open, and I think it’s happening with the #MeToo, with the Confederate statues, with Christopher Columbus.  I mean nobody ever thought about the truth of that, and we are now.  So I think if we start looking at what’s really happening, we can act appropriately.

 

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