Challenging Nuclear Command and Control at Hanscom Air Force Base

MAPA's Michelle Cunha and Jerry Ross spoke at the 2018 World Conference Against A and H Bombs in Hiroshima, Japan
MAPA's Michelle Cunha and Jerry Ross spoke at the 2018 World Conference Against A and H Bombs in Hiroshima, Japan, August 3, 2018

Remarks presented at the 2018 World Conference Against A and H Bombs, Hiroshima, Japan, August 3, 2018

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the World Conference. To be invited to be part of the global nuclear abolition community is an honor I cannot convey in words. Many of my colleagues from Peace Action have come to the World Conference over the years and each has expressed how life changing it was. I am already feeling the changes my colleagues have spoken of.

I would like to take a moment to thank the organizers for their hard work organizing this Conference. No string was left untied, a testament to their skill and dedication to providing a stress-free Conference.

As the Assistant Director of Massachusetts Peace Action, I am here to report on the activities our organization has participated in to bring about the abolition of the most devastating weapons of mass destruction.

Massachusetts Peace Action is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Members of our organization have been working for abolition since 1957 when Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy was first formed. Massachusetts Peace Action formed in the 1980s as a local affiliate of Peace Action.

Peace Action National office in Washington, DC offers a statement of solidarity:

On this 73rd memorial of the devastation inflicted on the cities and people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Peace Action expresses our organization’s solidarity with you, and our ongoing commitment to doing the work, side by side, to build a movement for peace so loud that it cannot be ignored.

We extend a special message of support and solidarity to our siblings in Hiroshima, who experienced great loss and trauma due to extreme weather conditions. Our hearts extend to you and your communities as you rebuild and recover. Because our world is one, we cannot be silent about our governments’ need to address climate change, poverty, and inequality – and demand they pursue policies rooted in justice and peace. The alternative future is unbearable, and thus we must persist.

The work I do is with the local affiliate Massachusetts Peace Action. Nuclear disarmament is our primary project and is led by Dr. Jonathan King, a retired biology professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr King has organized three conferences on “Reducing the Threat of Nuclear War”, the most recent one with the subtitle “Invest in Minds Not Missiles”. The speakers vary from local politicians to community organizers who understand how and why poverty is on the rise in the United States. These panels explain how the United States Federal Budget is skewed heavily toward the military budget at the expense of social programs which many poor and working families rely upon to make ends meet.

In November of last year, the conference “Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons: Is it Legal? Is it Constitutional? Is it Just?” was organized by Dr. Elaine Scarry, a member of our nuclear disarmament group and Harvard professor of English, American Literature, and Language and author of Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom. Nuclear weapons strategy in the United States rests on “presidential first use,” an arrangement that enables one man, the president, to kill and maim many millions of people in a single afternoon. The speakers included distinguished guests such as William Perry former United States Secretary of Defense, United States Senator Edward Markey and Congressman James McGovern. It also brought together international and constitutional scholars to examine the nature of presidential first use in the United States, as well as parallel arrangements in the other nuclear states.

Massachusetts Peace Action also plans actions designed to attract the attention of the press. We held one such action this past Spring.

Each year on or about April 19th, the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts recreates the Shot Heard Around the World, a day which commemorates the beginning of the American Revolution. Rife with citizen-actors who play parts of key Revolutionaries, people in period-piece costumes reenact the Battle on the Green in Lexington. About 10,000 people come to witness American History in action. However, inclement weather postponed our event this year. It was moved from April to May.

Memorial Day is a holiday celebrated in the United States at the end of May. It was designated to commemorate our Civil War dead, and since World War II, it has become a holiday to build patriotic nationalism. It is a weekend of high national pride. American flags are hung on houses, business, and cars. The colors red, white, and blue are ubiquitous. Seen on flags, on clothing, in food, the colors of the American Flag are everywhere. Massachusetts Peace Action used this day of national pride to highlight the Nuclear Command and Control Communications, one of which is located on Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts, the town I live in.

How did Nuclear Command and Control Communications end up on Hanscom? And what is a “Nuclear Command and Control Communications”? In 2015 the Air Force began a project to upgrade the communications systems for the United States’ nuclear arsenal. NC3 is a complex, multi-level system that will provide “secure, survivable and resilient communications path to issue nuclear orders to warfighters.” Hanscom will be responsible for acquisition and integration of technology for NC3. In short, the Air Force wants to upgrade all the communication systems some of which are still on an analog system.

Members of Massachusetts Peace Action, the New England Peace Pagoda, American Friends Service Committee, Pax Christi Massachusetts, Friends Meeting House of Cambridge, and several Unitarian Universalist congregations along with Veterans for Peace, walked around Lexington handing out flyers about nuclear weapons and the cost to taxpayers associated with nuclear arms, to passers by. At 2 minutes to 13:00, we froze in place. The “freeze” represented three things: 1. A hat-tip to the nuclear freeze movement that did such great work in the 1980s, 2. To indicate the Doomsday Clock had been moved to 2 minutes to midnight, the first time it had been moved since 1953, and 3. The frigid cold of a nuclear winter. After freezing for two minutes we then walked 3 miles from Lexington to Lincoln to Hanscom’s gate. We walked along the Battle Road, the route the Minutemen and Red Coats followed during the Revolution.

Once we were at the gate of Hanscom there were speeches by myself, Dr. Joseph Gerson whom you all know, Dr. King, Dr. Scarry, and participant John Bach. I spoke about how many people think struggles around nuclear policies play out only in distant capitals such as Washington and Moscow, not in places like the quintessential New England towns of Lincoln and Lexington Massachusetts. Dr. Gerson spoke about the use and consequences of nuclear weapons.  Dr. King discussed the federal budget and how the addiction to war is bankrupting the United States, and Dr. Scarry opined about the importance of an engaged citizenry as leaders in the nuclear abolition movement. John Bach spoke from the Quaker perspective and the importance of using civil disobedience to deliver the message of disarmament to political leaders across the world.

After the speeches, six dedicated nuclear disarmament folks crossed the line put in place by the Lincoln police, were put in handcuffs, then escorted away. All were released on their own personal recognisance less than 2 hours later. The following day all six appeared in local court where their charges were dismissed.

This is just the beginning of our campaign to highlight Hanscom and its role in the new nuclear arms race. We will continue to work for disarmament as we are part of the forward looking global movement of nuclear disarmament.