On August 6th, 2003, about 75 members of Pax Christi, the national Catholic peace movement, came from all over New Mexico to pray for nuclear disarmament and the closing of the nuclear weapons project in Los Alamos, NM.
The vigil was remarkably peaceful. Everyone had agreed at a teach-in the night before to a covenant of nonviolence. Instead of targeting anger at the employees or the police, we focused our energy on God in a plea for the closing of Los Alamos. The goal was a classic Gandhian satyagraha campaign of love and truth. The police and the press said later it was the most nonviolent, peaceful protest they could remember.
Unfortunately, I was not able to attend. I moved to northeastern New Mexico in the summer of 2002 to serve as pastor of several churches in the high desert among the poor. Throughout the year, I had spoken out against the U.S. war on Iraq and organized Pax Christi groups around the state. At Christmas, in an interview with the “Albuquerque Journal,” I commented that the people of Los Alamos were good, but the work of Los Alamos was evil and needed to stop. People were furious, especially the devout Catholics of Los Alamos and their pastor.
When Pax Christi announced its teach-in and vigil at Los Alamos for the Hiroshima anniversary, the Los Alamos pastor wrote to the Archbishop and threatened to resign if I was not prevented from attending the vigil. The Archbishop told me I would need the pastor’s permission to attend the vigil. Of course, the pastor refused to give such permission, and so, the Archbishop told me if I attended the August 6th vigil at Los Alamos, he would immediately kick me out of the Archdiocese. It has been a powerful experience, but the good news is that Catholics in this Catholic state are beginning to organize and stand up for peace in new, public ways.
New Mexico is a land of profound spirituality, with deep Native American and Catholic roots. But it has a dark side. If New Mexico seceded from the United States, it would be the third largest nuclear power in the world. New Mexico is number one in poverty, number one in military spending, and number one in nuclear weapons. There are more nuclear weapons around Albuquerque than any other city in the world. Dr. Helen Caldicott has called for the closing of the entire state of New Mexico–along with Nevada–because she claims the land is totally radiated.
During our teach-in on August 5th, Greg Mello, director of the Los Alamos Study Group, (see www.lasg.org) reviewed the history of Los Alamos. Since its birth in 1943, the U.S. has spent about $54 billion in Los Alamos alone, most of it building weapons of mass destruction. The city is surrounded by contaminated landfills. Today, Los Alamos has been taken over by the Pentagon, and is run by a retired Admiral who used to direct the Trident submarine system. The Lab also spends billions annually lobbying Congress for further nuclear weapons development.
In the late 1990s, the Los Alamos budget doubled. Between “stockpile stewardship” and new “earth penetrating weapons,” business is booming. According to the Brookings Institute, the U.S. spends about $30 billion a year on the manufacture, deployment and control of weapons for nuclear war. If we invested that $30 billion annually for food and medicine in the Third World, Mello observed, the world would be much safer and we would discover true security.
For the last three or four decades, lab officials believed that nuclear weapons would never be used. Today everyone presumes they will be used again someday. According to Mello, none of the thousands of employees know exactly what the others are doing or how the parts fit together. They each work on different segments of the system. In the end, Mello argues that the best hope for change will be the resignation of individual scientists for reasons of faith and conscience. That is why they need our love and prayers–and our public presence, in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King.
Instead of cutting back, however, the Bush Administration is expanding nuclear weapons development at every level, most notably with the proposed building of a new “Modern Pit Facility,” either in Los Alamos or in Carlsbad, NM, where they intend to build plutonium triggers to replace the Rocky Flats, CO plant which closed in 1989.
The church in New Mexico has many strengths, but it does not have a history of teaching nonviolence, much less advocating nuclear disarmament. Pax Christi New Mexico hopes to be a leaven for these good people, and for the disarmament of our country as a whole.