Amy Goodman Interviews John Dear on Democracy Now – Transcript

We speak with longtime anti-nuclear activist and Jesuit priest, Father John Dear, who coordinates the annual Hiroshima Day peace vigil at Los Alamos on August 1st. Dear has been arrested more than seventy-five times for acts of civil disobedience against war and nuclear weapons, including last week while protesting the US drone warplanes at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. He has written over twenty-five books, and his most recent book is his autobiography, A Persistent Peace. Last year, Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, President Obama called for a world without nuclear weapons, soon after North Korea test fired a long-range rocket. Speaking in Prague, Obama called for an immediate end to nuclear tests.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.
AMY GOODMAN: The previous week, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had agreed on fast-track negotiations to slash their stockpiles [of] 23,000 nuclear weapons by about a third from the end of this year.
New Mexico, home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Sandia National Laboratories, is closely tied to the history of the nuclear bomb in this country. These labs were founded to coordinate the Manhattan Project’s nuclear weapons research during World War II, and the very first nuclear weapon, named “Trinity,” was test-fired in Alamogordo, New Mexico. In fact, I just passed there yesterday.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu visited the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories last week. He lauded the diverse non-nuclear weapons research that they’re engaged in, but added, quote, “As long as other countries have nuclear weapons, we must have a nuclear stockpile.”
Well, my next guest is a longtime anti-nuclear activist and Jesuit priest who coordinates the annual Hiroshima Day peace vigil at Los Alamos. Father John Dear has been arrested more than seventy-five times for acts of civil disobedience against war and nuclear weapons, including last week while protesting the US drone warplanes at the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. He has written over twenty-five books. His most recent book is his autobiography. It’s called A Persistent Peace: One Man’s Struggle for a Nonviolent World. Well, last year, Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Father John Dear joins me here in Albuquerque.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
FATHER JOHN DEAR: Thanks for having me, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s start with what President Obama said, talking about the abolition of nuclear weapons, though he said it wouldn’t be in his lifetime.
FATHER JOHN DEAR: Well, it’s a great breakthrough to have a president even speak about a nuclear-free world. And we all rejoice in that he said that, but that’s the key sentence for me, that he said, “Alas, this won’t happen, probably, in our lifetime.” And we have to say—the activists around the country, the peace and justice movement—not only does it have to happen in our lifetime, it has to begin and happen this year or next year, that we can’t have a thousand nuclear weapons, which is what the rumors are that he’s going to propose—we go down to a thousand nuclear weapons. We have to abolish all nuclear weapons. And it has to begin here in New Mexico. And so, I think the movement around the country has to push the Obama administration harder than ever, as it’s beginning to talk about a nuclear-free world, and really demand it now.
AMY GOODMAN: Give us the map of New Mexico, the nuclear map. I don’t think many people realize—someone once joked that if New Mexico were to secede from the nation, it would be the fourth greatest nuclear power in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Third, excuse me.
FATHER JOHN DEAR: Yeah. It’s a serious statement, actually. You know, and that’s what brought me to New Mexico. According to the last census, it’s the poorest state in the country. It’s number one in nuclear weapons, number one in military spending. And you see everything: it’s number one in drunk driving, domestic violence, suicide, one of the worst education systems in the country. The land is—it’s like a radioactive waste dump. And here in Albuquerque, there are more nuclear weapons at the airport than any other place on the planet.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean at the airport? I’m just about to go there to fly out.
FATHER JOHN DEAR: Well, right. And you’ll see it as you fly out of the airport. If you look carefully, in those mountains, those little white buildings, those are nuclear bunkers, at Kirtland and Sandia. More than any other place on the planet, except perhaps one city in remote northern Russia. And at Los Alamos, the birthplace of the bomb, especially under the Bush administration, business has been booming. He’d been pouring billions down there, he said, “to build a whole new generation of nuclear weapons.” And he was going to start new pit production. The good news—
AMY GOODMAN: What is pit production?
FATHER JOHN DEAR: The core of the nuclear bomb, which is what Los Alamos does. And they send them elsewhere.
The good thing, and it hasn’t gotten much coverage, is that Obama has stopped that. But 70 percent of the work at Los Alamos is still war and destruction of the planet, and that is continuing, as you heard the Secretary of Energy just say last week.
Our position is, we want Los Alamos, Sandia and Kirtland to be completely disarmed. We’ve got to get rid of these weapons and change it into a place—get all those scientists to work on alternative energy sources, and so forth and so on. And that’s been my work here as part of a grassroots movement for the disarmament of Los Alamos through vigils and demonstration. I’m trying to raise the conversation that we should not continue to work on the manufacture and development of nuclear weapons. And that’s our future.
AMY GOODMAN: I’ve been traveling through the state over the last few days, went to Santa Fe and Taos, both very near Los Alamos, and then yesterday to Mesilla, to the border, then up to Silver City. We passed near where the drone tests are taking place, not only in Nevada, where you were just arrested, but is that right? Right here in New Mexico?
FATHER JOHN DEAR: Well, the drones are flying, as I understand, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and New Mexico and Arizona on the border, flying nonstop to, you know, monitor who’s crossing into the country and then to assist in their arrest.
So, what’s so amazing about New Mexico is you see everything is connected, all these issues of injustice and war, including the drones. And so, we’re trying to say, the future of New Mexico—it’s really a symbol of the country. It’s really stopping all of this and moving toward a new land of nonviolence.
AMY GOODMAN: John Dear, what kind of dialogue have you had with scientists at Los Alamos? I have met many in my travels here.
FATHER JOHN DEAR: Well, not too much, sad to say. And there are many groups have met with scientists over decades. I’ve been talking to people around the state. I’ve talked to students at Los Alamos, and we do these public demonstrations.
You hear a lot of things behind the scenes, for example, that many are against the predominant work of nuclear weapons up there, and they’re hoping that they would transfer Los Alamos to—I’ve heard from scientists—to down to 20 to 30 percent of their work being for nuclear research and development. I’m saying it’s got to be zero. You know, more of them want to use their energies for pro-human and energy development.
The thing that’s in New Mexico is, to my experience, is that it’s the classic thing. This is just a job. And, you know, the economy is basically—revolves around the military and nuclear weapons here, and that is not a long-term way to develop the economy here or anywhere. It’s a dead-end, putting all these resources into that research. I think some of the scientists get it, but they say, “Hey, it’s a job.”
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting that J. Robert Oppenheimer, right, the head of the Manhattan Project, who developed the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, afterwards said, quoting from the Bhagavad Gita, “I am the shatterer of worlds.”
FATHER JOHN DEAR: And then turned against it and was clearly ostracized here in New Mexico from the whole nuclear establishment. And so, they don’t want to go through what he went through.
And that’s why we need—like we abolished the death penalty here in New Mexico, we need to abolish the nuclear industry, nuclear weapons, and that’s only going to happen through a movement involving everybody: the politicians, the scientists, the church people. And I think the whole country has to continue to put—the whole movement has to continue to put pressure on our government, on the military and the scientists, saying this doesn’t work anymore, it’s not making us more secure, it’s the ultimate threat of terrorism, it’s bad for the economy, and help everyone move away from this kind of security of a job in building these weapons.
AMY GOODMAN: Father John Dear, in 2003 in November, an entire battalion of the National Guard marched on your—was it rectory?
FATHER JOHN DEAR: Well, as I wrote about this in my book, A Persistent Peace, I came here and was speaking out against nuclear weapons, speaking out against the war in Iraq, got kicked out of one of my parishes in the remote desert. And as I say, it’s quite a state here, where all the issues are upfront in the desert.
And one morning—you know, I didn’t know this was going to happen—I was shocked to find the entire battalion of the National Guard for northeastern New Mexico marching around the block in my small desert town and the church and the rectory, chanting war slogans. They were about to leave for Iraq one week later. And then they stopped right at my front door. Seventy-five young kids, all under twenty-one, chanting “Kill, kill, kill.”
It was, we found out later, the leadership of the National Guard harassing me as a, you know, outspoken voice against war and nuclear weapons and harassing me. And it’s really an indication of what’s happened these last ten years, that you could have a unit of the national US military march and harass a private citizen at his home. I mean, this is like you might expect in the Wild West 150 years ago.
What I did, as I wrote in the book, was I went right outside, told them to be quiet, and said, “In the name of God, I order you not to go to Iraq, not to kill anyone, not to be killed, and to quit the US military and to, you know, work for peace and justice through nonviolence.” They all laughed at me, and they left, but—and later, the governor, Bill Richardson, told me that he was appalled by it. And he spoke to the head of the National Guard and threatened to fire the whole top echelon if they ever came close to doing anything like that again. So—
AMY GOODMAN: You were kicked out of a church?
FATHER JOHN DEAR: Yeah, for speaking against the Iraq war. I had five parishes, four of them very poor and one a kind of a middle-upper-class parish of retired military families near a ski resort. And the war was starting, and naturally I was saying, “Hey, you cannot be a Christian and claim to follow the nonviolent Jesus who said ‘love your enemies’ and support the bombing of children in Iraq or nuclear weapons or the whole culture of war.” Well, they were appalled and kicked me out.
And I think that should be the future of every Christian minister, priest and bishop—getting kicked out for speaking out against war and nuclear weapons—so that all the churches become communities of nonviolence, which is what the gospel of Jesus was about. And so, that was, you know, a very hard experience, but a good experience. And it needs to happen more and more, that we get church people to return to the heart of, I think, nonviolence at the heart of every religion and be instruments of peace in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment of President Obama, who said he will end the war in Iraq and expand the war in Afghanistan?
FATHER JOHN DEAR: Well, I’m very disappointed. You know, I want him to end the war in Iraq today and bring back all the troops and pursue nonviolent alternatives and pursue a kind of global Marshall Plan to rebuild Iraq through food and aid. And war doesn’t work. And he’s continuing the same old legacy of war by bombing Afghanistan and Pakistan. So, that’s why, you know, actually, Archbishop Tutu and I tried to meet with him, and we were going to say this to him, and a meeting almost happened a few weeks ago, and then it was abruptly canceled.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened? You were in Washington?
FATHER JOHN DEAR: No. We were working with the White House, and they told us it was going to happen, but it just was canceled. And maybe it’s because Obama is not meeting with anybody, which is a real shame. He’s refusing to meet with Tutu, who was going to speak especially on this question of Afghanistan and Pakistan and saying war doesn’t work there, and we’re just going to continue to breed more terrorism. But I think he was threatened by what we were going to say, and he’s not listening to other voices there. So, that’s why I went to Creech, and that’s why I’m saying we have to continue to put pressure on the Obama administration through the movement and say, don’t bomb Afghanistan, Pakistan, and so forth and so on.
AMY GOODMAN: When we were in San Francisco just a few days ago, we had Father Louis Vitale on—
AMY GOODMAN: —who was also arrested at Creech.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain why you went there.
FATHER JOHN DEAR: Well, learning from your show and—like everybody in the country—that this is the future of war, along with nuclear weapons still existing, but that we have developed these unmanned bombers that are trained out of Creech in Nevada that are then used to monitor, fly permanently over, Pakistan, Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, and bombing hundreds of civilians. And ours was the first demonstration ever there, maybe the—and the first civil disobedience, as far as I can tell. And so, we walked onto the base, trying to say, “No, we shouldn’t have these weapons. We shouldn’t have drones. We shouldn’t be bombing the children of Afghanistan and Pakistan.” And we were trying to take our message there. And then we’re going to have a trial, probably later this summer or the fall, or in the fall, and we’re going to take our message into the court.
AMY GOODMAN: Father John Dear, you have been arrested more than seventy-five times. In this last minute and a half, a few of those protests that are most memorable for you, that had the most meaning?
FATHER JOHN DEAR: Well, they’re all meaningful, and they’re all scary, especially the Plowshares disarmament action, for me, in 1993 with Philip Berrigan, when we hammered on an F-15 nuclear fighter bomber, for which I faced twenty years in prison as—
FATHER JOHN DEAR: In North Carolina at the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base—as part of the Plowshares movement.
But my experience with that is that if you look at the abolitionists, the suffragists, the labor movement, civil rights movement, in the end, the change always happens when good people break bad laws and accept the consequences, that some people actually have to engage the law through the grassroots movements of nonviolence. And so, that’s why I’m trying to continue this tradition, with our friends, of Gandhi and King, of using the weapon of civil disobedience to get into the courts and say, “War is illegal, nuclear weapons are illegal, and our future is a future of nonviolence.” And so, some of us are continuing that tradition.
AMY GOODMAN: You worked in Salvador under the Jesuit priests who were killed.
FATHER JOHN DEAR: Yes. That was in 1985, and I write about it in my book. And it was really at the height of the civil war there and a terrible experience. And these guys, the six Jesuits who were killed twenty years ago this fall, were spectacular people and assassinated for poignantly demanding their government end war. And it was a powerful experience to have known and worked with these great martyrs of justice and peace. And I’m trying to apply what I learned from them here in the United States, and that means speaking out publicly, all of us, for an end to war and the end of war itself and poverty and nuclear weapons and the working of a new culture of nonviolence.
AMY GOODMAN: Father John Dear, I want thank you very much for being with us here in Albuquerque. His new book is called A Persistent Peace: One Man’s Struggle for a Nonviolent World.