Breaking Through the Normalcy of Los Alamos on Hiroshima Day

Driving up the two-lane mountain road along the red and orange wall of rocks on one side and the shocking sheer cliff down to the sagebrush valley far below on the other into the surreal town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, one would think—life is good, all is well, the world is beautiful, this is the true landscape of peace, the best of North America—and you would be right.
You can’t get any more white, well-educated, upper-class, sophisticated, over-privileged, supposedly-“Christian” and totally normal than Los Alamos. There’s the Starbucks, the Taco Bell, the pet store, the co-op, the hardware store, the fine wine store, the great high school, the beautiful churches, the day care center—and, in the center of town, like in any other town, the mammoth colonoscopy center. Life is good in Los Alamos. Everything is perfectly normal.
In Los Alamos—a town of 12,000, the second richest county in the USA, with more millionaires and PhD’s per capita than practically any other city—it is perfectly normal to build weapons of mass destruction, to spend one’s life in the big business of death, to prepare, like any other terrorist training camp, new sinister techniques to commit mass murder on an unprecedented global level. It’s also perfectly normal to have cancer because that comes with the job—after so many decades, it’s a radioactive waste dump. What job doesn’t have its downside?
The normalcy of Los Alamos is so inhumanly, grotesquely, demonically abnormal as to seem perfectly reasonable.
Life is good in Los Alamos, even though the sole purpose of life there is death. One could argue that Los Alamos, where the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, 73 years ago was first built, where tens of thousands of nuclear weapons have been built ever since, is the greatest city of death on the planet.
Los Alamos is end of the world, and it is perfectly normal. As Thomas Merton first wrote to Daniel Berrigan in 1961, when they finally succeed in blowing up the planet, it will be perfectly legal, totally reasonable, and even normal.
Here, all the issues of injustice coalesce into one. This is racism front and center. This is sexism. This is unadulterated greed. This is the fullness of colonialism and imperialism the likes of which the world has never seen. This is full on permanent total warfare. This is torture. This is the global death penalty. This is the murder of all creatures. This is the fullness of environmental destruction, the birthplace of the nuclear winter. All rolled into one. This is the epitome of hatred, stupidity, ignorance, arrogance, blindness, and collective insanity. This is a town for narcissistic sociopaths, modeled after our president. And it’s all perfectly legal, reasonable and normal.
The politicians bet their careers on keeping it going. The generals order ever greater weaponry (the race is on behind those locked doors to find something bigger and better than a nuclear bomb!) The mad scientists stoke the fires. The priests and ministers bless the bombs. The faithful do their duty, collect their fat paychecks, and know they are doing God’s will. Together, everyone pledges allegiance to their one true god, their ultimate security—the Bomb.
You don’t believe me? Go see for yourself.
I think every U.S. peacemaker who cares about our predicament should visit Los Alamos once in her lifetime to witness the depths of the evil we’re up against.
Los Alamos is the 1950s sci-fi movie, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, come to life. Aliens have taken the souls out of everyone; now these shell people walk around like zombies. It’s zombie town USA. Sooner or later, they’ll get us all.
If this seems a little harsh, I invite you to stand outside the Labs, as we did this weekend, where the end of the world, a global nuclear holocaust, is thoughtfully, professionally, reasonably prepared. If we are willing to allow this to happen, then why not rip immigrant children from their parents, or lock millions up in our gulags, or kill the polar bears and the elephants, or destroy the coral reefs or melt the ice caps or lead drone attacks on kids in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere?
The measure of our consciousness, Gandhi once wrote, is the level of our nonviolence. Until we are willing to nonviolently break through the normalcy of death as a social methodology and wake up to the fullness of the nonviolent life, we too remain shell people who have lost our souls to despair, numbness, fear, hatred and death.
What to do? Some of us have tried to break through the cultural normalcy with nonviolent street theater. Every year, for the last fifteen years, we have gathered in Los Alamos to commemorate Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the green lawn park by Ashley Pond, where those two bombs were originally built. Over the weekend, we prayed, then marched, then put on sackcloth, then poured ashes on the ground, then sat down at the intersection of Oppenheimer Way and Trinity Drive, in thirty minutes of silent prayer, holding our signs (“Shut down Los Alamos!” “Repent of the Mortal Sin of Nuclear Weapons!” “Abolish Nuclear weapons!” and so forth).
Cars and truck drive by honking, but not in support. Police officers watch from their air-conditioned trucks (“Your people are so old, Father John, we’re worried that one of them is going to have a heat stroke,” one says to me.) It’s over 90 degrees, but we sit anyway, taking over the town, saying our NO!, accepting responsibility, and begging for the miracle of nuclear disarmament. We are, to say the least, abnormal.
Afterwards we gather back in the park to hear leading anti-nuclear activists speak about their work and our next steps. I introduce each one, heartened by their tireless dedication, the seemingly impossible task they have set before themselves, and the visionary connections they make between the Labs and racism, poverty, healthcare and environmental destruction.
Our act, I explain, is the oldest known political protest, straight from the Hebrew Bible, from the book of Jonah, where Jonah, a reluctant peace activist, walks through Ninevah, calls the people to repent of their violence, and the whole town dons sackcloth, including the cattle, sits in ashes, and pledges to be nonviolent. Everyone repents, they wake up from their madness, and learn to live in peace happily ever after. It’s the only “successful,” happy-ending protest in the Bible.
Of course, Nineveh today is the Iraqi town of Mosul, where the United States dropped depleted uranium and killed thousands. Now the cattle give birth to deformed, still born creatures.
As God tries to explain to poor Jonah, “These people don’t know their left hand from their right hand.” What must the God of peace think of us?
If we are to wake up and help one another come to our senses and begin the long haul task of nuclear disarmament, environmental cleanup and right distribution of these trillions of dollars to the world’s poor, we need to publicly break through the normalcy of our collective insanity.
My friends and I will be back next year, and are already organizing for August 6 and 9, 2020, the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagaski. I’ve invited everyone I can think of to come join us, from Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama to Joan Baez and the Indigo Girls (Joan, Amy—will you please come?) Plan now to join us.
The solution lies in a global, bottom up, people power, grassroots movements of nonviolence, the likes of which the world has never seen, way beyond the achievements of Gandhi and Dr. King. I think that is happening across the planet; it’s just not being reported by the mainstream media, even by the alternative media.
Regardless, our job is to keep on organizing, taking action and speaking out publicly for disarmament and justice, making the connections, waking one another up, and building that global grassroots movement of nonviolence.
We have to help people see that nuclear disarmament, justice, and environmental protection is what’s normal, human, and Godly. Until then, we have to risk being seen as the abnormal ones, sitting at the intersection of Oppenheimer Way and Trinity Drive.
Next month, our group will hold its fifth national week of action from Sept. 15-23, with over 2,000 marches and events across the nation, in every state and major city, against war, poverty, racism, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction, and for the coming of a new culture of peace and nonviolence.
On September 22, we will gather at 9 a.m. at the Dr. King statue in Washington, D.C., for reflections, then march in pairs and silence pass the Lincoln Memorial to the White House for a vigil and nonviolent direct action. (See  As far as I can tell, it’s the first march ever from the Dr. King statue. We want to take a message of justice and disarmament to the White House in a spirit of Kingian nonviolence, and call for new nonviolent solutions, a new culture of nonviolence.
Perhaps some day we might learn the difference between our left hand and our right hand. On that day, we will all learn the wisdom of nonviolence and abolish nuclear weapons and war forever.