Pope Francis Calls Possession of Nuclear Weapons Sinful

Readings for First Sunday of Advent: IS 2:1-5; PS 122:1-9; ROM 13: 11-14; PS 85:8; MT 24: 37-44

Last weekend, Pope Francis outright condemned the manufacture and possession of nuclear weapons. (I’ll bet you didn’t notice that in the mainstream media.)

The pope did so during his visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where he met with survivors of the two Japanese cities which were virtually wiped off the map when atomic bombs were dropped on them in 1945. The weapons of unprecedented mass destruction killed more than 200,000 people in matters of minutes.

During his remarks, Pope Francis said, “A world without nuclear weapons is possible and necessary. . .  The use of atomic energy for the purpose of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral . . .”

The pope’s visit and sharp condemnation could not come at a more opportune time either historically or liturgically (on this First Sunday of Advent). Historically, they follow hard upon the conviction of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, a group of seven Catholic peace activists who in April of last year entered the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia to symbolically destroy the nuclear weapons housed there. (Kings Bay harbors at least six nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Each of them carries 20 Trident missiles.)

The Seven included Liz McAlister, the wife of deceased peace activist Phil Berrigan, as well as Martha Hennesy, the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, the legendary co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.  

As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the group’s own “weapons” for accomplishing their task were hammers, crime scene tape, and baby bottles containing their own blood. Once inside, they splashed their blood on the walls of the base’s administration building. They used their hammers to “destroy” the nosecone of one of the Trident missiles. They also posted a formal indictment of the U.S. government charging it with crimes against peace.

At their trial the activists had planned to mount a “necessity defense.”  However, the presiding judge forbade them to cite their religious motivations. That nullified their planned argument that their “crime” was morally necessary to prevent the far greater catastrophe of a nuclear war.

The Seven had also planned to present Daniel Ellsberg as an expert witness to articulate that defense. All of us recall Ellsberg as the most famous whistle blower in U.S. history. In 1971, he risked a lifetime behind bars when he leaked the famous Pentagon Papers that revealed Washington’s hidden strategy behind the Vietnam War. His recent book The Doomsday Machine: confessions of a nuclear war planner details his work as a Defense Department analyst and nuclear weapons strategist.

However, Ellsberg too was forbidden to testify. Had he done so, he would have argued that the Seven were faithfully following the prophet Isaiah’s command to “beat swords into plowshares” (IS 2:4).

(By the way, with the judge’s restrictions in place, the Plowshares 7 were convicted of conspiracy. On their sentencing within 90 days, the activists will face more than 20 years in prison.)

All of this – Pope Francis’ words about the sinfulness of nuclear weapons manufacture and possession as well as the conviction of the Plowshares 7 – is relevant to this Sunday’s liturgy of the word and historically relevant in the way just explained. That’s because today’s first reading contains those words from the prophet Isaiah.

Contradicting his people’s earlier understanding of God as a “Man of War,” Isaiah’s words describe divine opposition to all war and a fortiori, of course, to nuclear war. They envision a precisely enlightened human future when the people of the world will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,” and where “one nation shall not raise the sword against another.”

Then in today’s Gospel reading from the 24th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus (like the Buddha before him) calls his followers to simply wake up rather than prepare for war against their Roman occupiers led by a violent “Son of Man.” As Matthew’s readers will discover in his 25th chapter, “waking up” means recognizing Christ’s presence in the “least of the brethren.” Jesus implies that such recognition precludes war of any kind and (again a fortiori) nuclear war.

To get what I mean, please read for yourself today’s biblical selections. You can find them here. Despite their obscurity (especially in today’s apocalyptic Gospel passage), you’ll see that they’re about waking up and renunciation of war. At least that’s what I see in them, as you can tell from my “translations” immediately below:  

IS 2:1-5

For the prophet Isaiah,
Jerusalem and its Temple
Called people everywhere
To lift their gaze
Above the world’s
Hills and highest mountains
To the realm of peace and light
He believed possible.
To get there, he said,
Disarm and demilitarize.
Transform all
Weapons of mass destruction
Until they look like
Hoes and shovels,
Tractors and cultivators.
 
PS 122: 1-9
 
Yes, it’s possible to turn this world
Into a house of worship –
A City of Peace –
Where all human beings
Enjoy the prosperity
That disarmament makes possible.
That’s the key to reconciliation and happiness.
 
ROM 13: 11-14
 
St. Paul calls us to wake up!
Only our selfishness,
He says,
Prevents the advent
Of that other peaceful world.
So, don’t be deceived, he said,
By the world’s empty promises
Of fulfillment by (Christmas) consumption
And militarization.
Instead, seek that other world first
And everything else you need
Will follow automatically.
 
PS 85:8
 
Lord, please show us
How to get from here to there!
 
MT 24: 37-44
 
Jesus warned his friends
About using violence
To achieve peace.
They hoped that
Daniel’s “Son of Man”
Would dethrone imperial Rome
By force of arms.
“Be careful what you wish for,”
Jesus cautioned.
“Your hoped-for apocalypse
Will recall the devastation
Of Noah’s Flood.
Civilian casualties
Will run at 50% —
Killing innocent
Men and women alike
(Just as at Hiroshima
And Nagasaki).
True change however
Comes from disarmament
(as Isaiah taught)
And from extreme wakefulness
(as the Buddha instructed).
Pray then for blessed insomnia!
Wake up
To the signs of the time!”

Don’t you agree that Pope Francis is wonderful? His faithful following of Jesus and of St. Francis of Assisi has led him to call things by their right names. Nuclear war is sinful, he has said unmistakably. Possessing nuclear weapons is immoral. Catholics and the entire world need to take those words to heart and act upon them.

The Plowshares Seven show us what such open-hearted action means. The Seven are willing to go to prison for enacting the logical consequence of the words of Pope Francis and of Jesus in a world cursed by nuclear weapons.

But few are paying attention. Few take notice. Since Francis’ words weren’t about abortion, homosexuality, or refusing communion to politicians, the pope’s words of condemnation received little attention in the mainstream media. Moreover, those words seemed pointed sharply at the U.S. which alone has ever used nuclear weapons and possesses more of them than any nation on earth. And who among us (much less, among the corporate media) is willing to endure such condemnation?

Fewest of all among us are willing to take seriously the challenge of the Plowshares 7. Who among us is willing to do prison time for the sake of following the prophetic ones who identified disarmament, wakefulness and enlightenment as the only effective path to happiness and peace?

Advent is the time for entertaining those questions. What are your answers? What are mine?

(Discussion follows)   

The Post: What’s Wrong with the Capitalist Model of News Publication

The POst

Last week some dear friends joined Peggy and me to see The Post. That’s the Steven Spielberg film detailing the story behind The Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. It stars Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham, the Post’s chief executive, and Tom Hanks as the paper’s editor, Ben Bradlee.

Intentionally or otherwise, The Post ended up revealing a huge reason why readers have increasingly given up on large for-profit news organizations. They turn out to be run by ignorant people, who know far less than those they pretend to inform. The would-be informants are blinded by the profit motive. Moreover, their organizations top-down structures prevent them from even hearing those who work for them. Thankfully, however, The Post unwittingly suggests remedies for the dire situation it depicts – some of which are taking form before our very eyes.

The Post begins with a revealing vignette of the Vietnam War. It shows a world invisible to the newspaper’s sophisticated editors. There, U.S. infantry are seen executing one of their commanders’ signature “Search and Destroy” missions. The maneuver consisted in having poor, terrified disproportionately black and brown twenty-somethings make their way through rainforests they knew nothing about in search of Vietnamese farmers exquisitely familiar with the terrain. The idea was to find the farmers awaiting them in ambush and kill them. According to the strategy, if they did that enough times, the Americans would soon eliminate the peasants and win the war.

Brilliant, no?

Obviously not.

In fact, by 1971, when The Post begins, it was clear to nearly everyone outside the Beltway that the whole idea was stupid, crazy, doomed, and immoral. That was especially evident to those at the wrong end of Vietnamese rockets and machine guns, as well as of those with any shred of religious conscience. Buddhist monks called attention to the war’s immorality as they immolated themselves in Saigon as far back as 1963. So did the Baptist preacher, Martin Luther King when in 1967 he “Broke Silence” at New York’s Riverside Church. The Muslim, Malcolm X, knew it, as did the boxer, Mohammed Ali. The Catholic Berrigan Brothers and the Catonsville Nine knew.

Even Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Jimi Hendrix, and Joan Baez were in the know. So were the college students demonstrating (with four of them murdered) at Kent State in 1970 – not to mention the throngs of young people brutalized by Mayor Daley’s riot police at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968.

Yet with straight faces, the enlightened and secular mainstream media continued to parrot the lies of the generals and politicians. “Great progress is being made,” the war-makers told the official stenographers. “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

All such statements were about Southeast Asia were known to be false by the ones uttering them. They should have been known by Washington Post editors too. An early sequence in the film shows Truman lying about it, then Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and, of course, Richard Nixon.

And why did they lie? Was it for reasons of national security or to prevent countries in the region from falling to communism like so many dominoes?  Again, no. According to Robert McNamara in the film, seventy percent of it was to prevent embarrassment on the part of the “leaders” responsible for the enterprise in the first place.

Or as Nixon himself put it when he described the ultimate impact of the Pentagon Papers revelations:

“To the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing…. You can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgment; and the — the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because It shows that people do things the president wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the president can be wrong.”

So, to prevent such irreparable damage to “national security,” the wholesale killing went on for years – long after those responsible for the disaster had concluded the war was genocidal and completely unwinnable. In the end, more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers and two million Vietnamese were sacrificed to the myth of Presidential Infallibility – to conceal the fact that OUR GOVERNMENT IS RUN ON LIES.

And (other than repeating government falsehoods) what was the press doing while all of this was going on? What were The Washington Post’s Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee doing? According to the film, they were hobnobbing with the liars. They were dining with them in expensive DC restaurants, vacationing with them in Hyannis, posing with them for photo-ops, throwing parties for them, guarding their secrets, and attending meetings with Wall Street insiders and white men in dark suits.

Their big news item? Tricia Nixon’s wedding!

But then Daniel Ellsberg risked his life by releasing irrefutable proof of government duplicity. And all the Washington insiders are suddenly shocked and appalled. As if the idea had never previously occurred to them, they realize the people in the streets, the religious prophets, the boxing champion, the rock ‘n roll singers and the student demonstrators and martyrs were all right after all.

The newspaper magnates had to face the facts. Their hand was forced.

But what were their biggest concerns when faced with the prospect of publishing the truth? Was it informing the American people? No. It was:

  • Selling more papers than their competitor
  • The impact of publication on the stock market value of their product
  • Fallout in the form of experiencing the ire of President Nixon
  • Being excluded from his inner circle as a result
  • And thus, losing market share.

Several conclusions suggest themselves from all of this – one particular, others more general. In addition, a basic remedy becomes apparent.

The particular conclusion is that the capitalist model of for-profit news publication is deeply flawed. Its power structure is entirely top-down. As depicted in the film, it empowered a tiny group of rich white mostly males to make decisions of extreme national import. Workers at the newspaper were treated with disdain.

That dismissal of underlings is portrayed at the film’s turning point. One of the paper’s staff far down the food chain obtains a copy The Pentagon Papers long sought by the paper’s editors. It had been delivered furtively to him by an even lesser nobody – a young woman in tie-dye obviously out-of-place in the newsroom. Shaking in his boots, the staffer tries to deliver his acquisition to Bradlee. However, he’s rudely waved off by his arrogant boss who initially refuses to even to acknowledge him. Then when he finally does get the editor’s attention, the staffer remains completely ignored as he tries to explain the information’s origin. That’s of no interest to his superior. Evidently for Mr. Bradlee, the idea was inconceivable and irrelevant that young hippies might be credible news sources.

That in itself represents a bleak commentary on capitalist workplace relationships.

Even more damningly however is the movie’s implied criticism of the system’s ownership structures. In fact, they placed the ultimate decision about whether or not to release The Pentagon Papers entirely in the hands of, Katherine Graham, a CEO presented in the film as singularly unprepared for such responsibility. She occupied her position of authority only because she inherited it from her deceased husband. At least within the confines of the film, she knew nothing of world affairs, much less about the Vietnam conflict or the inner workings of government – or those soldiers in the rainforest. True, she socialized with presidents and Wall Street high-rollers. But basically, she was ignorant. All her advisers (those white men in black suits) shared only one concern – the paper’s profitability.

Yet decisions of extreme national concern were entirely up to Ms. Graham. Only because of residual remnants of motherly conscience was she finally able to resist market pressures and do the right thing.

And so here come the general conclusions suggested by The Post:

  • In terms of informing the public, white male patriarchy is extremely inefficient.
  • Similarly, capitalist structures of inheritance, ownership, and commodification of information inhibit service of the truth.
  • The closer you are to power, the less you are likely to know about the concerns of ordinary people.
  • The richer you are, the less you are likely to know about the way the world really works for people in the street.
  • The higher up in the military you find yourself, the less you probably know about the disastrous outcomes of your pet theories and tactics.

What to do about it all. . .  As I earlier remarked, the solutions are unfolding before our eyes:

  • Stop trusting the mainstream media as reliable sources of information.
  • Realize that news sources can be co-operatives where all workers have meaningful input and respect, because they co-own the newspaper and need tremble before none of their peers.
  • Trust only such non-profit outlets, like Democracy Now and OpEdNews that rely for funding on viewer and reader support. They deserve trust because they depend on street-level sources for all of their information and analysis of official misdeeds and legislation.

In the end, The Post is worth watching. But it’s not for the reasons Hanks, Streep and Spielberg advance in their promotional commentaries. It’s not because Ms. Graham or Mr. Bradlee were heroic and demonstrate that the system somehow works. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The true heroes were far down the food chain. The Post merely unveils the system’s severe dysfunctions. It demonstrates the need to put news gathering and publication under the decentralized aegis of workers and activists who refuse to be governed by the venal corporate interests of the military-industrial complex.

The Effing Morons Have Taken Over: It’s Time for Revolution!

Moron

Recent events have shown that our government has no legitimacy at all. None.

As a result, we should all be out in the streets every day. We should be joining a revolution in response to the incendiary words of the Declaration of Independence identifying the right and duty of citizens to dethrone abusive governments:

“. . . when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce (the People to) absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

With this posting, I’m inviting us to think about rebellion in the light of the most egregious of the “abuses and usurpations” we have been made to endure.

And here I’m not just referring to the outrageous Trump administration whose “tax reform” ignores the country’s majority and which is in the process of looting our national treasury on behalf of the already filthy rich. Just watch: they’ll soon be coming for our Social Security and IRAs.

[By the way, do you know what that tax plan represents? It’s not just a refusal to tax the rich to pay for schools, hospitals, roads and bridges – and those ridiculous wars. Rather, it’s a plan to borrow from the rich to pay for those senseless conflicts. In other words, instead of having the 1% pay for their oil wars; we’re paying them! Taxpayers borrow from the banksters to meet those “unfunded mandates,” and then PAY THEM INTEREST rather than COLLECT THEIR TAXES!! The result will be an additional $1 trillion in debt over the next 10 years. What a scam on the part of those liars who up until the Trump election were deficit hawks!]

But that’s not what I’m addressing here.

Neither am I referring to Trump’s completely arbitrary, unlawful, and severe provocation of Muslims across the world by his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Everyone knows that Zionist repression of Palestinians is the root cause of Islamic terrorism. Yet (to avoid Rex Tillerson’s more explicit designation) this effing moron is in effect inviting further 9/11s. (Remember that when the inevitable attack comes and everyone’s asking again, “Why do they hate us?”)

I’m not even referencing climate change and the ignorant decision on the part of “the most dangerous political organization in the history of the world” to unilaterally deprive our grandchildren of nature’s abundance. (Those are the words of Noam Chomsky. Regarding such despotism, he has famously said, “The party is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life. There is no historical precedent for such a stand.”)

No one has the right to commit such outrage.

All of those acts (and many others) should be enough to persuade us that any trace of democracy we may have once enjoyed is gone. The man in the White House and these criminals in Washington don’t represent any of us – just their club of plutocrats that includes Democrats as well as Republicans.

But even their latest acts of gross ignorance and unprecedented kleptomania are insignificant compared to their greatest outrage.

And here I get to my main point.

It involves not just the Trump administration, but all of the criminals who have run our national horror show since the end of the Second Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War II). They’ve all been terrorists and mass murderers. ALL of them: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, and now Trump.

According to Daniel Ellsberg’s new book, The Doomsday Machine: confessions of a nuclear war planner, every one of them stood ready to use nuclear weapons to incinerate 98% of the world’s population in one fell swoop. Ninety-eight percent! (Ellsberg, of course, is the most famous whistle-blower in history – the one who released The Pentagon Papers in 1971. Now his new book reveals what he learned during his stint as an insider formulating U.S. nuclear war policy.)

That policy was not just about deterrence or response to a first strike by the Soviets. It involved a policy of FIRST STRIKE now so dear to Mr. Trump’s heart. Eisenhower, for instance, was firm in his insistence that in time of crisis there could be no waiting for a Russian attack. For him (and subsequent occupants of the White House) our country had to strike first. In Eisenhower’s mind and in those of his successors, “first strike” was best and “second strike” was a distant second best. “No strike” when provoked was unthinkable.

Guided by such policy, from the early ‘50s onward, plans targeted every city of over 25,000 inhabitants in Russia and its satellites, and in China too.

The planned destruction is mind boggling.

How many people would be killed? How about 100 Holocausts – 600 million? That was the Pentagon estimate when the world’s population was 3 billion.

And it didn’t even count deaths resulting from Russian and Chinese retaliation!

Neither did it take into account the smoke and debris that would be swept up into the atmosphere blocking out the sun and causing nuclear winter. That climate change would make food production impossible and have any survivors starve to death (except perhaps about 2% of the world’s population near sea coasts that could provide mollusks and other ocean foods).

Pentagon estimates are that about 2/3 of the planet’s population would perish. Actually, (counting deaths from Russian and Chinese responses) the figure would be far closer to 3/3.

No one should have decision-making power like that. In Jefferson’s words, its arrogation by morons amounts to “abuses and usurpations” designed to reduce us all to circumstances equalling “absolute Despotism.”

But it gets worse. According to Ellsberg, no single person had the power to initiate a nuclear war. Many people did (and do) — down to the rank of Major in the field or Pacific Fleet commanders in the navy. If communication were cut off, and if those morons judge they are under nuclear attack, they have the power to respond in kind.

Is that terrifying enough for you? “Abuses and usurpations” anyone?

The fact is we are all effing morons for allowing this non-government to survive without rebellion.

So what should we do in response to such outrages? At this point, I’m not sure about particular steps. But at the very least we should

  • Throw the bums out. In 2018 truly drain the swamp. Get rid of ALL Republicans and their Democrat enablers.
  • Replace them with Bernie Progressives – with a goal of reviving the New Deal that provably raised living standards for all Americans, not just the rich.
  • Institute a special war tax to fund the on-going war on terrorism – to be increased with each new conflict.
  • Before imposing such taxes, hold nation-wide binding referenda on their advisability.
  • Stop dead our country’s nuclear weapons modernization program.
  • Begin serious world-wide negotiations for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
  • Force Israel to honor U.N. Resolution 242, thus removing the major cause of international terrorism.

And if none of that works, make discussion of rebellion and revolution respectable again – in the name of Jefferson’s brave words. It’s our patriotic duty!