My Turn: A letter to our Massachusetts congressional delegation — Time is running out

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Published: 5/8/2022 5:20:18 PM

I’m writing to you and the other members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation (Senate and House) to appeal to you regarding one terribly important issue that I know you care about as deeply as I do, yet an issue that so far Congress has not meaningfullly addressed — namely, the issue of the almost unthinkable, unimaginable danger to all of us posed each passing day by nuclear weapons.

In a courageous and compelling “pastoral letter” of Jan. 11, 2022, Catholic Archbishop John Wester, whose New Mexico diocese includes the Los Alamos and Sandia National Nuclear Weapons Labs as well as Kirtland Air Force Base wrote:

“(I)t is not enough that we become instruments of peace, as important as that is. No, we must take up the cause of worldwide nuclear disarmament with an urgency that befits the seriousness of this cause and the dangerous threat that looms over all humanity and the planet. I call on all of us … to take up the challenge of nuclear disarmament by engaging the vital conversation that will lead to concrete action steps toward this goal.”

It seems to me that the most meaningful first step for members of Congress to take, and for that matter, the American people as a whole to take in order to address this “dangerous threat” posed by nuclear weapons is, as Archbishop Wester urges, is to insist that the U.S. sign onto the recently ratified United Nations “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” (TPNW). The treaty, for the first time, makes nuclear weapons illegal under international law. Signing the treaty would mean permanently suspending all current and planned federal expenditures related to the testing, production, deployment, and “modernization” of all U.S. nuclear weapons.

Thus far, as I’m sure you are aware, none of today’s eight officially (or unofficially) recognized nuclear weapons states, including the U.S., have signed the TPNW. But if the U.S. could muster the wisdom and courage to be the first to do so, others would very likely follow our lead. After all, polls show that people everywhere, all over the world, are overwhelmingly in favor of nuclear disarmament.

For the U.S., signing and adhering to the treaty’s terms would eliminate billions of dollars in nuclear weapons-and-war-related expenditures. This, in turn, would be an exceptionally appropriate — and resoundingly popular among the American citizenry (including most grassroots Republicans) — first step in addressing the gigantic “elephant in the room” of U.S. military expenditures overall (which constitute nearly half of the total discretionary spending by our government). It’s not hard to imagine the many urgent social and environmental needs that could be met by this savings once we finally dare to seriously address this monstrous “elephant.”

Perhaps, a useful pre-“first step” would be for Congress to hold televised public hearings on the topic of our current nuclear weapons expenditures, to include: expert testimony regarding information such as the number, range, explosive power, and current targeting of all U.S. land, air, and sea-based weapons (including estimated deaths under various scenarios); the current U.S. status of “launch-on-warning” and “no-first-use” policies; a summary of all nuclear weapons accidents, near-accidents, and accident consequences during the past 75 years on the part of nuclear weapons states, including those accidents that have occurred here in the U.S. or as a result of U.S. actions abroad, on land or at sea; and, of course, the unimaginably horrendous environmental and health consequences worldwide in the event of a nuclear war (or, even a more limited “nuclear exchange”) which scientists say would trigger a globally devastating “nuclear winter.”

Many members of Congress, not to mention the public at large, would, I’m sure, be shocked to learn of this information — most of which, ironically, is almost certainly already known by the governments of the other nuclear states. Once the U.S. has formally signed the TPNW treaty and begun taking major steps to dismantle our nuclear weapons arsenal, there would be no need, and certainly no justification, for the U.S. to keep up the pretense of “secrecy,” at home or abroad.

Of course, there would be no guarantee that any of the other nuclear powers would soon follow our U.S. initiative by signing onto the TPNW treaty themselves. But it’s certainly not at all likely that they will give up their nuclear weapons if the U.S. does not do so first, since our possession of nuclear weapons is used to justify theirs.

No doubt, most members of Congress, not to mention the great majority of the American people, would greatly applaud any meaningful initiatives in this direction that you and/or other members might take. Thank you for giving this serious consideration.

Sincerely,

Randy Kehler

Randy Kehler lives in Shelburne Falls and was national coordinator for the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign from 1981-1984.


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