On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Trident Nein plowshares action

By Art Laffin — July 5, 2022 marks the 40th anniversary of the Trident Nein (German for NO) plowshares-disarmament action which I was honored to participate in. I am forever grateful to each of my co-conspirators who were part of this lifegiving witness, as well as for all those who supported us in our action, court procedings and trial and imprisonment.

Early on July 5, 1982, as the nation just finished celebrating Independence Day, Judy Beaumont, a Benedictine sister and teacher from Chicago; Anne Montgomery, of the Plowshares Eight; James Cunningham, an ex-lawyer from Jonah House; George Veasey, a Vietnam war veteran also from Jonah House; Tim Quinn, expectant father and house painter from Hartford, CT; Anne Bennis, teacher from Philadelphia; Bill Hartman, peace worker from Philadelphia; Vincent Kay, house painter and poet from New Haven; and I, a member of the Covenant Peace Community in New Haven; entered General Dynamics-Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, CT to enact the biblical prophecy of beating swords into plowshares and make a “declaration of independence” from the first-strike Trident nuclear submarine and all nuclear weapons. Bill, Jim, Vincent and Tim boarded the Trident USS Florida by canoe, hammered on several missile hatches, poured blood, and with spray paint, renamed the submarine “USS Auschwitz.” They were arrested within half an hour. Meanwhile, Sr. Judy, Anne, George, Sr. Anne and I entered EB’s south storage yard and hammered and poured blood on two Trident sonar spheres and hung on them a banner that read: “Trident a Holocaust–The Oven Without Walls.” We were apprehended after three hours. During a two-week jury trial in New London Superior Court, we were disallowed a justification defense and expert witnesses were prohibited from testifying about the danger of Trident. We were convicted of criminal mischief, conspiracy and criminal trespass and ordered to pay $1,386.67 in restitution to the Navy. We were sentenced to jail for up to one year. 

In 1982, the nuclear peril was as palpable and imminent as it is today. There was open talk by government officials of a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Then, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists turned it “Doomsday Clock” to three minutes before midnight. Three years later, it was changed to a mere minute before. 

Most recently, on January 20 of this year, the Doomsday Clock was set to 100 seconds before midnight due to the existential dangers of nuclear war and climate change — threats compounded by cyber-enabled information warfare, upgrades to existing nuclear systems, and worsening world tensions.

This determination occurred just prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Now this conflict has further exacerbated the nuclear peril between the two foremost nuclear powers. While the U.S., the only nation to have used nuclear weapons, has always maintained a “first-use” nuclear weapons policy, Russia has publicly stated it would consider using nuclear weapons if it feels endangered by increased U.S. and NATO intervention in the war in Ukraine. Under Russia’s military doctrine, Russia “reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, as well as in response to aggression against the Russian Federation that utilizes conventional weapons that threatens the very existence of the state.”

As of early 2022, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), nine countries possess roughly 12,700 warheads. Approximately 90 percent of all nuclear warheads are owned by the U.S. and Russia (Russia has 5,977; the U.S. has 5,428). U.S. nuclear weapons are also stored at six military bases in the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Turkey. 

Of the world’s 12,700 nuclear warheads, more than 9,400 are in military stockpiles for use by missiles, aircraft, ships and submarines. The remaining warheads have been retired but are still relatively intact and are awaiting dismantlement). Of the 9,440 warheads in the military stockpiles, some 3,730 are deployed with operational forces (on missiles or bomber bases). Of those, approximately 2,000 U.S., Russian, British and French warheads are on high alert, ready for use on short notice.

Furthermore, U.S. and NATO missile defense systems ring Russia and China, increasing already heightened tensions. U.S. and Russia are developing hypersonic weapons that could become nuclear capable.

During the Trump administration, the U.S. dramatically increased the nuclear danger by threatening to use nuclear weapons against adversaries on several occasions.  Moreover, the U.S. withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal and the INF Treaty with Russia and carried out a subcritical nuclear test, a flagrant violation of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In its 2019 Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, policy makers declared that a limited nuclear war could be waged and won. This doctrine was the latest manifestation of a long-held existing Pentagon policy positing that the U.S. must be prepared at all times to use whatever military force is necessary, including nuclear weapons, to protect its vital interests in the world. Also, in February 2020, the “lower-yield” W76-2 nuclear warhead on Trident missiles was deployed, a smaller warhead the military believes is more usable. Additionally, a new U.S. space force was created to oversee military control and domination of space.

On March 28, 2022 the Biden administration transmitted to Congress a classified Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) which basically reaffirms preexisting U.S. nuclear doctrine, including refusal to adopt a “no first-use” policy of nuclear weapons. President Biden is committed to modernization of nuclear forces, as evidenced by its proposed 2023 nuclear weapons budget request of $50.9 billion, a 17 percent increase over this year’s $43.2 billion. This includes the Columbia-class submarine, an upcoming class of nuclear submarines designed to replace the Ohio-class Trident ballistic missile submarines in the U.S. Navy. The first submarine officially began construction on October 1, 2020, and is scheduled to enter service in 2031. The projected cost for 12 submarines is $109.8 billion.

This is just one part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal upgrade which is estimated to cost $1.7 trillion over the next several decades.

On June 21, 2022, in a message read at the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) held in Vienna, Pope Francis renewed his call for an end to war and to the causes of conflict, and reaffirmed that the use and possession of nuclear weapons is immoral. The TPNW, which prohibits the deployment, possession, moving, storing and stationing of nuclear weapons, entered into force in 2021 thereby making nuclear weapons illegal under international law, has been signed by 86 nations and ratified by 66 of them, including the Holy See. The nine nuclear-armed nations — the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea — have not signed the treaty, nor has any nation from the NATO alliance.

In the statement Pope Francis declared: 

“The Holy See has no doubt that a world free from nuclear weapons is both necessary and possible … Indeed, if we take into consideration the principal threats to peace and security with their many dimensions in this multipolar world of the 21st century as, for example, terrorism, asymmetrical conflicts, cybersecurity, environmental problems, poverty, not a few doubts arise regarding the inadequacy of nuclear deterrence as an effective response to such challenges. These concerns are even greater when we consider the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences that would follow from any use of nuclear weapons, with devastating, indiscriminate and uncontainable effects, over time and space. Nor can we ignore the precariousness arising from the simple maintenance of these weapons: the risk of accidents, involuntary or otherwise, that could lead to very troubling scenarios…

Nuclear weapons are a costly and dangerous liability. They represent a “risk multiplier” that provides only an illusion of a “peace of sorts”. Here, I wish to reaffirm that the use of nuclear weapons, as well as their mere possession, is immoral … Possession leads easily to threats of their use, becoming a sort of “blackmail” that should be repugnant to the consciences of humanity…

In this regard “unless this process of disarmament be thorough-going and complete, and reaches men’s very souls, it is impossible to stop the arms race or to reduce armaments or – and this is the main thing – ultimately to abolish them entirely…

Existing disarmament treaties are more than just legal obligations. They are also moral commitments based on trust among States and among their representatives… Furthermore, as is the case with this Treaty, it provides for international cooperation and assistance to victims as well as to the environment: here my thoughts go to the Hibakusha, the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to all the victims of nuclear arms testing.”

Pope Francis also stated in an interview with editors of European Jesuit publications on May 19, referring to Russia’s attack against Ukraine:

“The world is at war,” he said. “For me, today, World War III has been declared. This is something that should give us pause for thought.”

Forty years after the Trident Nein action, despite recent papal pronouncements now deeming the possession of nuclear weapons immoral and a new UN treaty making them illegal, humanity remains on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. Yet, there are many signs of hope to bring about nuclear abolition. These include ICAN’s global campaign to enlist all the nations of the world, especially the nine nuclear nations, to endorse the TPNW; the U.S.-based Nuclear Ban Treaty Collaborative-Days of Action Working Group; Pope Francis’ and Santa Fe, NM Archbishop John Wester’s disarmament declarations; the Don’t Bank on the Bomb campaign to divest in private companies involved in the production of nuclear weapons and their financiers; and other courageous disarmament and anti-war actions and initiatives by grassroots groups and peacemakers worldwide, including the plowshares movement. Plowshares activists have been inspired to carry out more than 100 disarmament actions since 1980, whereby the nuclear swords of our time have symbolically been beaten into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3). The most recent plowshares action, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, took place at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in St. Mary’s, GA — homeport of six Trident nuclear submarines — on April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. They declared in their action statement“Nuclear weapons eviscerate the rule of law, enforce white supremacy, perpetuate endless war and environmental destruction, and ensure impunity for all manner of crimes against humanity. Dr. King said, ‘The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.’ We say, ‘The ultimate logic of Trident is omnicide.’”

The Hibakusha plead to the world: “Humanity and nuclear weapons cannot co-exist.” Martin Luther King, Jr. exhorts us: “The choice today is…either nonviolence or nonexistence.” Now is the time to act. Jesus, who commands His followers to practice Gospel nonviolence, offers the assurance that “All things can be done for the one who believes.” (Mark 9:23) The holy cloud of witnesses, which now include two members of the Trident Nein, Judy Beaumont and Anne Montgomery, are advocating for us as we strive to create a nonviolent disarmed world and the Beloved Community. 

Art Laffin is a Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace. He is a member of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, D.C., is co-editor of Swords Into Plowshares, and author of the new edition of The Risk of the Cross: Living Gospel Nonviolence in the Nuclear Age.

3 thoughts on “The nuclear threat remains; the resistance continues

  1. Art, firstly, thank you for dedicating your life and at times freedom to the stop-the nuclear madness cause. How can Joe Biden claim his Catholic faith undergirds his life when he’s addicted to nuclear madness and provokes Russia into using the nuclear option in Ukraine? That’s why I voted for the secular Jew Bernie Sanders whose semi-isolationist philosophy and prioritization of diplomacy over war could have avoided the unspeakably obscene destruction of human life and the diabolical waste of resources and money that would have saved millions from starvation in Afghanistan and Africa.

  2. Thank you, Art Laffin. Your message is real, sobering, and hopeful. Let us each do his/her part to live peace.

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