For four weeks, starting on August 21, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action and Pax Christi USA are sponsoring four billboards in Seattle and Tacoma which display the message: The use … and possession of nuclear weapons is immoral. – Pope Francis. Get them out of Puget Sound!
The Kitsap-Bangor naval base, located 20 miles from Seattle, is homeport to the largest concentration of deployed nuclear warheads in the world. The nuclear warheads are deployed on Trident D-5 missiles on SSBN submarines and are stored in an underground nuclear weapons storage facility on the base.
The Church and nuclear weapons
In 2017 Pope Francis openly denounced the possession of nuclear weapons by the world’s nuclear-armed nations in a departure from the Roman Catholic Church’s prior acceptance of the doctrines of nuclear deterrence and mutually assured destruction.
“International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms… Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family.”
Speaking in Nagasaki, Japan in 2019, Pope Francis spoke of how the nuclear arms race wastes resources that could instead improve people’s lives and protect the environment: ”In a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, the money that is squandered and the fortunes made through the manufacture, upgrading, maintenance and sale of ever more destructive weapons are an affront crying out to heaven.”
More recently the pope called on all nations and people to “work with determination to promote the conditions necessary for a world without nuclear arms,” speaking in support of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The best way to do this, added the pope, is by “contributing to the advancement of peace and multilateral cooperation, which humanity greatly needs.” The Vatican was the first state to sign and ratify the treaty.
On August 9, 2023, the 78th anniversary of the atomic bombing Nagasaki, the bishops of four Catholic arch/dioceses in areas impacted by nuclear weapons issued a formal statement declaring that they will begin working together to achieve a “world without nuclear weapons.” The dioceses include Seattle (Archbishop Paul Etienne) and Santa Fe, NM (Archbishop John Wester), and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
Nuclear weapons and resistance
In the 1970s and 1980s, thousands demonstrated against nuclear weapons at the Bangor base and hundreds were arrested. Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen had proclaimed the Bangor submarine base the “Auschwitz of Puget Sound” and in 1982 began to withhold half of his federal taxes in protest of “our nation’s continuing involvement in the race for nuclear arms supremacy.’’
In his 1981 Faith and Disarmament speech, Hunthausen challenged the United States to disarm and spoke boldly to what he saw as the central reasons for our nation’s reliance on nuclear weapons: “We whose nuclear arms terrify millions around the globe are terrified by the thought of being without them. The thought of our nation without such power feels naked. Propaganda and a particular way of life have clothed us to death. To relinquish our hold on global destruction feels like risking everything, and it is risking everything — but in a direction opposite to the way in which we now risk everything. Nuclear arms protect privilege an exploitation. Giving them up would mean our having to give up economic power over other peoples. Peace and justice go together. On the path we now follow, our economic policies toward other countries require nuclear weapons. Giving up the weapons would mean giving up more than our means of global terror. It would mean giving up the reason for the terror—our privileged place in the world.”
On May 27, 2016, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, where he spoke, calling for an end to nuclear weapons. He said that the nuclear powers “…must have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.” Obama added, “We must change our mindset about war itself.”
Bangor and the Trident Nuclear Weapon System
Eight Trident SSBN submarines are deployed at Bangor. Six Trident SSBN submarines are deployed on the East Coast at Kings Bay, Georgia.
One Trident submarine carries the destructive force of over 1,200 Hiroshima bombs (the Hiroshima bomb was 15 kilotons). Each Trident submarine was originally equipped for 24 Trident missiles. In 2015-2017, four missile tubes were deactivated on each submarine as a result of the New START Treaty. Currently, each Trident submarine deploys with 20 D-5 missiles and about 90 nuclear warheads (an average of 4-5 warheads per missile). The warheads are either the W76-1 90-kiloton warheads, W88 455-kiloton warheads, or W-76-2 8-kiloton warheads.
The Navy in early 2020 started deploying the new W76-2 low-yield warhead (approximately eight kilotons) on select ballistic submarine missiles at Bangor (following initial deployment in the Atlantic in December 2019). The warhead was deployed to deter Russian first use of tactical nuclear weapons, dangerously creating a lower threshold for the use of U.S. strategic nuclear weapons and the likelihood of a full-scale nuclear war affecting the entire world.
Disarmament or disaster
In his message to the Nagasaki Peace Memorial on the 78th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres said: “Despite the terrible lessons of 1945, humanity now confronts a new arms race. Nuclear weapons are being used as tools of coercion. Weapons systems are being upgraded, and placed at the center of national security strategies, making these devices of death faster, more accurate, and stealthier.All this, at a moment when division and mistrust are pulling countries and regions apart. The risk of nuclear catastrophe is now at its highest level since the Cold War.”
While committing the UN to continuing to pursue global disarmament and non-proliferation, Guterres called “on young people—tomorrow’s leaders and decision makers—to carry their torch forward. We can never forget what happened here. We must lift the shadow of nuclear annihilation, once and for all. No more Nagasakis. No more Hiroshimas.”
Our proximity to the largest number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons puts us near a dangerous local and international threat. When citizens become aware of their role in the prospect of nuclear war, or the risk of a nuclear accident, the issue is no longer an abstraction. Our proximity to Bangor demands a deeper response.
The Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action was founded in 1977. The center is on 3.8 acres adjoining the Trident submarine base at Bangor, Washington. The Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action offers the opportunity to explore the roots of violence and injustice in our world and to experience the transforming power of love through nonviolent direct action. We resist all nuclear weapons, especially the Trident ballistic missile system.