Peace Quest Cape Breton
An informal citizens’ action group working to build a culture of peace in our community, country and world since 2002
PEACE QUEST CAPE BRETON SPECIAL STATEMENT
YEARS OF STRUGGLE, MOMENTS OF TRUTH:
WELCOMING THE BIRTH OF THE BAN TREATY
On January 24, 1946, the first ever resolution of the United Nations General Assembly unanimously called for the “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons”. Almost exactly 75 years later – January 22, 2021 – an historic agreement designed to finally deliver that essential, elusive objective will become international law: the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), known more simply – and fondly – as ‘the Ban Treaty.’
The Ban – adopted by 122 states, two-thirds of UN membership, in July 2017 – establishes a comprehensive prohibition of by far the most devastating weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on Earth, capable of killing millions in minutes, erasing cities in seconds, and triggering in the process a radioactive tsunami and catastrophic climate change. Article 15 states the Treaty shall ‘enter into force’ – becoming fully binding on its members – 90 days after 50 states have ratified it, a threshold soon crossed with the accession of Honduras on October 24 last year.
Many more states are expected to join in coming months and years, building momentum behind this unprecedent push to eliminate the danger of nuclear genocide (and ecocide), raising the profile of the issue around the world, and putting fierce moral and political pressure not just on the world’s nine nuclear-armed nations (US, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea), but their 30+ ‘nuclear-dependent’ allies, including Canada as a member of NATO, the world’s only nuclear-armed alliance.
Peace Quest Cape Breton Campaign Coordinator Sean Howard reflected that it took “decades of campaigning to bring us to this moment of truth, when no country can any longer dodge a decisive, existential question facing humanity since 1945: To Ban or Not to Ban the Bomb?” As 56 former leaders of NATO nations – including two Canadian Prime Ministers (Jean Chrétien, John Turner), three Foreign Ministers (Lloyd Axworthy, Bill Graham, John Manley) and two Defence Ministers (Jean-Jacques Blais, John McCallum) – sanely urged in an Open Letter last September: “Sooner or later, our luck will run out. The nuclear weapon ban treaty provides the foundation for a more secure world, free from this ultimate menace. We must embrace it now and work to bring others on board. There is no cure for a nuclear war. Prevention is our only option.” “May their successors see the light,” Howard urged, “and seize this best last hope for humanity. And may this beautiful, hard-won achievement, the newborn Ban, live long and prosper.”
OCTOBER 25th 2020
FIFTY STEPS BACK FROM THE BRINK:
NUCLEAR BAN TREATY SET TO ENTER INTO FORCE
On October 24 – United Nations Day, and the 75th anniversary of the entry-into-force of the UN Charter – Honduras became the 50th state to ratify the new UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Under the terms of ‘the Ban Treaty,’ as it is popularly known, the 50th ratification triggers a 90-day countdown to ‘entry-into-force,’ meaning simply – and momentously – that on January 22, 2021, this comprehensive prohibition will become binding international law, obliging all states parties “never under any circumstances” to “develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices”.
By happy symbolic coincidence, January 22, 2021, will be almost exactly 75 years to the day since the unanimous adoption (January 24, 1946) by 47 states, including Canada, of the first ever UN General Assembly Resolution, proposing a sweeping solution to “the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy”: “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.” The two lesser categories of weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD), biological and chemical, have already been banned: in just three months, the most dangerous and indiscriminate weapons ever invented – capable of killing millions in minutes, destroying cities in seconds, and wrecking the world’s climate in the process – will also be outlawed.
The Treaty was adopted by 122 states in July 2017, after UN talks boycotted by the world’s ‘nuclear-armed nine’ (the US, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea); the members of the world’s only nuclear-armed alliance, NATO; and America’s other ‘nuclear-dependent’ allies (Australia, Japan, and South Korea) and elsewhere. In addition to its core prohibition provisions, the Treaty would prevent any state from hosting nuclear weapons on its territory – as five NATO states (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey) currently do – or claiming the right to be ‘defended’ by the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.
When it comes to NATO’s nuclear addiction, however, the times they are a-changing: on September 21, 56 former leaders of 20 NATO states issued a sensational ‘Open Letter in Support of the TPNW,’ urging their successors to sign the Treaty and “join the global majority”. “We cannot,” they argued, “dither in the face of this existential threat to humanity”: because “there is no cure for a nuclear war…prevention is our only option.” (There were seven Canadian signatories, all Liberals: former Prime Ministers John Turner––the letter was published two days after his death––and Jean Chrétien; former Foreign Ministers Lloyd Axworthy and John Manley; and former Defense Ministers Jean-Jacques Blais, Bill Graham and John McCallum.)
Days before the milestone 50th ratification, the Trump Administration sent a letter to Ban Treaty-supporting states demanding they withdraw their signatures, a diplomatically unprecedented move which, according to Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the Nobel Peace-Prize winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), “only shows how fearful they are of the treaty’s impact and growing support.”
Peace Quest Cape Breton Campaign Coordinator Sean Howard predicted that entry-into-force will dramatically increase the political and public pressure on the “nuclear addicts and adjuncts” to change their position and “stand on the side of survival.” Howard added that the Cape Breton Regional Municipality – a member of the international ‘Mayors for Peace’ coalition working – has twice called for Canada to sign and ratify the Ban, a “stance taken in recognition that all levels of government – and all citizens – have a role to play in ending the intolerable nuclear threat to the planet.”
HIROSHIMA MEMORIAL DAY RADIO INTERVIEW
On August 6 2020 – ‘Hiroshima Memorial Day’ in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality – CBC Cape Breton reporter George Mortimer interviewed Peace Quest Cape Breton’s Campaign Coordinator Sean Howard. The full interview, broadcast on the August 6 edition of Mainstreet Cape Breton, can heard here:
The Beginning of the End…of Nuclear Weapons, or the World?
Statement by Peace Quest Cape Breton on the 75th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The statement was delivered by Sean Howard, Peace Quest Cape Breton Campaign Coordinator, as part of a ‘Hiroshima Memorial Day’ ceremony at the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) in Sydney on Thursday, August 6, 2020. On July 14, CBRM issued a Proclamation declaring August 6 ‘Hiroshima Memorial Day’ and arguing that “the peoples of the world will not be secure until the arms race is halted and threat of nuclear war eliminated.”
The sane and beautiful tradition of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy is to open every important meeting with some ‘words before all else’: a series of ‘Greetings to the Natural World.’ And they begin by greeting each other, ‘The People,’ as follows: “Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things.”
Today we gather to mark and mourn the 75th anniversary of a crime against humanity and the planet that broke the ‘cycles of life’ – the continuity of past, present, and future – like no act before or (so far) since. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and three days later Nagasaki, was the end of the world – instantly or agonisingly, physically and psychologically – for hundreds of thousands of people, the vast majority civilian. But in the unprecedented, irreparable, elemental extremity of its violence – the conjuring of demonic imbalance and disharmony from the atomic heart, the nuclear core, of Creation – the Mushroom Cloud seemed to many, then and now, to represent (no, to be) the beginning of the end of the world itself.
In The Testimony of Light, written after visiting Hiroshima in 1995, the American poet Carolyn Forché attempted to revisit that point-of-no-return, re-enter the “blazing maple” of the city, where “the trousered legs of the women shimmered” and “they held their arms in front of them like ghosts”: where “the coal bones of the house clinked in a kimono of smoke,” and “the baby crawled over its dead mother seeking milk.” Forché concluded:
The way back is lost, the one obsession.
The worst is over.
The worst is yet to come.
Is she right? Not if we ban the Damn Bomb, the ‘one obsession’ – or genuinely heroic Quest – of many of the hibakusha, the survivors of the Bombings. They include Setsuko Thurlow – a Canadian citizen since the 1950s, and just 13 when her hometown of Hiroshima was destroyed. She was in school at the time, 8:15 on a gorgeous morning, when she “saw a blinding bluish-white flash from the window. As I regained consciousness in the silence and darkness…I began to hear my classmates’ faint cries: ‘Mother, help me. God, help me.’ As I crawled out, the ruins were on fire. Most of my classmates in that building were burned to death alive. I saw all around me utter, unimaginable devastation. Processions of ghostly figures shuffled by. Grotesquely wounded people, they were bleeding, burnt, blackened and swollen. Parts of their bodies were missing. Flesh and skin hung from their bones. Some with their eyeballs hanging in their hands. Some with their bellies burst open, their intestines hanging out. The foul stench of burnt human flesh filled the air.”
In 2017 Setsuko Thurlow accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), rewarded for its leadership of efforts to achieve the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the ‘Ban Treaty’ Setsuko describes as “the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.” Adopted by 122 states at the UN General Assembly in July that year, the Treaty is only opposed by the nine nuclear-armed states and their three dozen or so docile allies, including – alas – Canada. For the last four years, Setsuko has been asking to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to tell her story and persuade him that – to paraphrase President John F. Kennedy – if we don’t abolish nuclear weapons, they will abolish us.
But even if we do ‘Ban the Bomb,’ we need the courage to acknowledge that the sin and stain – the “foul stench” – of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never be erased; that ‘the future’ can never again mean what it did. The way back is lost: but if the world’s states and peoples can work together to build a nuclear-weapon-free world, there may still be a way forward.
In a moment I will ask you to observe a minute’s silence: and to try and hear the unspeakable silence at the heart of Hiroshima that day; a “fearful silence,” Yōkō Ota recalled, “which made one feel that all people and all trees and vegetation were dead.” “The world of the dead,” historian Richard Rhodes writes “is a different place from the world of the living and it is hardly possible to visit there. That day in Hiroshima the two worlds nearly converged. Only the living can describe the dead; but where death claimed nine out of ten, or, closer to the hypocenter, ten out of ten, a living voice necessarily distorts. The silence was the only sound the dead could make. They died because they were members of a different polity and their killing did not therefore count officially as murder; their experience most accurately models the worst case of our common future.”
Rhodes, simply, asks his readers to do something very difficult: “Remember them.” Let us try, and by trying imagine a ‘common future’ of peace, balance, and harmony for each other as people and all living things…
Wednesday, July 15th, 2020
REMEMBERING OUR COMMON HUMANITY:
CAPE BRETON REGIONAL MUNICIPALITY DECLARES AUGUST 6 ‘HIROSHIMA MEMORIAL DAY’
On July 14 the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) issued a Proclamation declaring August 6 ‘Hiroshima Memorial Day,’ a “day to remember the devastation of Hiroshima in 1945, and to renew our commitment to ensuring freedom from the threat posed by nuclear weapons, here and everywhere.”
The Proclamation, tabled by Councillor Amanda McDougall (District 8) noted that while “hundreds of thousands of civilians died” in the attacks on Hiroshima – and Nagasaki, on August 9 – and “many more thousands have suffered and are suffering from the burns and diseases resulting from these bombs,” the shocking reality is that “today’s nuclear arsenals are equal in their destructive power to more than one million Hiroshimas”. “The peoples of the world,” the Proclamation continues, “will not be secure until the arms race is halted and threat of nuclear war eliminated.”
Peace Quest Cape Breton welcomes the Proclamation as an act of human decency and solidarity with all those working to ensure there are no more Hiroshimas, no new Nagasakis. “The 75th anniversary of the atrocities,” commented Sean Howard, the group’s Campaign Coordinator, “is both a time for sombre reflection and a crucial opportunity to raise awareness of surely the most grossly under-reported issue on Earth today: the real, present and rising danger to humanity and the environment posed by 14,000 nuclear weapons in the demonstrably unsteady hands of delusional ‘leaders’ and unaccountable militaries.” “At a time of climate breakdown and deadly pandemic,” Howard adds, “CBRM’s Proclamation reminds us not just of the massive risks but the obscene waste of money and resources expended in casting a manmade Cloud over all Life on Earth.”
Since 2013, CBRM has been a member of ‘Mayors for Peace’ (M4P), a fast-growing coalition (headquartered in Hiroshima) of nearly 8,000 municipalities from 164 countries advocating for a nuclear-weapon-free world. For the last three years, the principal focus of M4P has been urging all nations to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the ‘Ban Treaty’ adopted by 122 states at the UN General Assembly in July 2017. The Ban is opposed by only 41 states, alas including Canada: the nine nuclear-armed nations (US, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea) and their friends and supporters in NATO and elsewhere. CBRM has twice before (2017 & 2018) adopted resolutions supporting the Treaty and urging Canada to sign.
For more information, please contact Sean Howard at 902-733-2918, email@example.com
“It’s a Big Problem, and Not Many People Want to Fix It.”
Interview with Peace Quest Cape Breton’s Bhreagh McKinnon,
Introduction by Sean Howard, Campaign Coordinator, Peace Quest Cape Breton
The following transcript is an edited and abridged version of my hour-long conversation with Bhreagh McKinnon, a CBU student and a member of Peace Quest Cape Breton, who travelled to France in mid-February to attend the two-day ‘Paris Forum’ of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), subtitled How to Ban Bombs and Influence People.
ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for helping bring about the new UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), known simply – and fondly – as ‘the Ban Treaty.’ Adopted by 122 members – two thirds – of the UN General Assembly in July 2017, the Treaty has so far been signed by 81 states, ratified by 35, and will enter into force after 50 ratifications. It is, however, currently being ignored or ridiculed by the world’s nine nuclear-armed states (US, UK, Russia, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea) and their nuclear-dependent allies (including Canada).
Note: Bhreagh was a student in a recent course at CBU on ‘Nuclear Weapons and the Politics of Global Survival,’ co-taught by myself and Dr. Lee-Anne Broadhead. In November 2019. I interviewed another young Peace Quester, and classmate of Bhreagh’s, Christine Gwynn, about her journey to attend the trial and conviction of the ‘Kings Bay Plowshares 7,’ a group of Catholic anti-nuclear activists who in April 2018 ‘symbolically disarmed’ the Trident nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia The interview was published in The Cape Breton Spectator and can be viewed here: https://capebretonspectator.com/2019/12/11/convictions-the-trial-of-the-kings-bay-plowshares-7/.
Why Did You Go?
Sean Howard (SH): I know you’re very committed to the anti-nuclear and anti-war cause – as well as climate justice, anti-racism, and other issues – but what made you decide to take the time and spend the money to attend a 2-day event so far away, during a University term, in the middle of winter? Why did you go?
Bhreagh McKinnon (BM): Well, I was so moved by my nuclear weapons class. I mean, I learnt so much. and it’s so important, but it’s not something that’s talked about, anything like enough. Also, learning about the Kings Bay Seven really inspired me, and the conference was based on activism, how to get out there, and I’m so uncomfortable with doing anything in public, and I’d like to become more comfortable. Because it’s a big problem, and not many people want to fix it. And I was in a place of privilege to do it, to go to Paris, so why not do it?
2. The Critical Link: Nuclear Disarmament and the Fight for Climate Justice
SH: One of the main campaign priorities for Peace Quest Cape Breton is to play a part, in our part of the world, in helping draw the Link between the two existential threats to life in earth: the risk of catastrophic climate change (and mass death) from global warming, and the risk of catastrophic climate change (and even more rapid mass death) from nuclear war. I know this Link is crystal clear to you, but it isn’t to many people, including people in the climate justice movement. So I wanted to ask how important and clear The Link seems to ICAN, and what success you think ICAN is having in building a coalition with the anti-global warming movement?
BM: I think it’s ICAN’s top priority: they talked about it a lot. Though I wish they talked to climate activists more, especially on social media, to join up events and messages. I mean, why is it climate marches and then disarmament marches?
SH: Some of the speakers were climate justice activists: in the opening session, Fabio Bugelli from Youth for the Climate in France; and later Rebecca Johnson, my former boss, now advising the British Green Party on both nuclear disarmament and climate change issues. But you’re absolutely right, generally it’s not coordinated enough: and I’ve not seen a single joint event clearly making The Link. Beatrice Fihn of ICAN has been talking, I believe, to Greta Thunberg, but to my knowledge Greta Thunberg hasn’t yet publically embraced the Ban Treaty…
BM: No, and I don’t get it…
SH: There’s not much point in reducing carbon emissions and blowing the world up: we need both, Net Zero emissions and Global Zero weapons.
BM: The Link is there, it’s so obvious, but the general public doesn’t know. Some people don’t even know there are nuclear weapons in the world! And the climate movement is already so large, everyone knows about it. If you’re not a part of it, you’re looked at as reactionary, so why not latch onto that movement to push for nuclear disarmament too? It’s a perfect time.
SH: In the Green New Deal in the US, for example, The Link is missing, even though the amount of money you could save and use to make the world greener…
BM: It should common sense, to take money from war, things that hurt the environment…
SH: Not least because climate crises could generate conflict that could end in nuclear war.
BM: It’s common sense to me now – but only once I heard about it!
3. O Canada…
SH: You were telling me that there weren’t many people there from Canada, though one of the star speakers, Ray Acheson, is a Canadian woman, and Hiroshima-survivor Setsuko Thurlow has been a Canadian citizen since the 1950s. Were you surprised…
BM: I never met a Canadian, though that doesn’t mean they weren’t there.
SH: What was the response you got when you said you were from Canada? Were people saying ‘go back and tell Trudeau to sign the Ban’?
BM: There wasn’t a question on our nuclear stance. There was a question on, ‘do you still have that Prime Minister who’s really pretty?’ And I think that’s really telling of how the world perceives us, because it’s like no one is actually paying attention to our policies: Canada’s just this nice country with a beautiful Prime Minister. Which is really disappointing.
SH: A ‘beautiful Prime Minister’ who refuses to meet Setsuko Thurlow! Who refused to take part in the Ban Treaty negotiations – the first negotiations in UN history that Canada has snubbed…
BM: Exactly, there are so many flaws…
SH: Do you think Canada could emerge as an important force for nuclear disarmament, if, say, it challenged NATO’s nuclear posture?
BM: I think 100%, except there’s a lot of factors preventing that. Canada is perceived as this wonderful country, so I think people would say, ‘Well, of course Canada doesn’t like nuclear weapons.’ It would go with our stereotype. But unfortunately Canada is like America’s little brother, it’s ridiculous how submissive Canada is…
SH: They took them on on landmines, in the 1990s…
BM: I know, and listening to what Canada did in the nineties with landmines, and even before that, is a vast difference from now. People from the nineties should be so disappointed and disgusted!
SH: Some of them are. Retired diplomats and officials, especially.
BM: That was one of my biggest criticisms of the federal election here last year, that almost no one talked about it. When they talked about foreign policy, which wasn’t often, they talked mainly about trade, the environment a bit, but nothing on nuclear weapons.
SH: I think Canada may have to follow on this. Say there’s a seismic political shift in Europe, perhaps a Green government in Germany – which isn’t inconceivable – or Scotland leaves the the UK and gets rid of British nuclear weapons…
BM: Yeah, I think Canada needs a really big shove!
SH: They do want a good reputation. They do want to get back on the Security Council. But what’s the point of having ‘little brother’ on the Council when you’ve already got Big Brother?
BM: Yet we’re a big country with an important history in the nuclear age…
SH: A history which isn’t well known. How many Canadians know how much uranium we supplied to the US military, for years and years, starting with uranium for the Bombs dropped on Japan? Or that that uranium was taken from the indigenous Dene people in the North, without their permission, and with terrible health effects? Why isn’t reparation for the Dene – and environmental remediation – part of this country’s ‘truth and reconciliation’ journey? But it isn’t…
BM: And that says all you need to know about what Canada – about what the colonial government – feels about indigenous people.
4. Waking the Sleepwalkers: How Can We Raise the Profile of the Issue?
SH: I’m sure that this was a major preoccupation: how do we broaden our base and deepen the discourse? The Forum itself – a tremendous success, very well attended – got almost no coverage, even in the progressive press, so that’s pretty disheartening. But it’s not in ICAN’s DNA to just get depressed, so what kind of ideas were there? I mean they became pretty famous when they won the Nobel Peace Prize, but the issue still hasn’t broken through.
BM: One of the biggest things they stressed is that no matter how many negative comments you get (and they get a lot!), stay positive.
SH: And they have achieved an immense amount, just in the last few years, while you’ve been growing up, becoming conscious of the issue. Ten years ago there was no hint of a Ban Treaty…
BM: That’s the thing, they should be this force to be reckoned with, but they’re not seen as that. I mean, in the nuclear community they are, but the governments that support nuclear weapons don’t seem nervous. Maybe on the inside they are, but they’re not like, ‘Oh no, not ICAN!’ But other governments matter, too, and one of the most important things about the Ban is that a lot of countries from the Global South, a lot of smaller countries, have signed it, have stood up for themselves…
SH: Yes, and they’ve hooked up with countries in Europe that refuse to be defined by militarism, - countries like Ireland, Austria, that don’t want to become part of some military machine.
BM: I know it’s really nice to see countries in the Global North who aren’t investing in war, who aren’t playing that game.
SH: And Ireland’s an interesting case, because it’s suffered hideously from British colonialism, so it’s never going to think, ‘well, Britain’s big nuclear weapons will keep little old Ireland safe.’
BM: They’re tired of being pushed around.
5. “My New Obsession to Connect”
SH: The Ban Treaty is radical not just because of its sweeping, comprehensive provisions, but in how seriously it takes the racist and patriarchal prejudices that have so cruelly shaped the nuclear age, and which continue to threaten the planet with disaster.
BM: Yes, Rebecca Johnson kept calling it a ‘feminist-humanitarian treaty’.
SH: And that has roots in the landmines ban, the cluster bombs ban, and other modern disarmament agreements: but to have the Biggest Weapons of all talked about like that is itself a big deal. One of the sessions, in fact, was titled Fight the Power!, dedicated to challenging the “established narratives” of “the military, the patriarchy, big businesses, and colonial powers.” I think that’s exactly the right approach, but I also know some experts and even campaigners who feel uncomfortable with that kind of language, those kind of linkages. I’m not talking about many people, but there is some pushback and scepticism. So why do you think, in order to Ban the Bomb, we do indeed need to talk about all ‘this other stuff’ as well? Isn’t the movement ‘biting off more than it can chew’?
BM: Well, for me, this school year, it’s become my new obsession to connect every issue. Because when you look at something like nuclear weapons only on the surface level then you won’t completely find or solve the problem, because the problem is rooted deeper. It’s a real problem that the US government thinks so little of indigenous groups that they test nuclear weapons on their land, and then do nothing about the terrible harm they cause. That’s an issue: why wouldn’t you link that? And if you do, you have another community that’s supporting you, indigenous groups all over the world, and that lets you build a fuller and more fruitful argument. And the Bomb does affect everyone and everything! It’s a feminist issue, because when Strontium-90 from nuclear testing is absorbed into the body, a mother’s breast milk is poisoning her baby!
SH: And all the hideous birth defects, the ‘jellyfish babies’, from radiation…
BM: And on the spectrum of ‘security’, when feminists want to help their community, they don’t want to do it by disadvantaging another community. But the ‘masculinized’ view of power says, well, if helping your community means disadvantaging, hurting another community, that’s OK.
SH: Power over, rather than power with. And there’s economics, with the US planning to spend at least $100,000 a minute for the next ten years on these things…
BM: Trade, economics, race: it links to everything, and if you only look at it on the ‘top’ level of the weapons, you’re diminishing the power of your argument, you remove or deny the human factor, and that’s how you get things to change, by using empathy.
SH: I mean specialists have a role to play, in constructing good treaties, ensuring adequate verification…
BM: 100%: we need facts and statistics, but we need more. Rebecca Johnson had a sign: ‘No Jargon!’ She meant ‘nuke speak,’ just using facts, statistics, euphemisms, acronyms. I think that’s what turns people off from learning more about it. You can’t understand everything the scientists are saying, because not everyone has a degree in that, and you shouldn’t have to…
SH: Well, most climate justice activists don’t understand all the science, but they know enough to know the future of the planet’s at stake. People used to say ‘It’s the Economy, Stupid!’ But now, It’s the Planet, Stupid! And it’s the same with the Bomb…
BM: Exactly. It’s a single problem – a single planet – but it’s multi-faceted.
SH: And the peace movement has always been like that! Women have always been at the forefront of efforts to stop war, from before the First World War. Feminism has always been a part of it. Anti-colonialism has always been a part of it. Anti-racism: look at Martin Luther King, one of your heroes. He talked a lot about the Bomb, and war, but that’s been written out…
BM: And purposively written out, so the public can’t make the links. Because imagine the community you’d have backing you if it knew Martin Luther King supported nuclear disarmament. I mean, it’s very hard to be an activist, it’s very stressful: you only have one lifetime, and you have to be educated very well in the topic you’re trying to fight governments on. But a lot of activists are open to learning about more issues, about how they all connect – so that I feel that the people who say that’s ‘too much’ are ignorant of what it takes, of what’s involved in getting involved! That might be kind of harsh, but why wouldn’t you look at race, why wouldn’t you look at gender?
SH: Peace education is important in this regard. Tiny numbers of people at High School learn…
BM: I don’t think peace education even exists, honestly.
SH: And when you suggest it, it’s called ‘propaganda,’ ‘brainwashing’: ‘you can’t reach kids about the Bomb!’
BM: You’re criticized, you’re demonized, you’re ‘too radical’. You’re too emotional, that’s the big one!
SH: That’s the gendering… You grew up partly in Texas, right?
BM: I spent fourteen years there.
SH: You know how much militarism there is in the culture, glorification of the Warrior…
BM: Oh my Gosh yes! I spent five years learning about Texas history from a colonial perspective, and I remember sitting in a class with a majority of Mexican students, and we were learning about how the Mexicans came across the Rio Grande and the white people were forced to fight to defend their land, and all the Mexicans in the class were like, ‘what?!’
SH: So Mexico invaded itself?
BM: Uh huh! I just read something about how many years it’s been since Texas ‘left’ Mexico. Texas didn’t ‘leave’ Mexico: part of Mexico was colonized. So there’s no peace education because it’s from the perspective of the colonizer.
6. SOS: Young Person to Young People…
SH: What is your message to people your age who perhaps have never thought much (if at all) about nuclear weapons: who don’t think they pose much of a threat, at least not compared to other threats: climate, debt, etc. Why, when there’s so much to worry about, should they worry about this?
BM: Because we’re all going to die! I mean that’s the simple answer.
SH: If we don’t get this right, there’s nothing else…
BM: And I came out of the conference with a new confidence, where now I want to talk about it, now I want to sit here and do this interview, take every chance possible to talk about nuclear weapons. I want to tell my friends about it, and I really want it to be known at climate marches that this is an issue. I mean, there’s lot of people saying, ‘I don’t want to have kids’ because of the environment, but it’s the same threat, or worse, with nuclear weapons.
SH: And it’s not like these things are leftovers from the Cold War, stuck in some room somewhere, safely locked up. They’re on alert, an alert that could be triggered by hacking, malfunction, misjudgement… And new ones are being built, and they’re spreading, with nine states now but more wanting to ‘join the club.’ And that’s why some people previously in favour of keeping them, like former US Republican Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, are now in favour of getting rid of them. Not because they’re making all the connections you are, or ICAN is, but even from a narrow, ‘national security,’ ‘cost-benefit’ perspective, they’re just horrified at the risks: the terrible truth that, as we speak, there are increasingly active preparations to fight and win…
SH: Right, a nuclear war!
BM: You need to break the cycle of war, not invest in it…
SH: Good for the stock market.
BM: As we say in the climate movement, there’s no economy on a dead planet. Or during a nuclear winter...
SH: In my experience, when young people find out about the threat – find out, for example, that Canada is part of a Nuclear Planning Group in NATO – then their indifference can suddenly switch to indignation. ‘Why was I not told this before? Why is this never on the news?’ And I think that kind of disgust is something campaigners can use…
BM: That’s what happening with the climate marches. And it could be the same with the Bomb, because once the youth grab on to something as existential as this, they’re not going to stop. I mean, we’re not going to stop on climate policy until we get what we want. Or we die!
SH: If India and Pakistan have a bad nuclear day…
BM: If one the leaders is feeling cranky: if Trump decides to poke at North Korea again. It’s ridiculous how easy and quickly…
SH: And that’s the other issue: what kind of democracy are you?
BM: The power is behind the curtain. ‘Democracy’ is on the curtain. But when you pull it back… And you can see that by comparing what candidates say before they get into office, and what they do when they’re in office. Even President Obama, which was so disappointing…
SH: He wouldn’t even adopt a No-First-Use policy!
BM: It’s becoming increasingly obvious to Americans, especially Americans on the left end of the spectrum: we’re all being fooled.
7. Highlights and Inspirations
SH: Final question: what surprised and inspired you most?
BM: My favourite panel was Fight the Power!, with Ray Acheson and a Russian woman, a peace activist called Faiza Oulahsen. That was the most important one for me, because it really out into perspective what happens when activists stand up, because Faiza knew she was facing years in prison, in a labour camp in Russia. That kind of courage is the only way change is going to happen. But it’s not a question of not being afraid…
SH: In the end, what are you more afraid of…
BM: Should I be more afraid of the planet dying and me dying, or should I be more afraid of being in prison for a year, or something worse. I’m not saying I would go that far…
SH: How important is it to you that when these brave people say, ‘Fight the Power!’, they mean non-violently?
BM: Martin Luther King is a massive inspiration to me. I love him so much, and he’s proved that you can be non-violent and create real change. If you just go out to the street and start violence you won’t hurt the government, you’ll let the government hurt your cause…
SH: You’ll be ‘terrorists’?
BM: Exactly. You can still create trouble, be a pest, really disrupt, without violence. And I mean, the Kings Bay Seven cutting a hole in a fence and walking around the base is the complete opposite of violence, and they’re being treated like they did the worst crime ever!
SH: When they were trying to stop the worst crime imaginable!
BM: Yes! So I would really like to be a ‘pest’!
SH: The good news is, there’s a whole spectrum of ‘pest’ behaviour! Including taking your money somewhere else, not banking with a bank that invests in nuclear weapons. ‘Don’t Bank on the Bomb’: that’s not just peaceful but legal, and if enough people do it…
BM: It’s important to find your ‘comfort level,’ work out what you can do, how to use your privilege.
SH: Well, that’s wonderful. And good luck in your career as an anti-nuclear ‘pest’!
*All photographs by Bhreagh Mckinnon