California groups protest “radioactive” Livermore nuke lab
Christine Hong | Marilyn Bechtel/PW

LIVERMORE, Calif. – As Donald Trump’s “fire and fury” statements directed at North Korea ratcheted up worldwide concerns over possible nuclear war, some 250 demonstrators gathered outside the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Aug. 9, to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the U.S. nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II and to demand permanent, total abolition of nuclear weapons.

After an opening rally nearby, protesters marched to the lab’s gates, where they held a ceremonial die-in and dance. Later, some four dozen demonstrators were nonviolently arrested after they defied police demands to disperse.

Marylia Kelley, executive director of the Livermore-based Tri-Valley Communities against a Radioactive Environment, opened the rally with a warning that the lab’s weapons developers – already spending over $1 billion this year on nuclear weapons activities – are “busy designing a new warhead for a new, long-range standoff weapon.” But she added a note of hope, over the United Nations conference that resulted in 122 nations approving a treaty for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons, with one nation abstaining and one voting against. (Not surprisingly, none of the current nuclear weapons nations participated in the conference.)

“We’re here at a critical juncture where there is escalating nuclear danger,” Kelley said, “but there is also escalating pressure for global nuclear disarmament …. The overwhelming number of nations in the world say nuclear weapons are unacceptable. They are now illegal, and we must work toward their actual physical dismantlement and elimination.”

Picking up on the medical profession’s motto, “First, do no harm,” medical oncologist and global warming expert Dr. Jan Kirsch warned of the catastrophic dangers posed by even a “limited” nuclear attack of some 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs. Tens of millions would die in the immediate aftermath, she said, while blockage of the sun by debris would bring worldwide crop failures, and “a couple billion people would die within the next few years.”

Noting that over $1 trillion is currently allocated for U.S. nuclear weapons over the next 30 years, Kirsch – a global warming specialist with Physicians for Social Responsibility – asked the crowd, “Wouldn’t it be a magnificent thing if we could mobilize money and minds to get to carbon neutrality within several years, not several decades? These are the things we should be spending our money on, not on weapons that could only be used to usher in the last day of civilization.”

In 1971 Pentagon war planner Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Department of Defense study of U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. He has been a dedicated campaigner for disarmament ever since.

As featured speaker at the rally, Ellsberg pointed out that the atomic bombs ultimately killed around 300,000 at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“The threats Trump was making the other day – the words and music were a little different, but the sense has been the same for 70 years,” he said. “The truth is, the American people need to tell this president, and Congress and the media: the U.S. has no nuclear first-use option on the table. That is not an option – it is a rehearsal for the destruction of life on earth.”

Takashi Tanemori, who survived the Hiroshima bombing as a child, urged that peace, kindness and forgiveness should replace the threats now being uttered about fire, fury and destruction.

Christine Hong, a faculty member at the University of California, Santa Cruz and an expert on North Korea, reminded the crowd that the Korean War, which began in 1950, had horrendous consequences for the Korean peninsula as a whole and for North Korea in particular. “In an asymmetrical conflict in which the U.S. monopolized the skies, raining down ruin from on high,” she said, “an estimated 4 million Koreans – the vast majority of them civilians – were killed. Chinese statistics indicate that North Korea lost an unimaginable 30 percent of its population.”

Calling North Korea “the most heavily sanctioned nation on this earth,” Hong said the country has been the subject of ongoing regime change efforts by the United States, including nuclear threats on several occasions and the basing of U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea in defiance of the 1953 armistice agreement.

A peace treaty has never been signed; officially the Korean War has never ended.


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986, and currently participates as a volunteer.