— Garry Thomas
At his sentencing on October 15, in Federal Court in Brunswick, Georgia, Kings Bay Plowshares activist Patrick O’Neill told Judge Lisa Godbey Wood: “This court, by its refusal to consider the lawlessness of weapons of mass destruction, is essentially declaring the end of the world to be acceptable.”
Just days later, on October 24, Honduras became the 50th nation to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, this the threshold that was required in order for the treaty to become international law. The law requires signatories never “to develop, test, produce, manufacture or otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” It is important that the treaty calls for the prohibition of nuclear weapons rather than merely their non-proliferation. Plowshares activists, who have long felt the United States’ possession of a nuclear arsenal to be illegal as well as immoral, will soon have the backing of the United Nations. The treaty goes into effect on January 22, 2021.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its “ground-breaking efforts” to achieve this very treaty to prohibit such weapons. Local Back from the Brink activists brought Dr. Ira Helfand, a member of ICAN’s International Steering Committee and co-chair of the International Physicians for Social Responsibility to Ithaca in March 2019. He ended his presentation at St John’s Episcopal Church saying, “It is not helpful to think, as a large percentage of the US population does, ‘In my heart I don’t believe it can happen here,’ and then go about our daily lives. That is what happened during the Holocaust ‘when it did happen here’.” Since his Ithaca visit, Helfand has added his name to the global petition to drop the charges against the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 alongside more than 100 other notables.
Ira Helfand commended Back from the Brink as the type of initiative that is required, saying “It is parallel to the Green New Deal in importance.” Four states and 50 cities and towns in the US, including the City of Ithaca (2018) and the Town of Lansing (2019), have adopted resolutions supporting Back from the Brink’s policy solutions: renounce first use; end sole authority of the president to order a nuclear attack; end hair-trigger alert; cancel enhanced weapons’ development; and press more nations to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Significantly, none of the countries possessing nuclear weapons – the US, Russia, UK, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel – have signed the treaty. However, in a statement following Honduras’ becoming a signatory, ICAN said: “States that haven’t joined the treaty will feel its power too – we can expect companies to stop producing nuclear weapons and financial institutions to stop investing in nuclear weapon-producing companies.”
Our work is not done.
This article was first published in the Winter 2020 issue of The Magnificat, the Ithaca Catholic Worker community newsletter.