By John LaForge
VIENNA, Austria—A pair of conferences here Dec. 6-9 have tried to raise public and government awareness of nuclear weapons.
The first, a Civil Society Forum put on by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, brought together NGOs, parliamentarians, and activists of all stripes to try and boost morale and renew enthusiasm in efforts to ban the bomb.
About 700 participants spent two days delving into the ghastly health and environmental effects of nuclear war, the hair-raising frequency of H-bomb accidents and near detonations, the horrifying impacts of bomb testing—and other human radiation experiments conducted without informed consent upon our own unwitting civilians and soldiers.
This is ground that’s been plowed for decades, but it’s nevertheless staggering to the uninitiated and is never repeated too often—especially in view of the destabilization and skyrocketing death toll of what the Pope has called today’s “World War Three.”
ICAN’s infusion of youthful encouragement and high-energy mobilization is a welcome relief for the doddering anti-nuclear movement that’s seen a generation of activists lost to campaigns against corporate globalization and the perpetrators of climate collapse. Mary Olson, of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, who presented expert testimony on the misogynistic gender bias in radiation effects, said she had gotten a “surprisingly big jolt of hope from the youngness of the gathering.”
A second conference — the “Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons” (HINW) — brought together government representatives and hundreds of others, and was the third in a series. Austria, which has neither nuclear weapons nor nuclear reactors, sponsored the gathering.
After decades of negotiations over the strategic and numerical size of nuclear arsenals, the HINW meetings have faced the harsh ugliness and catastrophic health and environmental effects of nuclear testing and warfare.
Expert witnesses spoke directly to 180 government representatives about the ethical, legal, medical and ecological consequences of H-bomb detonations which are—in the language of diplomatic nicety—“foreseeable.” Then, scores of nation-state delegates called on nuclear-armed states to pursue abolition. Dozens of speakers noted that landmines, cluster munitions, gas, chemical and biological weapons have all been banned, but the worst of all¾thermonuclear WMD—have not.
But the emperor can’t see his own nakedness
It turns out that a gathering of elites like the HINW is like a prison population: there is a strict, arcane etiquette; a rigorous separation of classes; and a blatant violation of all the rules by privileged, rich and pampered chieftains.
The most blatant violation came at the start of the first question-&-answer session, and it was my own government—which skipped previous HINW meetings in Norway and Mexico—that put a radioactive foot in its bomb-cratered mouth. Immediately following harrowing personal testimonies from downwind bomb test victims, and a review by Ms. Olson of the science showing women and children to be far more vulnerable to radiation than men, the U.S. interrupted. Everyone noticed.
Although facilitators twice directed participants to ask questions only the U.S. delegate, Adam Scheinman, was first at the mic, and he declared flatly, “I will not ask a question but make a statement.” The bully then ignored the panel’s hour-long discussion of the brutal, gruesome, and long-term effects of nuclear weapons testing. Instead, in ringing non sequitur, Scheinman’s prepared statement declared U.S. opposition to a nuclear weapons ban and noted support for negotiations for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Mr. Scheinman also lauded the U.S. embrace of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty¾code language for decades of winking at open US violations of the treaty’s requirements.
(Principle among U.S. NPT violations are Pres. Obama’s planned $1 trillion, 30-year budget for new nuclear weapons; “nuclear sharing” agreements that keep 180 U.S. H-bombs at US bases in Germany, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Turkey; and sales of Trident nuclear missiles to the British submarine fleet.)
Mr. Scheinman’s rude defiance of conference protocol was a microcosm of the country’s global militarism: oblivious, contemptuous, imperious, and defiant of law. Conducted at 1:20 in the afternoon, the scene-stealing disruption was well-timed to be the lead headline on nightly TV news. U.S. refusal to support and dismissal of the movement for a nuclear weapons ban/treaty should be the story of the conference, but corporate media can be counted on to note only Obama’s public agenda and his finger-pointing at non-nuclear Iran.
The desired result of Scheinman’s outburst is that the U.S. momentarily diverted attention from the indiscriminate, uncontrollable, widespread, persistent, radiological and genetically destabilizing, scofflaw impact of its nuclear weapons—and got television to pat it on the back merely for showing up and “listening.”
Indeed, after its usurpation of center-stage here—and after having temporarily recast the subject of the conference—the U.S. may now get back to its real agenda, the massively expensive “upgrade” of machinery for producing 80 new H-bombs a year by 2020.
— John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin, edits its Quarterly newsletter, and is syndicated through PeaceVoice.