The gates of Hell

Sometime in the nineties I took a group of SFU students down to the Ground Zero peace centre in Poulsbo, Washington. GZ was started in the eighties by Jim and Shelley Douglass, longtime peace activists–Jim was a friend of Thomas Merton.

GZ is very close to the Trident submarine base at Bangor. (This is the west-coast Trident base; there is an east-coast base at Norfolk, Virginia.) There are 24 submarines at Bangor; each one carries 408 times the firepower of the nuclear weapon that was dropped on Hiroshima. Each single submarine carries enough firepower to destroy all the major cities of the northern hemisphere–and there are 24 of them.

Our first morning at GZ we joined members of its community in their weekly leafletting vigil at the gates of the Trident base. As workers go into the base, they are handed a leaflet–or sometimes a chocolate chip cookie or, on or near February 14, a valentine. Thousands go in and out every day; and each year in the nineties (I don’t know if this is still true) one worker would quit as a result of the GZ leafletting.

This visit got me onto the GZ mailing list; and every few months I get its newsletter. In that I regularly read how the GZ community has since its beginning maintained a steady and faithful witness against nuclear weapons: against their invention, their design, their construction, their transportation, their being readied for use, and, most ominous, the prospect of their use.

Here is an excerpt from the most recent newsletter (April 2017). It comes from Leonard Eiger, chair of the GZ communication and outreach committee, and requires no comment from me.

The end of the Cold War brought with it a historic opportunity for the US to begin serious negotiations with Russia leading to nuclear disarmament. Instead, our nation continued to pursue nuclear dominance, and as a result, over 25 years later we are entering into what is unarguably a new Cold War with Russia.

Trident is now three times more deadly than ever before. The US is rapidly moving toward production of a new ballistic missile submarine fleet that will be even more sophisticated than its predecessor. . . .  How long can we go building newer and more sophisticated (and deadly) nuclear weapons systems before they end up being used either accidentally or intentionally? . . . How can our nations’ leaders, in good conscience, continue to put humanity at risk of nuclear extinction?

Let me pick up on his use of the word “nations,” plural. The US is not the only country contributing to this madness. Canada, with its reluctance to speak and act in direct opposition to this situation, is contributing to its continuance–a sin of omission.

As many of you know, I spent most of the eighties and early nineties working at issues related to nuclear disarmament. On the basis of that experience, I am distressed to say that in my view the world is in greater danger of nuclear war today than we were during the Cold War. Both the US and North Korea are headed by maniacs, not to put too fine a point on it. From Donald Trump’s public comments on the subject I can only conclude that he is, as the kids used to say, “not clear on the concept.”

So where to? As Canadians, we need to put pressure on our political leaders, asking them to place Canada firmly on the side of nuclear disarmament, to support the many initiatives under way which are trying to move us to nuclear sanity. Then if Canada does step up to the plate, to support its progressive policy in this regard. A good way to do this is to support the Rideau Institute, an Ottawa-based think tank headed by Peggy Mason, former Canadian ambassador for disarmament at the UN (1989-1994) – rideauinstitute.ca

A final word: my title. Standing there at the Trident gates early in the morning, a word of Jesus came to me: “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against you” (Matthew 16:18). Yes, I said to myself: I am standing at the gates of Hell. It was only later that I realized what “prevail” implies. It implies that we are battering at the gates of Hell, and that sooner or later, they will not prevail against us. They will fall. This blogpost is an invitation to you to join with others in the assault on the gates of Hell which our historic moment requires of us.

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