By Jim Hannah
Here’s the statement Jim Hannah prepared for the trial of himself and three other defendants Feb. 18 in the KC MO Municipal Court. Time allowed for Jim to share most of his points. The charge: trespass at the National Security Campus, where parts for nuclear weapons are made and procured. The sentence: Pray for the judge and judicial system, and keep protesting!
I plead not guilty today out of my conviction that the guilt here is not on the part of myself or my co-defendants. The true guilt is on the part of the policies and the producers creating nuclear weapons of indiscriminate mass destruction. It’s sadly ironic that the protesters are on trial, while the perpetrators are protected.
To me, nuclear weapons are a clear and present danger—to humanity and to all life on Earth. As President Kennedy told the United Nations in 1961: “Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.”
I’ve lived my entire life, nearly 75 years, under that nuclear sword—a sword upheld by threads that grow more frayed each passing year as more nations acquire nuclear weapons, and those weapons are made ever more deadly. Sadly—tragically—humanity has never been closer to the brink of nuclear annihilation than it is today. The hands of the Doomsday Clock created by the repentant atomic scientists of the Manhattan Project are now set at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest we’ve yet come to the likelihood of global catastrophe, through a deadly concoction of nuclear weapons, climate collapse, and disruptive technologies. (The Doomsday Clock was begun in the year I was born, 1947. It was first set at seven minutes to midnight.)
As a long-time advocate of peace and nonviolence, I view my witnesses at the National Security Campus with PeaceWorks Kansas City as an alarm bell atop the Doomsday Clock. These actions are intended as a wake-up call. This to me is little different from seeing smoke coming from a house and sounding the alarm. In such a case, would it be illegal to break down the door to save human life? No matter what the letter of the law might be, would anyone argue about what the spirit of the law would require? Surely saving human life would take precedence over legalities.
Regardless of the outcome of today’s proceedings, in actuality I plead my case to two higher courts for recourse—the court of global humanity, and the court of Divine justice. It is my conviction that neither of these courts would find me or my co-defendants guilty for witnessing against nuclear weapons. More likely, they would judge us wanting if we had done nothing.
Few in the US seem to realize that most nations already deem nukes immoral, even illegal. A Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has been in effect for the past year after it was signed (in 2017) by nearly two-thirds of the United Nations’ 197 member states. That treaty commits the ratifying nations to “never under any circumstances … develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons.” Even the threatened use of nuclear weapons is prohibited, in the name of humanity. Sadly, the United States is not a signatory of the Treaty, but instead is engaged in a renewed nuclear arms race toward inevitable catastrophe. In Kansas City alone, some billion dollars a year is being spent on the US nuclear weapons arsenal, employing 6,000 people—a colossal misdirection of human and financial resources that could instead be invested in efforts that would affirm life, rather than confer death.
The second court in which I think I and my co-defendants would be found not guilty is the Supreme Court of a Higher Power. When, this January, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons observed the first-year anniversary of its entry into force, more than 170 faith communities from around the world (including the denomination I serve in ministry) released a joint interfaith statement that read, in part, “We speak with one voice to reject the existential threat to humanity that nuclear weapons pose. … As people of faith, we believe that the possession, development, and threat to use nuclear weapons is immoral. … We invite everyone to join us in this work for peace, justice, and respect for life—against which nuclear weapons stand in complete opposition.” (orepa.org)
Thousands of years ago the author of Deuteronomy could well have been speaking to our day with this invitation from Moses: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” (Deut. 30:19, NRSV) Yes! Choose life!
Martin Luther King saw decades ago that we either eliminate nuclear weapons or they will eliminate us. Yet so many today seem oblivious to the horrific destructive power of nuclear weapons—even just one accidental detonation, for instance. I recall the massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, in August, 2020. The blast was caused by the detonation of 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate illegally stored in the city’s harbor. It killed 218 people, wounded 7,000, and displaced 300,000 residents.
In the two years since the blast, a recurring question in Beirut has been, “Who knew what and when about these hazardous materials during the nearly six years they were illegally stored here?” I can imagine a similar question being raised if Kansas City were to be destroyed by a nuclear detonation. A single average-size,10-megaton warhead (equivalent to 10,000 tons of dynamite) would dwarf the impact of the Beirut blast. Foremost among the questions survivors might well ask is, “Why didn’t somebody warn us that hosting a key element in production of the US nuclear arsenal would make us a prime target?” That’s a good question for all Kansas Citians to ask and answer. Another question might be, “Who ever told us deterrence would work?” And my favorite question all along has been, “Are nukes good for the grandkids?”
Such good questions; so few good answers. Why don’t more people ask why? I think denial accounts for much of it. Who wants to think the unthinkable, or speak the unspeakable? But a few weeks ago my wife and I did just that. We went to Union Station to see the Auschwitz exhibit, commemorating the site where Nazi Germany murdered more than a million souls, cremating an average of one thousand daily. Looking at the horrific photos—including tons of human hair and thousands of victims’ shoes—I had a recurring question of disbelief: How could those living nearby have ignored the smell of burning flesh? For that matter, how could an entire nation fall under the spell of Nazism? And why didn’t more people speak up, or do something, anything? The closest thing offered in answer to that question was in the exhibit’s closing video, which talked about a culture of hatred and violence that normalized The Final Solution.
I fear our nation is similarly embracing a culture of hatred and violence, clinging to nuclear weapons of mass extinction that will one day be recognized as crimes against humanity. Chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction are already banned by the global family, with the exception of outlaw nations. Is that what the United Sates has become by the nuclear sword we dangle over the world—a nation feared for our ability to rain down unfathomable death and destruction, deliverable 24/7 by land, by sea, and by air?
We here in Kansas City are especially complicit. Ironically, the same city that hosts the Auschwitz exhibit also hosts the National Security Campus. If even a hundred of the some 12,000 nuclear warheads in the world’s arsenals are detonated, the immediate effects of the blasts and radiation that would kill hundreds of thousands outright would be followed by a nuclear winter projected to kill most, if not all, of humanity. This would be a Holocaust of all holocausts, a Final Solution for civilization, and Earth as we know it.
In my mind, this is not hyperbole. Hyperbole, it seems to me, is claiming nuclear weapons as defensive deterrents keeping us safe, when in actuality they are offensive provocations making the whole world unsafe. They threaten all humanity with the terror of indiscriminate mass destruction. They prompt a renewed nuclear arms race now underway. And they entice even more nations to join the exclusive nuclear club as a matter of national pride or self-defense. It’s truly MAD-ness, Mutually Assured Destruction—not just genocidal, not just suicidal, but in truth omnicidal—the destruction of life as we know it on planet Earth.
This is a power that should be entrusted to no nation or person. So that’s why some members of PeaceWorks Kansas City engage in nonviolent peace witnesses, with 150 arrests at the nuclear weapons plant in the past 12 years. I am among them. I also write letters to the editor, lobby legislators, write and photograph for PeaceWorks, and express my views for nuclear abolition among friends and via social media. But sometimes speaking up needs to be coupled with standing up. So I cross the line in symbolic resistance to the National Security Campus, which I have dubbed the Global Insecurity Factory. It manufactures not the things that make for peace, but nuclear weapons that, even if never used, have already brought untold illness and death in their production and testing.
I plead “not guilty” today because I do not want to be guilty of turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to the evil of nuclear weapons. As a person of faith, I am reminded of the teaching of Apostle Paul, who urges followers of Jesus to be “ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6) I consider myself innocent of wrongdoing in the spirit of the law, yet recognize I am not above the letter of the law. I am willing to accept the finding of the court and meet its requirements. Thank you, your honor, for your consideration, and for the opportunity to express my concerns. All that we hold dear in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights could this very hour be destroyed in a nuclear fireball in which, as the poet warns, “all are cremated equal.”
I rest my defense.
Jim Hannah, of the PeaceWorks Kansas City Communications Team, is a repeat civil resister on behalf of a nuke-free world. © 2022, Jim Hannah, Jane Stoever, Bennette Dibben, Kriss Avery, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License. See the video of Jim Hannah’s and Brian Terrell’s remarks to supporters before their Feb. 18 trial: Peaceworks KC: Why we keep crossing the line.