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Long-time peacemaker advocates for Spokane to be nuclear-free zone


Rusty Nelson speaks on behalf of Veterans for Peace.

Veterans for Peace in Eastern Washington and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility in Western Washington are promoting local ordinances to establish Nuclear-Free Zones.

Rusty Nelson, who retired several years ago after 20 years as co-director of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS), is helping promote a city ordinance to ban nuclear weapons materials in Spokane. 

After several constituents approached her, Councilwoman Kate Burke decided to introduce it for a vote by City Council on August 6, which is Hiroshima Day, the day the United States dropped its first nuclear bomb in 1945.

She has a draft ordinance and has done research, learning that the United Nations “seeks to rid the world of nuclear weapons.”

In July 2017, 122 nations in the UN adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a ban on developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons. By September, 58 nations signed it.  After 50 nations ratified it, it went into force.

“The city ordinance to prohibit nuclear weapons materials in Spokane is largely symbolic, but is an urgently needed symbol to point out the moral depravity of any nuclear weapons program,” said Rusty, who has long campaigned against nuclear weapons, the arms race and actual wars.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, he said, the U.S. did not win the arms race or Cold War, but Russia dropped out after spending themselves into bankruptcy.  He added that government leaders seeking to update nuclear weapons forget there are no winners to a nuclear war or arms race.

“With treaties ignored and loop-holed to pieces, it’s up to local communities to say we’re not going to play useless, dangerous, extravagant games of building more or ‘better’ weapons,” he said.

“The earth’s destruction is more likely to happen by an accident than a planned attack,” he said, adding that nuclear testing has affected climate change.

Rusty said the “Doomsday Clock,” established by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, has moved to two minutes to midnight, the worst since 1953. He is concerned that some Christians want Armageddon soon, overlooking responsibility for the earth.

The ordinance to ban nuclear weapons materials in Spokane would make it illegal for anyone to possess, transport or manufacture radioactive materials except for medical use or research.

Veterans for Peace is involved because it opposes war as a foreign policy and seeks to expose the true costs of war.

“It’s hard to gain a platform to educate the public without a step such as the ordinance,” Rusty said.

In the 1980s, when there were efforts to slow and stop nuclear arms. There were nuclear weapons at Fairchild Air Force Base, and “white trains” that transported weapons-grade radioactive materials from the Pantex plant in Amarillo, Texas, to the Trident Submarine base in Bangor, Wash.

In the 1970s, Rusty remembers standing in Norfolk, Va., at a ceremonial keel-laying of a nuclear submarine named for his uncle.  Years later near Spokane he saw the nuclear core of that sub retired and sent on a barge up the Columbia River to Hanford to be buried.

“When nuclear components are retired, their half-life still leaves them the most toxic things on earth for thousands of years,” he said.

Nuclear weapons are self-defeating militarily and fiscally extravagant, he said, adding that “tax dollars maintain an anachronistic mix of weapons.”

Rusty is pleased that younger people are joining the campaign, aware that schools usually avoid challenging “myths of military security and war prosperity.”

Before he began working with PJALS, he became a Mennonite. As a member of a traditional peace church, he “reassessed his cultural affinity for war and acceptance of lethal means to maintain his privilege in the world,” he said.

“I believe it is my spiritual duty to oppose the machinery and weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “While the U.S. challenged the poison gasses and other weapons of mass destruction Saddam Hussein supposedly had in Iraq, we ignored that we had the same weapons and more.  As the U.S. became involved in more sustainable forms of war, concern about nuclear weapons went to the back burner.”

After the Berlin Wall fell, Rusty said many expected there would be a peace dividend from not having a “great enemy.”

“We could have quit spending on nuclear arms and systems of delivery, but went on to create enemies elsewhere to support corporate welfare for the military system, even though it’s impossible to win a war, especially nuclear war,” he said.

“We demand North Korea and Iran to have no nuclear weapons and consider them outlaw nations, but we and Israel continue to possess and deploy those weapons. Instead of denying the evil of nuclear weapons on our side, we need to put our nukes on the bargaining table,” he said.

By presenting the ordinance, Veterans for Peace and Physicians for Responsibility seek public discussions for education on what defense the country really needs.

Rusty said the anniversaries of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9 are days to recall how finger pointing and name calling between the U.S. and Soviet Union cost trillions of dollars and minimized outrage over the routine atrocities of war.

“It’s absurd that the only country that has dropped atomic bombs on another country presumes to be the arbiter of who can build, possess and deploy these things,” said Rusty, a Vietnam War vet who does not believe that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought a quick end to the war.

“Japan was ready for an armistice before July 1945, but we wanted to test our new weapon to scare the Soviet Union. We had no regard for the lives of Japanese civilians,” Rusty said.

“In the arms race, an armistice could save trillions,” he said.

Rusty added that nuclear waste affects the poor, ghettos and reservations where radioactive materials are dumped.

“We could just spend millions to research and use radioactive materials for medicine, instead of trillions to destroy the earth over and over,” he said.

As a pacifist, Rusty seeks to spread the “aha” moment he experienced years ago. 

“It’s not too much to ask our leaders to listen to the ideas of peacemakers,” he said. “Our challenge is to educate people to know we have a choice, and it’s in our best interest to stop nuclear weapons proliferation and over-arming ourselves.”

For information, call 291-4646.

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