Seven anti-nuclear activists with the Pacific Life Community arrested at Vandenberg Air Force Base

IMG_2720A Brief Account of Our Collective Arrest at Vandenberg Air Force Base on Sunday, March 6

[On Sunday, March 6, as part of the Pacific Life Community’s action in front of California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, a number of PLC’ers were arrested for “crossing the line” onto Vandenberg Air Force Base. The following is a brief account of the action written by Elizabeth Murray, who was arrested on trespass charges along with Charley Smith, Ed Ehmke, Mary Jane Parrine, Jorge Manly-Gil, Karan Benton and Tom Webb.]

We walked together, arm in arm, as one line toward the row of soldiers barring our entrance to Vandenberg Base. A few yards from the soldiers lineup, we paused; Charlie, whom we had selected to be our representative, advanced alone right up to the troops to offer our letter to Col. Moss. He asked several times for someone to come forward to receive our letter to the base commander, but our request was met by stone-still silence.

IMG_2675Then, one of the officers announced that we had two minutes to disperse before being arrested. At that point, attempting a little humor, I called out to the soldiers that we would give them two minutes to accept our letter to Col. Moss. Although our request continued to be met with silence, I could see expressions of mirth in the eyes of some of our young adversaries. The ice had been broken — at least a little bit.

As the security guards assembled behind us and began handcuffing us, we proceeded to read our letter to Col. Moss aloud, passing it along to the next activist down the line as our hands were drawn behind our backs to be cuffed. (The letter had also been read aloud by Susan Crane and Larry Purcell prior to our walk up to meet the soldiers at the gate of the base). These were the words we read out to them:

March 6, 2106

TO: Col. J. Christopher Moss, Cmdr, 30th Space Wing, Vandenberg AFB
FROM: Pacific Life Community
SUBJECT: Action To Protest Minuteman ICBM Firings on Marshall Islands

We are members of the Pacific Life Community – a local network of spiritually motivated advocates for ending nuclear weapons and other means of war-making through nonviolent direct action. Today we cross the line because we believe that actions inside Vandenberg Air Force Base have crossed the line – the line of regard for our fellow human beings.

We refer to the regular launchings of Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) from Vandenberg Air Base, which land on the occupied territory of the Marshall Islands. These ICBMs contribute to the further poisoning of the air, land and waters surrounding the Marshall islands, whose people continue to suffer terribly from a legacy of U.S. government nuclear testing on their formerly pristine paradise.

But far from honoring the longstanding debt owed to the Marshalese people as a result of decades of these nuclear tests, our government continues to squander U.S. taxpayer dollars to carry out the ongoing destruction of the Marshall Islands, whose air, water and land continue to be poisoned from our ICBMs and other U.S. military materiel.

Those tax dollars could be put to much better use here at home — to alleviate economic misery by creating jobs and boosting local infrastructure. Instead, our expensive military occupation of the Marshall Islands has forced these innocent people away from their homes and consigned them to lives of misery and squalor.

Moreover, the firing of ICBMs by the United States may be considered as a provocation during this time of simmering tensions in the Asia-Pacific region – we are thinking specifically of North Korea. Far from making the American people safer, these missile firings may draw us closer to a nuclear conflagration.

We appeal to you to follow a higher law – that of your conscience – and refuse to send more missiles into the Pacific. Instead, we urge you to join us in calling for a permanent U.S. withdrawal from the Marshall Islands, including provision of fair and just compensation for a people deeply wronged by misguided U.S. policies.

Very respectfully,

The Pacific Life Community

The soldiers that cuffed and processed us seemed tense, frightened, and so very controlled. Our many attempts to engage our young captors were met with enforced silence. They either would not or could not respond; it also appeared that they were forbidden from talking to one another in our presence, except to respond to a command from one of their superiors.

After our basic information had been taken down and as we waited in folding chairs that had been set out for us — our wrists cuffed together behind our backs— Karan and I took advantage of the constant video filming that recorded our every expression to explain to the wordless young men and women who were guarding us just why we were there. We explained that we had just seen a film [Nuclear Savage] that documented what U.S. government policy had done to the people of the Marshall Islands, that they continued to suffer a number of cancers stemming from the deliberate irradiation of their islands during 67 nuclear bomb detonations in the South Pacific from 1948-1956, and that the ICBM’s being launched by Vandenberg landed were leaching depleted uranium into a lagoon used by the local population for fishing. As a result, the toxins had poisoned the fish, tainted the water and sickened the people, who were thereby being deprived of their subsistence foods, as well as their right to live in health.

We shared about how U.S. tax dollars could be put to better use in the Marshall Islands and here at home, perhaps for the construction of badly needed schools, hospitals and infrastructure such as bridges and lead-free water pipes. Although our comments were met with silence, we hoped they provoked some quiet thought and perhaps some wonderment as to why people who love their country and desire peace were seated in front of them with their hands bound behind their backs.

Photo by Felice Cohen-Joppa

Photo of die-in by Felice Cohen-Joppa

The timing of our action against Vandenberg missiles and on behalf of the people of the Marshall Islands was especially auspicious, since from March 7th to the 16th the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague — the judicial branch of the United Nations — will hear oral arguments in the Marshall Islands’ cases against the UK, India and Pakistan. (If you are wondering why only three cases are going forward, in April 2014 the Marshall Islands filed lawsuits against all 9 nuclear-armed states. Unfortunately the United States, Russia, China, France, Israel and North Korea do not accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ and are ignoring the cases brought against them.)

The cases concern whether the UK is complying with Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and whether India and Pakistan are complying with what the Marshall Islands contends — building on a 1996 ICJ opinion — is a customary international law obligation to pursue negotiations in good faith on nuclear disarmament, including putting an end to the nuclear arms race.

[Elizabeth Murray is Member-in-Residence at the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in Poulsbo, WA. She served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council in a previous life and is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).]

Photo by Felice Cohen-Joppa

Photo by Felice Cohen-Joppa