It was the morning of October 23, 1962, that I opened my copy of the Chicago Sun-Times with the headline: “President Orders Cuba Blockade to Halt Red Buildup.” Nuclear missiles with a range of 1,000 miles were aimed at Chicago and the danger of a thermonuclear war appeared imminent. I was scared.
When the U.S. dropped the first nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I was a ten-year old child living on a farm near Vernon Center, Minnesota. I remember my mother sending me out to the field to tell my dad that the Japanese had surrendered. It was a joyous moment; the war was over.
While we knew that the bombs destroyed whole cities and killed hundreds of thousands of people, many of us did not understand the immense destructive nature of these weapons until much later. We also did not realized that we would live under the threat of nuclear weapons for the rest of our lives.
I was not one of the children who experienced the “duck and cover” drills in the early 1950s. Schools across the United States were training students to dive under their desks and cover their heads — creating a growing panic over an escalating nuclear arms race — but I do remember all the private and public construction of nuclear bomb shelters in our communities.
I was always aware of the Cold War. However, as hostilities eased through the 1970s, nuclear war began to seem like a distant nightmare — until November 1983, when the United States and the Soviet Union almost came to a full-blown nuclear conflict that would have left millions dead.
By that time I was an anti-war activist with two nine-year old children. Again, I was scared.
Members of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM), the Honeywell Project, and other local peace groups organized People Against Military Madness. This network participated in multiple protests at Honeywell — a local company that manufactured parts for nuclear weapons — with many of us frequently risking arrest in an effort to call attention to the danger of these weapons.
The testimony I gave at my trial on October 17, 1987, read in part: “I go to Honeywell because it helps to make visible what the government wants to keep invisible and make public what they have kept from view. Namely, that our leaders are taking money that could be spent on the poor and are giving it to the beast — militarism. None of this is for us. It is not making us more secure. We have never been less secure.
“The truth is that arms build-ups are created primarily to give more power to the military and bigger profits to arms manufactures. Russia is not the enemy. War is the enemy. Nuclear weapons are the enemy.
“Most of the people in this country oppose the nuclear arms build-up by the two superpowers. All the mainline churches in the U.S. have said the use of nuclear weapons is immoral.”
The golden age of nuclear arms control, 1987 to 2000, began with Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev declaring that “a nuclear war could not be won and must not be fought” and the signing of the INF Treaty. There was a general sense that the world was gradually moving in the right direction.
Fast forward 20 years. I am now 85 years old. U.S and Russian relations have been deteriorating, the U.S. has pulled out of two nuclear treaties, and the nine nuclear-armed nations are investing heavily in their nuclear arsenals. In 2020, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, citing “the coronavirus pandemic and the rejection of science, coupled with climate change and threats of nuclear warfare,” moved the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight.
My fears are back, but not for myself. I find the thought of this beautiful diverse world ending in a nuclear holocaust both terrifying and heartbreaking. When I look at my five grandchildren, ages 10 to 26, I am determined to continue to do everything in my power to create a world that is free of these horrendous weapons. At our WAMM meetings we ask ourselves: “What more can we do?”
I wonder if it is time to start risking arrest again?