40 Years of WAMM: Reflections on Then, Action Now! with an Update from Polly Mann

WAMM has a proud history of saying “never a U.S. military intervention or war without an opposition.”

 By Kristin Dooley, WAMM Director

Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) was founded on January 16, 1982 at a conference at the Newman Center, which once stood on the East Bank Campus of the University of Minnesota (UMN) in Minneapolis. After the conference, participants went across the street for an antiwar protest in front of the UMN Armory.

WAMM expressed concern over a wide range of issues including the danger of nuclear war, military intervention in Central America and the Middle East, and President Reagan’s promise to build up the war machine and overcome the “Vietnam Syndrome,” which had made American citizens less supportive of military adventures around the world.

Sally Kundert, who has been with WAMM all 40 years, recalled walking into the premiere meeting of WAMM, carrying a sleeping child in her arms, on what was a very cold day four decades ago. The young mother was heartened by WAMM’s commitment.

“I remember how terrifying and immobilizing it was to try to address the threat of nuclear war. The threat was real, huge, so overwhelming, the consequences so devastating and our chance to act effectively so unlikely,” Kundert recalled. “But here at this meeting, I was so excited and energized by the number of women who had come together, and their history and experience.

“With WAMM, women’s voices were respected and there was acceptance for a wide range of political perspectives and tactics. I felt hope, support, and connection with other activists locally, and around the country and the world. We committed to the promise, ‘Never a meeting without an action,’” Kundert continued.

“WAMM has spent decades calling for an end to conventional and nuclear wars and hyper inflated military spending. We marched, some embraced civil disobedience, others lobbied, did theater, organized letter writing campaigns, etc. There was a real commitment to forging coalitions,” Kundert added.

In December 2021, members of the board of directors began thinking about how best to celebrate WAMM’s 40th anniversary. Their decision was to recreate that first action that was taken after the first WAMM meeting. On Sunday, January 16, 2022, WAMM held a 40th anniversary protest in the same location outside the UMN Armory.

Over 60 people attended the protest. A statement from WAMM read in part, “On this day in 1982, we gathered together and formed Women Against Military Madness to address the critical issues of the day. Ever since, WAMM has worked to educate and act for peace and justice. We have a 40-year record of saying no to U.S. wars and interventions, of saying no to nuclear weapons, of saying no to economic sanctions, no to oppressing people. We have a record of working to link the struggles against wars abroad with the struggles to address human needs within the U.S.”

PM: What Is on Polly Mann’s Mind Today? No First Use of Nuclear Weapons

By Polly Mann, WAMM Co-founder, with Mary Beaudoin

The 2022 U.S. Nuclear Weapons Posture Review is to be released early in the year under the Biden Administration. (Even if it has already been released by the time that this newsletter is printed, we can work to change nuclear policy.) Antinuclear and nuclear-control organizations have been advocating passionately for the policy of “No First Use,” which would stipulate that the U.S. could not strike an adversary with a nuclear weapon or weapons in response to a nonnuclear attack.

But who better to warn about “First Use” than Daniel Ellsberg? Under the employ of the RAND corporation, as a consultant to the highest levels of U.S. government, Daniel Ellsberg drafted plans for nuclear war before leaking The Pentagon Papers and spending the subsequent decades advocating against nuclear weapons.

Ellsberg’s book The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, published in 2017, is a riveting chronicle of nuclear danger that should serve as a warning to us all. The title of the book was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 satirical film, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

In the chapter “First-Use Threats”, Ellsberg says that nearly all Americans erroneously assume that nuclear weapons haven’t been used since the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki in 1945.[1]

Ellsberg asserts that the U.S. has since used, and continues to use, nuclear weapons. But they aren’t launched from missiles or submarines or dropped from the air. Instead, they are used as threats to get our way – like pointing a loaded gun at someone’s head but without pulling the trigger. In fact, the reason the U.S. dropped the bombs on Japan, which was already trying to surrender, was to demonstrate to the Soviet Union that the U.S. had the power of the atomic bomb.

He goes on: “All American presidents since Franklin Roosevelt have acted on that motive, at times, for owning nuclear weapons: the incentive to be able to threaten to initiate nuclear attacks if certain demands are not met.”

Then Ellsberg offers something guaranteed to send chills down your spine. Beyond mere threat, he writes, presidents have actually contemplated the use of nuclear weapons to achieve their goals:

“In reality, every president from Truman to Clinton has felt compelled at some point in his time in office – usually in great secrecy to threaten and/or discuss with the Joint Chiefs of Staff plans and preparations for possible imminent U.S. initiation of tactical or strategic nuclear warfare, in the midst of an ongoing nonnuclear conflict or crisis.”

A 2021 Congressional Research Service report, “U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy: Considering ‘No First Use,’” states that the two previous administrations, those of Obama and Trump, have said that nuclear weapons weren’t solely for defensive purposes. Obama considered adopting a No First Use policy but changed his position. While declaring that nuclear weapons would not be used against nonnuclear states and would only be used in extreme circumstances, the Obama Administration “could envision ‘a narrow range of contingencies’ where nuclear weapons might play a role in deterring conventional, chemical, or biological attacks.”[2] The Trump Administration in the 2018 Nuclear Policy Review (NPR) stated that nuclear weapons “contribute to ‘deterrence of nuclear and nonnuclear attack; assurance of allies and partners; achievement of U.S. objectives if deterrence fails; and the capacity to hedge against an uncertain future.”[3] In other words, the bottom line in the policy of both presidents was that they should be able to use nuclear weapons.

Antinuclear advocates saw a glimmer of hope that First Use policy could change under the Biden Administration when, in 2017, as vice president, Biden gave a speech in which he said the U.S. shouldn’t use nuclear weapons in response to a nonnuclear attack: “Given our nonnuclear capabilities and the nature of today’s threats, it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary or make sense…deterring –and, if necessary, retaliating against a nuclear attack should be the sole purpose to the U.S. nuclear arsenal.” [4]

Of course, we are familiar with the hawks flocking around Biden walking back everything he has ever said that might indicate a reluctance to go to war, and the media chortling that they are just more of the embarrassing gaffes for which he is renowned. On January 27, 2022, Daily on Defense, the military-industrial online publication of the Washington Examiner, reported that the No First Use he expressed is “not held by the current Pentagon leadership, nor the current or past U.S. strategic commanders…”

First Use policy does not apply to the U.S. alone. It also extends to nonnuclear allies and partners who are under the supposed protection of the U.S. “nuclear umbrella.” The U.S. holds the threat of retaliation with nuclear weapons against the adversaries of those countries as well.

Ironically, hardliners in think tanks and officialdom believe that even Japan, whose cities the U.S. obliterated with nuclear weapons, would have incentive to develop its own nuclear arsenal if there were no U.S. First Use policy to defend it, and that’s another reason to support it. But an article in Catalyst, Fall 2021, a publication of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), argues that this is not the thinking of mainstream Japan and not what the Japanese people want. UCS hopes to change the view of the Biden Administration and U.S. Congress with the release of a report, “Japan Is Not an Obstacle to a U.S. ‘No-First-Use’ Policy,” which shows how such a policy “could help reduce the possibility of a nuclear war in East Asia and create opportunities to stop a new nuclear arms race” (www.ucusa.org/resources/japan-no-first-use).  UCS also co-authored a report by Japan’s New Diplomacy Initiative, in which “Japanese experts weigh in on the future of their country’s defense and foreign policy.”

The Nuclear Abolition Working Group of Veterans for Peace is attempting to change U.S. nuclear policy thinking as well, and wrote its own 2022 “Nuclear Posture Review,”[5] which is clearly laid out, easy to digest, and well worth reading (tinyurl.com/VFP-NPR). The Review says, “The U.S. and Russia each maintain about 900 weapons on hair-trigger alert, mounted on missiles, and ready to fire…VFP proposes that the U.S. immediately separate all the warheads from their delivery systems as China already does, and make the world safer from an unintended nuclear catastrophe.” As a way of correcting our nuclear posture it wants the U.S. to:

“…announce and implement a No First Use and No Launch on Warning (“Hair Trigger Alert”) policy by separating warheads from delivery vehicles. The No First Use Policy should state clearly the U.S. renounces the use of nuclear weapons, including in response to a cyber attack, biological weapons, cluster bombs, land mines, or any other non-nuclear act of aggression from another nation against the U.S. or its allies.”

Despite the enormity of the challenge, the report reminds us that hope is realistic: “The world has gone from 70,000 nuclear warheads during the height of the Cold War to 14,000 on the planet today…so we know how to reduce arsenals.”

Polly Mann is a co-founder of Women Against Military Madness and regular contributor to this newsletter. Mary Beaudoin is newsletter editor and a writer.

ENDNOTES

[1] Most Americans are also unaware that, prior to dropping bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the U.S. first detonated a nuclear weapon on Indigenous land in New Mexico. .See: Women Against Military Madness Newsletter. Leona Morgan. “The Nuclear Fuel Chain: from Mining to Waste”. Page 8. Vol. 38 No. 4. Fall 2020.  tinyurl.com/28x2p86z  More info: facebook.com/NuclearIssuesStudyGroup

[2] U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy: Considering ‘No First Use.’” Amy F. Woolf, specialist in nuclear weapons policy, “Updated October 13, 2021. Congressional Research Service. https://sgp.fas.org/crs/nuke/IN10553.pdf

[3] Ibid, endnote 2

[4] Remarks by the Vice President on National Security. Briefing Room. Speeches and Remarks. The White House. Office of the Vice President.  January 11, 2017. tinyurl.com/mr27bdr7

[5] Veterans for Peace Nuclear Posture Review. January 22. tinyurl.com/VFP-NPR


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