Particle Beams

"Luminous Quanta of Divine Intelligence…" dispelling the nuclear delusion

Archive for October 2012

When the Colonizer is Gone

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In New Mexico the wounds of colonialism run deep, despite the delicate balance of the three cultures – Anglo, Hispano and Native American – so often touted as an attraction for tourists.

At a conference held in Northern New Mexico last weekend, the pain of these old grievances was never far below the skin.

Beautiful woodwork on the ceiling of the main lecture hall on the El Rito campus, built in 1907.

Called Historias de Nuevo Mexico and held at the El Rito campusof the Northern New Mexico State College, the purpose of the conference was to present complementary perspectives of the state’s unique history to correct the picture cultivated by mainstream historians celebrating the state’s centennial.

What did it mean to the tribes, for example, when New Mexico was finally admitted to the Union? Precious little, said Glenabah Martinez; “we were already sovereign nations.” Martinez, who grew up in the Taos Pueblo, is Assistant Professor at UNM and author of the book, Native Pride.  She spoke about the new curriculum she has recently completed, incorporating and celebrating the pueblo experience for the K-12 educational system.

One example discussed by Martinez was the response of the Pueblo people to repeated demands by one Charles Burke, Commissioner of the Office of Indian Affairs, that the Indians limit their dancing so that they might give up “evil” behavior and get more work done. The response of the Council of All the New Mexico Pueblos, May 5, 1924, was eloquent: “This is the time of the great question. Shall we peacefully but strongly and deathlessly hold to the religion of our fathers, to our own religion, which binds us together and makes us the brothers and children of God? There is no future for the Race of the Indians if its religion is killed.”

Bronze statue of Onate at El Paso Airport

The right of the pueblos to uphold their native identity had been under siege since the arrival of the Spaniards in 1598, led by the brutal Juan Onate, most infamous for ordering that captives from Acoma Pueblo be punished for an attack on Onate’s cousin with the loss of one foot. Whether this horror was actually carried out has been disputed, historian Thomas Chavez stated in his talk,  but Onate’s ruthless domination of the Pueblos was followed by other conquistadores and the church that accompanied them.

It’s not as if the atrocities ended there. New to me was the practice of capturing and enslaving the children and women, and sometimes the men, from the more aggressive outlying tribes – the Navajos, Pawnees, Apaches, Kiowa Apaches, Utes, and Paiutes – and selling them as slaves.

These children, known as genizaros, grew up without any sense of their original identity. They seldom became members of the Master’s family; they were doomed to be always “other”. Today, many people throughout the southwest may be genizaros without even knowing their origin. Cynthia Gomez spoke about her own discovery of her personal history, and what she has learned about her grandmother’s experience as a genizaro. She showed the trailer of a film she is making called “Without a Tribe.”

Few women came here with the Spanish soldiers who settled here, so it is unsurprising that the men became involved with the beautiful Pueblo women, and some of these couples married. Sadly, native women’s subjective experience of patriarchal marriage was not addressed here; perhaps it would have stirred up too much controversy in this setting. One can surmise that the women became subservient to their Spanish husbands and soon gave up their native ways as Christianity became the family religion; and after some time, the whole family claimed to be Hispanic.

The two cultures became so inter-mingled that it’s often difficult for an outsider to be sure who is Indian and who is not; a person from either group is likely to have a Spanish surname even if living at the pueblo. Thus former enemies who might have fought and killed one other during the two Pueblo Revolts have gradually come to share a new indigenous culture. People of the land, Estevan Arellano pointed out, they share the native diet we know as “New Mexican food” – tortillas, chili, beans, posole, enchiladas, atole, calabacitas. For both peoples, the querencia, the landscape, is as precious as the tie to family. Perhaps the two cultures have become more alike than different, especially after the Santa Fe Trail and the Mexican American war delivered to the shores of the Rio Grande a new colonizer: the Anglo.

With the arrival of white Americans during the 19th century, America’s triumph in the Mexican American War (slyly instigated by President Polk), and the subsequent failure of the United States government to respect the land grants that had been given to the settlers by Spain, both communities became blended into a single underclass in an increasingly white society that both had reason to distrust and resist.

The tenuous balance that remains today is what gives New Mexico its unique flavor, but the underlying grief, and the anger, can still be felt here. If Native Americans and Hispanos have become vecinos, it’s not clear that anglos have been accepted into that mix. The presence of the vast military edifice on this beloved landscape, especially the nuclear laboratory, remains a reminder of where power is held here.

Myrriah Gomez talked about the Lab’s impact during the second day of the conference. Unfortunately I was unable to stay, but I remember an essay she wrote as an undergraduate that was published in the Pojuaque News, “Before the Bomb, There Were Bean Fields.”

This colonial master represents elite and special knowledge, great power, and significant wealth. With the collaboration of local political elites, the nuclear behemoth is a source of money to state agencies; it creates jobs, but by employing Hispano and Native men and women, it effectively silences them. The unions will not support any disarmament efforts that call for closing the lab; their interest is to protect the jobs the lab provides. The nuclear establishment also provides the tribes with an annual stipend that effectively holds tribal governments in check.

This colonization by the lab is nonviolent and subtle; the people’s resistance is stopped with dollars. The lab’s presence here challenges us to relate to one another as human beings, rather than as institutions or races.

Bridging the gap created by color was the intent of the talk by Adrian Bustamente, Professor Emeritus from Ft. Lewis College. Tracing the DNA pathway through the cell mitochondria has revealed that we have all evolved from seven African mothers. Difference of skin color has only to do with climate and exposure to the sun, Bustamente pointed out; so we might as well get over our surface differences.

But it’s a challenge to retain cultural identity and cope with the hatred sown of historic suffering while sharing space with the descendants of the conqueror.

It will take more than the mitochondria, but if our conversations with one another come from a place of heart, instead of from a place of intellectual formality, we may yet find a way to become a free people dressed in many colors that are only skin deep.



The Pits Keep Marching On… Part II

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(Part II of last week’s article)

“The U.S. military is hard at work on a dizzying array of pricey new guided munitions to match its trillion-dollar investment in stealth fighters, bombers and killer drones. Some are super smart. Others, super fast. A few are designed to be tiny. All of them have one purpose: to blow away the target, and only the target.”

“My favorite weapon in this list is the B61-12 GPS guided 50-kiloton mini-nuke bomb. If the idea of a mini-nuke striking somewhere in your country doesn’t make you surrender than [sic] you are probably hellbent on meeting those 72 virgins.” – Steve Gill

Despite official US policy of not making new nuclear weapons, writes Andrew Lichterman, in the new book, Assuring Destruction Forever [], the nuclear complex “is being modernized to provide the capacity to maintain existing nuclear weapons and to build new ones into the middle of the twenty-first century” — like the B61-12 that so inspires Tennessee talk show head Steve Gill.

This bomb is intended for placement on the $300 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter according to William D. Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New American Foundation and author of the recent book, Prophets of War. Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.
“Despite US claims that its modernization programmes will add no new military capabilities, the new B61 bomb, if built, will allow the targeting of a wide range of targets with more accurate, lower yield nuclear weapons,” continues Lichterman [my itals].

Recall that “lower yield” means more useable:

He then quotes Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, who writes that “delivery [of this warhead] from new stealthy F-35 aircraft will provide additional military advantages such as improved penetration and survivability,” adding that the B61 replacement will achieve many of the goals of the low-yield nuclear weapons initiatives that Congress had limited or refused to fund during the Clinton and Bush administrations. It will “reinvigorate a planning culture that sees nuclear weapons as useable, and potentially lower the nuclear threshold in a conflict.” (my italics)

Needless to say, these warheads will require plutonium pits – possibly new plutonium pits designed to fit the model.

Modernization will make use of what has been called Life Extension Programs (LEPs) as a cover for what amounts to new designs; an LEP “for the W78ICBM warhead is in the planning stages,” explains Lichterman, and “The LEP for the W88 SLBM warhead, the most modern nuclear weapon in the active stockpile, is expected to begin in the latter half of this decade. . . The W80 cruise missile warhead is slated to get its LEP in the 2020s . . . .”

More plutonium pits, baby.

All modern nuclear warheads require plutonium pits. Clearly the lab is going to make them come hell or high water, CMRR or no CMRR. This is what it’s all about: producing smaller, more reliable, more useable nuclear weapons. I can’t emphasize this enough. We are talking about enhanced capacity for nuclear attack.

The reason why US nuclear policy has taken this shape despite Obama’s commitment to move toward nuclear disarmament is that Congress has been unwilling to fund new weapons, which cannot be tested, and hence there have been no new weapons for 19 years. A significant cluster of Hawks, mostly Republican, and friendly military contractors like Lockheed Martin, are very worried about this situation, mumbling repeatedly about the deterioration of the arsenal; they ascribe to the view that without new weapons our national security will be jeopardized because other nuclear nations are upgrading their nuclear arsenals.

“Currently, all nations with nuclear weapons are modernizing their arsenals, delivery systems, and related infrastructure. These programs have serious implications for nuclear disarmament. By investing in the extension, upgrading, and reinforcement of their arsenals and capacities… these governments are investing in the future of nuclear weapons, not in the future of disarmament.” – Summary of paper by Ray Acheson, Executive Director of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, “Modernization of nuclear weapons: Aspiring to ‘indefinite retention’?” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Fear leads to more fear, and weapons lead to weapons. Yes, it’s the arms race all over again, with everyone feeling threatened by other nations’ nuclear weaponry and scurrying to make some of their own. And while the arsenals of countries like Pakistan and North Korea, to say nothing of Iran’s much talked about but nonexistent bomb, pose no threat to the US except in terms of regional dominance, Russia’s does.

Russia is understood to be modernizing its force because of US insistence on placing its weapons missile shield in Europe.

This is the rubric used to justify $850 billion assigned to the modernization of the nuclear complex over the next 10 years, which Republican Congressmen insisted Obama must support or they would not vote to ratify the New START with Russia (Arizona Senator John Kyl, who spearheaded this bargain, didn’t sign the Treaty anyway); and these are the weapons that require new plutonium pits.

Call it Mutually Assured Terror.

Needless to sat, these considerations have not been part of the discussion at LANL’s friendly hearings on the CMRR. Occasional allusions are made to “deterrence” and “national security”, but public discussion of the B61-12 or the W87 or W88 retrofits is not heard. The debate thus far has hinged mainly on earthquake danger and high cost, significant concerns, but not the main concern. Nor is this a subject that receives widespread attention in the media. Hence public awareness of the new arms race is slight. People have other problems, after all, like mortgages and jobs.

Writes William Hartung, in an article posted July8, 2012 at Tom’s Dispatch, “Beyond Nuclear Denial 
How a World-Ending Weapon Disappeared From Our Lives, But Not Our World”:

“. . . the only nuke that Americans regularly hear about is one that doesn’t exist: Iran’s. The nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons on missiles, planes, and submarines possessed by Russia, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea are barely mentioned in what passes for press coverage of the nuclear issue.”

Right here at the foot of the Hill on which these weapons are designed, there’s a disconnect between making plutonium pits, which most people oppose, and producing new nuclear weapons. That’s just the way the lab would like it to be. In fact, the lab would like things to return to their former secrecy. After the CMRR debacle, when LANL was compelled to listen to activists at hearings held twice a year for 7 years, there are already signs that the lab may be tightening its lips.

During the last of those hearings, held on September 26, Steve Fong, NNSA’s Project Manager, kept responding to questions with the unenlightening news that he “can’t talk about it” now that “the project is closed.”
And on October 1st, the New Mexico Community Foundation revealed that LANL has taken back the management of RACER, the community database which was mandated by a 2007 Settlement Agreement with New Mexico Environment Department to provide the public with information about lab activities that affect the life of the community. Perhaps the lab expects or knows that new staff at the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) appointed by our conservative governor will not press the issue.

After the CMRR debacle, it wouldn’t be surprising if LANL retreated back to its former secrecy. If so, that will make it even tougher for nuclear watchdog groups to bring the information to the public.

For Hartung, as for the rest of us, this is a very dangerous situation:

“The notion that Iran can’t be trusted with such a weapon obscures a larger point: given their power to destroy life on a monumental scale, no individual and no government can ultimately be trusted with the bomb.

“The only way to be safe from nuclear weapons is to get rid of them — not just the Iranian one that doesn’t yet exist, but all of them. It’s a daunting task. It’s also a subject that’s out of the news and off anyone’s agenda at the moment, but if it is ever to be achieved, we at least need to start talking about it. Soon.”

The public needs to evaluate how it wants to spend its tax money. In these belt-tightening times, should we pay for Medicare, education, “entitlement programs” that create a safety net for citizens, or do we prefer to buy more useable nuclear weapons?

I ask you.

CMRR is no more, but the pits go marching on

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Lab is on the Pajarito Plateau, above the Russian River

OVER THE HILL? Above the Rio Grande, Los Alamos Lab makes plutonium pits

In February, the President’s 2013 budget request denied funding for the proposed new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility (CMRR) at Los Alamos for the next five years.

“We look on it more as a deferment than a cancellation,” said Steve Fong, NNSA Project Manager for CMRR, at a September 26 hearing in Los Alamos.

Meanwhile, the Lab was directed to find a less expensive way to produce plutonium pits to meet the goal of modernizing the nuclear force which, as the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has been insisting, and Hawks have been believing, is deteriorating. Whether or not this is true is arguable. As Willard Hunter, a retired Sandia lab scientist told me, “Every year they take them out and polish them, make sure they still work.” The challenge is to do that without testing them; all nuclear testing has been outlawed since 1992. Hence armaments makers must rely on proven designs.

The day after the budget was released, lab director Charles McMillan distributed a statement to staff at LANL assuring them that the lab would fulfill its mission; and in August, the lab produced an outline of how it proposed to do that, “Plan B.” Much of Plan B is classified, but resourceful activists have been able to piece together the broad outlines. For just under a billion (a bargain when compared to the projected $5.4 billion to build CMRR, but still a lot of dollars when you look at the swelling deficit) the lab proposes to extend the nearly completed radiation lab, RLUOB, built as an adjunct to the CMRR, and build a tunnel to the nearby plutonium facility, PF4, so that pits can be transported safely from their place of construction for certification.

The production of pits is a big deal. It requires the engagement of some 700 employees to produce just one pit, according to an article in a Los Alamos publication entitled, “The Perfect Pit.”

All of this might be impressive as sophisticated technological achievement were it not for its end result — the destruction of an entire city with a single bomb. Pits are the cores of thermonuclear weapons, triggering a reaction be far greater than the one the world witnessed in Hiroshima. The reaction would be so big, in fact, that during the Cold War both the USSR and the US hesitated to use them (amazing grace!), and a theory of deterrence emerged from the Rand Institute that the trillions we each invested in the thousands and thousands of gigantic bombs had the purpose of stopping the other country from using theirs.

Although unverifiable – we don’t know for certain that it was the existence of more and more bombs that actually stopped either nation – deterrence became the mantra of national security wonks for whom bomb production was deemed necessary and unavoidable in a nuclear global environment. In other words, however much we might wish it to be different, there’s no other way.

After 911, George W. Bush made some significant changes to the strategy of deterrence. Since the US had not used a nuclear bomb in its successive wars since Hiroshima, it was beginning to look like we would never dare to use one, and terrorists who made no secret of their intention to acquire – and use — nuclear bombs thought (perhaps) that the Great Satan had become a wuss. Apparently determined to show the world that such was not the case, “Dubya” Bush, in his Nuclear Posture Review, a policy statement each new president is required to produce, made several significant changes in nuclear policy of which the public is generally not aware.

One was to include conventional weapons and nuclear weapons in the same discussion under the same criteria. This had never been done, with nuclear weapons always considered to be so dangerous as to be considered separately.

The second was to propose the production of smaller, “reliable, credible and useable” nuclear warheads. The operative word here is, of course, is useable.

Though lower level managers at nuclear labs may continue to speak of deterrence as the national security policy of the United States, it should be clear that things have changed; the purpose of national policy is not to deter a presumably rational enemy from attacking us, but rather to show any enemy – nuclear or non-nuclear – that we’ve got the stuff to actually use them.

Here is a quote from a policy paper issued in 1995, during the Reagan Administration:

Deterrence can’t be just a theory, a doctrine, a concept, a strategy…[It is] a process that goes beyond the rational… It must affect the emotions, as well as the rational mind, of an adversary…we must communicate in the strongest ways possible the unbreakable link between our vital interests and the potential harm that will be directly attributable to anyone who damages (or even credibly threatens to damage) that which we hold of value…Deterrence is thus a form of bargaining which exploits a capability for inflicting damage at such a level as to truly cause hurt far greater than military defeat…It should ultimately create the fear of extinction…A threat is most compelling when an enemy cannot rationalize away the destruction, pain, suffering, and chaos you are threatening to unleash if deterrence fails. “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence,” 1995 (emphasis added)

No longer a stance to prevent attack, “deterrence” has become a misnomer that actually means a threat, and it was apparently the intention of the Bush administration to make the threat credible.

What does this have to do with plutonium pit production at LANL? A great deal. As will be seen, “modernization” actually operates as a euphemism for creating those smaller, tactical and therefore useable nuclear weapons – bombs that would still be three times as powerful as the atomic bomb dropped on Japan.

Modernization is a sleight-of-hand solution to a tricky problem created by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which we signed in 1970 along with the majority of the world’s nations, both nuclear and non-nuclear. The NPT requires of nuclear powers that they cease to create new weapons and instead make moves to decrease their stockpiles.

It’s possible that we might not have complied with the treaty requirement, but with testing prohibited, it’s double jeopardy. Without testing, new designs might not be reliable.

Hence it has been the official policy of the US that we will not make new ones.

But how can we fulfill the mandates of the Bush nuclear posture for smaller, tactical nuclear weapons without making new ones?

That’s where modernization comes in – and new pits, which are the critical means for producing a credible nuclear force with weapons that are useable.

More in Part II.


Written by stephaniehiller

October 3, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized