This is the transcript of a talk given by Rick Wayman at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s symposium “The Fierce Urgency of Nuclear Zero: Changing the Discourse” on October 25, 2016. The audio of this talk is available here. For more information about the symposium, click here.
I just want to add a few comments and then what I’m hoping to do is to get some conversation going around the table.
To follow up a little bit about what Jennifer said about the Marshall Islands’ lawsuits, just a couple of comments.
We’ve heard a little bit about the dismissal recently at the International Court of Justice. In the case against the U.S., that is still active. It’s on appeal at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In support of that appeal, we saw a number of amicus curiae briefs, including one that Hans contributed to. We also saw a number of amicus letters in support, one of which Jackie coordinated with a number of mayors around the U.S.
This is an initiative that is not just one government taking on the United States. There are a number of experts and NGOs that are contributing energy and thought too. If you have not read those, I would recommend them highly. They are all on a campaign website, www.nuclearzero.org, that we at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation are administering. As I said, these documents are really top-notch.
One more comment on the lawsuits. It’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes the discourse to shift. But what I have noticed – maybe it’s because I’m paying more attention – but what I’ve noticed since the Marshall Islands filed these lawsuits 2 ½ years ago is a shift toward non-nuclear nations speaking out more about Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. About nuclear-armed countries breaching those obligations. That’s not something I heard so much before, and I’m really pleased to see it. Whether it’s only the Marshall Islands’ effort that has led to that, or if it has fed into it, the fact is that it’s happening. Something that we’re doing is working and making an impact.
One other initiative that we’ve undertaken over the past year or year and a half is screenings of a documentary called “Nuclear Savage.” It’s a very powerful film about the human impacts of U.S. nuclear testing on the Marshall Islands. We’ve held numerous public screenings. We facilitated 52 screenings at universities around the country during the last school year. Those were partially just to get the information out there, because what is in the film is not widely known at all. We also used it as a springboard to talk about why the Marshall Islands has undertaken the current lawsuits and what they understand about nuclear weapons when they are used on people.
One other thing to mention about that film. It was commissioned by PBS a few years ago and they have thus far refused to show it. I heard a rumor that it might come on in January – someone said they saw it on a PBS schedule for January 2017 – but it’s very controversial. It makes – rightly – the U.S. government look terrible, because the way they’ve treated people is terrible. PBS has thus far sat on it. My hope is that they will either finally air it – find the courage to finally air it, or release the film so that it can be aired elsewhere.
It’s been very interesting for me to watch the political rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. I worked for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for a couple of years, from 2005-07. At that time and even until what, a year ago, Jeremy was a somewhat marginalized backbench MP. He had very strong opinions on nuclear disarmament among many other things, but in terms of the political class, not that many people were paying attention to him. Yet he persisted. He’s been a member of Parliament for over 30 years and he kept at it – he didn’t give up. Now he’s in a place where his ideas are being taken seriously by some and we’re also witnessing the opposite push on Jeremy’s discourse, which is him and his ideas on nuclear disarmament getting trashed in the media. It’s been most impressive for me to see that he’s been able to survive politically as the leader of the Labour Party, even in the face of all this media criticism. I’ve been very happy to see that, and it gives me hope that there are politicians out there who are willing to have principled positions and stick with them even under tremendous pressure.
One other initiative that I want to mention that I’ve been happy to be a part of is last August, through an event conceived by Soka Gakkai International, there was an International Youth Summit for Nuclear Abolition in Hiroshima. They brought together 30 people from 23 countries to get together for a few days and experience what one might experience in Hiroshima and also to strategize about what young people – which is loosely defined in this context as 30s and below – how we can work together more effectively globally. The process over the past year has been quite positive. We’ve had a lot of really good interaction. We’ve had a lot of good ideas that we’re working on. But it’s also really challenging. First of all, I think it was Jackie who mentioned this yesterday, it used to be the case that activists could survive on part-time jobs. The economy made that possible. Now it’s much harder. So some of these people, they were working fu-time for a nuclear disarmament organization. That organization lost its funding and now they’re working on another issue. They still care about this, but they don’t have time to dedicate their free time and their mental energy to it. Even that has been really difficult to hold together from an economic perspective. When you’re trying to organize any global network, you’ve got time zone issues, you’ve got language and cultural barriers. All of that we’re trying to overcome and I think we’ll come out of it with a network where the core organizers can serve as resources for other young people who are trying to get involved, who have ideas but don’t know how to get their foot in the door. That’s what we’re going for. It’s been a great learning experience, and something that I think is very worthwhile.