By Stop Banking the Bomb Campaign
Four members from the Stop Banking the Bomb campaign presented at a teach-in at the University of Pittsburgh’s Barco Law Building on March 25. The educational event was designed to inform the public on how the nuclear age affects our political, economic and social life, and to demonstrate why our institutions need to divest from nuclear arms.
The first presentation, given by Zeba Ahmed, focused on the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Many people, especially those not living in Japan, do not know how much the nuclear disaster was misunderstood and mishandled by the authorities. Immediately following the earthquake and tsunami, Japan recommended that anyone within 12 miles of the plant evacuate. But in the following weeks and months, experts detected very high levels of radiation in villages about twice that distance away. This prompted the Japanese to expand the evacuation zone to 19 miles.
Amazingly, more than seven years later, radioactive water from Fukushima is still flowing into the Pacific Ocean, causing much consternation among local fishermen and environmental activists. Nearby towns in the Fukushima Prefecture were completely evacuated, and very few people live there today.
Andrew Ohl then gave a talk on U.S. nuclear strategy in which he explained the motives for maintaining a large nuclear arsenal. The most recent Nuclear Posture Review justifies our nuclear arsenal by claiming that other nations won’t follow our example of nuclear arms reduction. But looking at history, Ohl demonstrated that the U.S. has been more than willing to use nuclear weapons to intimidate enemies like the USSR.
The real reason the U.S. has nuclear weapons, Ohl asserted, is to preserve its political hegemony around the world. Looking at the use of nuclear weapons on Japan at the end of World War II, Ohl demonstrated that the real aim of the U.S. was to end the war before the USSR turned its attention to the Pacific sphere – even though Japan was making plans to surrender. By this time (mid-1945), the U.S. was in a position to command quite an empire after the war was over.
The next presenter, Peter Deutsch, a retired physics professor at Penn State Beaver, took the floor. His talk focused on the technical aspects of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Throughout his presentation, he dismissed the alarmism surrounding North Korea’s ability to target the U.S. with an ICBM strike, arguing that the country’s missile targeting systems haven’t been adequately tested, due to international constraints. The only real nuclear tests the country has carried out occurred underground.
Even if North Korea did decide to shoot a missile our way, Deutsch believes that the missile would not survive re-entry into the atmosphere, because the technology hasn’t been perfected. However, he said, a nuclear strike could knock out parts of our energy infrastructure if a bomb were to detonate above our lower atmosphere. As a solution, Deutsch advocated that we focus on our energy infrastructure rather than nuclear proliferation and intimidation.
Ron Read of the Thomas Merton Center gave the last presentation. His analysis of the military industrial complex in the U.S touched on the nuclear triad system of submarines, aircraft and ICBMs – delivery mechanisms funded and constructed largely by the private sector. The government doesn’t construct nuclear weapons, but relies on several defense contractors to do this work. These contractors need loans from financial institutions like banks in order to operate.
The largest financial institutions in our country, Read noted, have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in defense contractors. To give an example from the Pittsburgh community, PNC Bank currently has $600 million in loans to defense contractors who manufacture and maintain our nuclear arsenal.
The teach-in was a success, and our campaign hopes to see more people from the community at our next event. A video of the teach-in can be seen on YouTube; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUkSDZbSVWo&t=3440s or on the Facebook page listed below. Stop Banking the Bomb continues to hold regular informational pickets and hopes to organize another teach-in soon. To keep up with the campaign or to get involved, please visit facebook.com/stopbankingthebomb or stopbankingthebomb.org.
Stop Banking the Bomb is made up of people concerned about the policy and proliferation of nuclear weapons and is focused on investment in the making of these weapons by Pittsburgh’s largest bank.