Essays by Jane Stoever
To: Judge Ardie Bland, Municipal Court, Kansas City, Mo.
From: Jane Stoever of Overland Park, Kan.
The first question is, “If North Korea, China, or one of the Mideast countries dropped a nuclear bomb on a U.S. city tomorrow, would that change your opinion (about nuclear weapons)?”
If any country anywhere dropped a nuclear bomb on another country, the results would be cataclysmic and would make clear—for the safety of the entire world—the need to abolish nuclear weapons. So my answer to the question is no, the dropping of a nuclear bomb would not change my opinion about nuclear weapons.
Here in the Kansas City, Mo., metropolitan area, many people are aware not only of the immense environmental consequences of exploding a nuclear bomb, but also of the contaminants that have spewed into the air, ground, and waterways from using toxic elements to produce parts for nuclear weapons at the Kansas City Plant at Bannister Federal Complex.
The work at the KC Plant, begun in 1949 when the jet engine plant was converted to a nuclear weapons parts production plant, resulted in reports that employees at the complex died or have been seriously injured from contaminants from the KC Plant. A 4/13/2011 list from NBC Action News, Channel 41 in Kansas City, includes 154 persons whom family members said had died from exposure to the complex’s contaminants, and about 250 additional persons who said they were ill because of exposure to the contaminants. The list is online at http://media2.nbcactionnews.com/pdf/investigators/bannisteremployees_20110413.pdf.
NBC Action News, Channel 41 in Kansas City, on Jan. 9, 2014, covered the announcement by CenterPoint Properties that it stands by its estimate of $175 million as the cost of clearing Bannister Federal Complex of its contaminants. NBC Action News referred to its 2011 list as well as information that nearly 900 toxins have been found in the complex, including beryllium, asbestos, and plutonium. The Jan. 9 online story linked to a 2011 NBC Action News story on the toxins, http://www.kshb.com/dpp/news/local_news/investigations/plutonium-and-more-than-100-other-new-toxins-identified-at-bannister-federal-complex- with the story focusing on plutonium.
The Jan. 9, 2013, Action News story is online at http://www.kshb.com/dpp/news/local_news/centerpoint-stands-behind-estimate-of-175-mil-to-demolish-federal-bannister-complex#ixzz2qI7ywfAI. In the telecast, Maurice (wrongly identified as Michael) Copeland, an employee at the KC Plant for 32 years, questioned whether $175 million would suffice to clean up the area. Copeland said he wants the government “to convince the people that you really did clean this place up and you’re going to have to monitor it for years.” NBC Action News reported that Copeland has watched as co-workers and family members battled illnesses such as sarcoidosis and various cancers.
I have worked with Copeland and know that, at one point, he attended funerals of his co-workers about every three weeks. In the effort to obtain compensation for those who become sick or have died from the contaminants, it has become clear to some of us in Kansas City that more people have died in the United States from the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We are heartsick. So much damage was caused by US nuclear attacks in 1945, and so much damage to US citizens is caused by ongoing production/maintenance of nuclear weapons.
The second question is, “If Germany or Japan had used nuclear weapons first in World War II, would your opinion change?”
My answer to the question is no.
My husband, Henry Stoever, the lawyer for us defendants in the Dec. 13, 2013, trial, was born in Germany in December 1948. After the family’s move to the United States in March 1951, the family stayed in touch with relatives in Germany, became naturalized US citizens, and several times visited family in Germany. My husband throughout his life has had keen interest in Europe. His reading has led him to discover that a German scientist may have known steps to take to make an atomic bomb and instead took the country in another direction. The hypothetical question about the possible use of nuclear weapons first by Germany is a good one; just as good is the suggestion from history that a German may have prevented that.
Concerning Japan, history tells us that Japan had contacted the Vatican, Switzerland, and Russia to facilitate its surrender and end World War II. History also tells us that some 150 top US scientists in the Manhattan Project, developing the world’s first nuclear weapons, had mixed answers in a survey on whether the nation should explode its nuclear weaponry on a Japanese city. About 10% of the scientists said yes; about 10% said no. The other 80% were split, about half saying to conduct another bomb test in the United States and half saying to conduct such a test in Japan.
The very people who made the first nuclear weapons had misgivings about using them.
Truman Library materials indicate military leaders did not convey the survey results to Truman, a crucial failure of communication, and Truman approved dropping the explosions.
Taking words from the Bhagavad Gita, Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project, said when the atom bomb was tested in New Mexico July 16, 1945, “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”
Many cities hold memorial services to recall the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When Kansas City’s annual observance lost steam, my husband gave it new energy through PeaceWorks. We gather for the ceremony at Loose Park. We ring a gong to mark each year since 1945. We float lanterns on the lagoon—hope in the darkness. We make peace cranes. We recommit ourselves to work for peace.
In 2008, Henry and I hosted four persons from the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, including a translator and Hibakusha (A-bomb survivor) Yoshiko Kajimoto. A tiny, delightful woman, Kajimoto-san told of the deaths and destruction in Hiroshima in 1945, when she was 14. She and a classmate had been at work in a suburban factory 1 ½ miles from the epicenter of the attack. They crawled out from under the wreckage and then carried classmates out of the building and away from the fires around them. Kajimoto-san saw people walking away from the city holding their arms out in front of themselves because flesh was hanging from their arms, melted. Carrying her classmates to safety, she inadvertently stepped on parts of dead bodies. “I don’t want anyone else ever to see what we had to see,” she told groups at Rockhurst University and the Community of Christ Temple in Independence. Later, during a videoconference between Avila University and Kajimoto-san in Hiroshima, a student asked her, “Do you feel revenge toward this country?” She replied, “Oh, no!” She said she just wanted an end to nuclear weapons.
Kajimoto-san, in working for peace, I’m trying to walk in your footsteps!
The third question is, “What would you say to those who say, ‘If we (the USA) do not have the big stick, that is, if we get rid of our nuclear weapons, and other countries develop nuclear weapons, then we do not have the opportunity to fight back’?”
We in the peace community are seeking multilateral, verifiable abolition of nuclear weapons. We are not calling for unilateral eradication of US nuclear arms. In my mind, this third question is a no-go. We need worldwide nuclear disarmament. Fortunately, scientists assure us they can detect whether countries have the capability to create nuclear devices, and scientists can confirm whether countries possess them and the delivery vehicles for using them.
The Hiroshima/Nagasaki Protocol is a statement meant to be attached to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The protocol contains such steps as the following:
“Clamp down” on weapon-usable fissile materials, whether they be in weapons, reactors, or stocks, and cease acquiring nuclear weapons and preparing to use them.
Establish a forum open to all countries for negotiating a nuclear weapons convention, a framework for achieving nuclear disarmament by 2020.
Contribute to the international control system and comply fully with the NPT.
The US Conference of Mayors voted unanimously in 2008 for the resolution “Support for
the Elimination of All Nuclear Weapons by the Year 2020,” and in 2013, the conference unanimously adopted the resolution “Calling for U.S. Leadership in Global Elimination of Nuclear Weapons and Redirection of Nuclear Weapons Spending to Domestic Needs.” The 2013 resolution won passage in July, on the heels of the declaration by President Barack Obama June 19 in Berlin: “So long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe,” and his announcement of his intention to seek further bilateral nuclear weapons reductions with Russia.
Ironically, the Obama administration has consistently pursued funding increases for nuclear weapons production. The Kansas City Plant, where non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons are made and procured, has benefitted from funding hikes. A few fiscal bits of info:
FY 2012: $500 million approved by Congress for the KC Plant
FY 2013 (continuing resolution): $535 million approved
FY 2014 (Obama’s proposed budget): $579 million, but funding was pulled back to the 2013 level through a continuing resolution that will come up for another vote in early 2014.
“Give us money like that for health care!” says Ann Suellentrop, a nurse, a member of the PeaceWorks Board, and the president of the national Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. “Money is flowing without a problem for maintaining the US nuclear weapons arsenal.”
PeaceWorks, Kansas City, has persisted in exposing the contaminants at the current KC Plant and the costs of both the current and new plants. We brought forth four petitions, each signed by about 5,000 city residents, to try to give voters a chance to “weigh in” concerning the city’s involvement in a financial scheme for the plant. In August 2011, at a City Hall hearing on one of our petitions, Christian Brother Louis Rodemann said, “Our cultural creed as a nation is an idolatrous faith in nuclear weapons. We propose to be fighting terrorism by our own terrorist, aggressive postures and behaviors. We squander trillions of dollars on national defense while the reality of dehumanizing poverty oppresses millions of our own citizens, and hundreds of millions around the world. At the end of the day, or when we take a deep breath to disengage from the frenzy of our lives, don’t we really see this all as insane, unjust, immoral?”
It would, in truth, be immoral to know as much as we know about nuclear weapons and not speak out against the nuclear weapons parts production occurring in our midst.
The fourth question is, “You defendants say you are Christians and one is a Buddhist. Father (Carl) Kabat says you disobey a law that is ungodly. How do you respond to someone who believes there is no God? Who is to say what God believes, for slavery and the Crusades killed millions?”
I have had the joy of friends who were not Christian, friends who doubted whether there was a God. These people devoted their lives to peace, to solving conflicts without violence, to hope for a better world. One such atheist was Kris Cheatum, who with her husband, Lynn Cheatum, was a co-chair of the PeaceWorks-KC Board. Kris died suddenly from strokes at age 72. In her last 10 years, when I worked with her on peace efforts, she was full-time peace-working, taking care of her husband whose Alzheimer’s was intensifying, and managing to create the monthly newsletter for PeaceWorks. Her good humor saved her from bitterness about our country’s cruelty and ignorance. When she tabled at events, she would call to people she knew, “Come sign this petition!” or “Join PeaceWorks now!” A little lightning rod, Kris was remembered at her funeral as the heart of PeaceWorks. She made arrangements for eight of us to attend the 2010 Five-Year Review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the United Nations in New York City. She sent us. It was two months before her death, and she was the moving force for our journey. At weekly witnesses for peace, where we still hold “had enough war yet?” and “we must disarm” signs at 63rd Street and Ward Parkway, Kris would bring Lynn and keep a close eye on him, lest he step into the street. Afterwards, they kicked back with giant margaritas.
Kris’s faithfulness to peace action tells me that people throughout the world, whether they believe in God or not, yearn for peace, for understanding among peoples, for safety for communities, indeed, for Martin Luther King’s beloved community.
How do I respond to someone who believes there is no God? I respond with respect, with appreciation for their good will, with admiration for their good deeds. How do I say what God believes, when I must consider the harm done by persons quoting Scripture to justify their evil? I just try to live out, day by day, my personal belief in a loving God. At the same time, I am painfully aware of the failings of those who promote war and its weapons, whether those persons believe or don’t believe in God.
I worked for the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, letter-writing at the campaign headquarters and going door to door on election day. Obama pledged on April 5, 2009, in Prague, “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” and called nuclear stockpiles “the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War.” However, after his election, he proposed increases in funds for nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles (delivery by land, air, and sea). We now, as a nation, spend about $7 billion a year on production of nuclear weapons, and we spend about $30 billion a year on the delivery vehicles. It seems to me that Obama, though well-intentioned, yielded to military and industrial leaders determined to maintain Cold War weapons. Given the massive numbers of hungry people in the world, such expenses must be condemned. Persons of faith or without faith can understand the need to prioritize funding for meeting health/shelter/education needs instead of propping up weapon dinosaurs.
The fifth question is, “How do you respond to those who have a God different from you when they argue their religion is to crush others into dust with nuclear weapons?”
One of our daughters, in her last year in law school, had a roommate in the Baha’i faith. The roommate posted a sign on a wall in their small apartment, giving lines from many faiths, all in tune with Christ’s words in Matthew 7:12, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The world around, good people love others and try to treat them as themselves.
The fifth question, in contrast to the Golden Rule, takes the negative. Indeed, all of us are capable of cruelty, whether with nuclear weapons or lies or threats. But many people, the world around, seek to do good to others. In conjunction with the 2010 Five-Year Review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York City, we attended a session at Riverside Episcopal Church at which speakers from nations without nuclear weapons said they were more secure than we. Nations including Switzerland have written agreements with some countries that do have nuclear weapons, pledging that the nuclear-armed nations will never use those bombs on the countries free of nuclear weapons. Representatives from Switzerland and other countries told us U.S. citizens, “We are safer than you!” Would that all nations could have that safety.
We know the United States has threatened Russia with possible use of nuclear weapons, and sometimes US threats are not made known for years. The very possession of nuclear weapons is a threat our country may use them, with horrific consequences for the environment and all its inhabitants. We must, in truth, acknowledge that the US, with the world’s most high-tech nuclear arsenal, is rightly seen in others’ eyes as threatening to crush them into dust.
Our Kansas City-area peacemakers shudder at the name posted at the new nuclear weapons plant: National Security Campus.
This false name suggests the new plant is a university. As a former high school and grade school English teacher, I take affront to this mockery of education. The plant exists both to threaten other countries and to enrich nuclear weapons developers such as Honeywell, the plant’s operator, and for the 14 secret investors that bought the Kansas City, Mo., municipal bonds (backed by the federal government) to finance the new plant. We understand the investors make a huge 5 percent annual yield on their “investment” in the facility that makes parts for nuclear weapons. The plant is a one-of-a-kind public-private venture. The private aspect involves the 14 investors; the public aspect includes the city’s municipal bonds and the ownership of the facility by the city’s independent agent, the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority (PIEA). In an Oct. 7, 2010, KC Municipal Court trial, Kevin Breslin, the CenterPoint Properties lawyer who helped forge the development plan for the plant, said under cross-examination by my husband, Henry Stoever, “The actual facility title owner is the PIEA.”
We have here a shell game! The PIEA:
is chartered by the state to pertain to Kansas City but be independent of it,
has no power of its own but must have all its decisions approved by City Council, and
is composed solely of persons appointed by Kansas City mayors.
The last two factors call into question the PIEA’s separation from the city. The reality is: Kansas City is deeply embroiled in the creation and continuation of this new WMD production facility.
For the 24 of us who civilly resisted KC’s nuclear weapons parts plant on July 13, 2013, we took that action to confront our country’s entire nuclear weapons arsenal and to be a mighty grassroots force for a world free of nuclear weapons.
The sixth question is, “Who determines what ‘God’s law’ is, given the history of Christianity in the USA and the world?”
The testimony of centuries of believers in God posits a loving God, a love-force beyond our imagining. Granted, human beings wreak havoc, too often in the name of God, sometimes in the name of Christ. Human beings’ inhumanity, however, does not annihilate God, does not eradicate God’s law of love.
This sixth question probably comes, in part, from defendants’ statements during the Dec. 13, 2013, trial in Kansas City’s Municipal Court to the effect that we followed God’s law in stepping on the road to KC’s new nuclear weapons parts plant. Our action stemmed from our belief in a God of love, not destruction. Many of us embrace the Catholic Worker practices of feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the poor, and opposing violence. God’s law of love compels us to bear witness against weapons of mass destruction.
Martin Luther King, Jr., in “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” wrote to clergy who sought an end to demonstrations about equality, “You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. … There are two types of laws: just and unjust. … One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’”
Dorothy Day, a founder of the Catholic Worker movement in 1933, wrote in The Catholic Worker, a newspaper, in September 1945, “Our Lord Himself has already pronounced judgment on the atomic bomb. When James and John (John the beloved) wished to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus said to them, ‘You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy souls but to save.’ He said also, ‘What you do unto these the least of my brethren, you do unto me.’” (See p. 95, The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day.)
In my testimony at the trial, I said I volunteered at Holy Family Catholic Worker House, at 912 E. 31st St. in KC. I welcome the guests who come there for food and companionship. One morning two years ago, a man who had slept outside came into the house with snow on his jacket. Despite the warmth of the house, it took awhile for the snow on his shoulders to melt. That snow haunts me. Our society treats people as trash and venerates weapons.
The goodness of many down-and-out persons keeps pulling us volunteers back to the Catholic Worker. Benedictine Sister Barbara McCracken, who staffed Shalom Catholic Worker House in Kansas City, Kan., in the 1970s and 1980s and now visits women in prison, wrote recently about her 50 years as a Benedictine, “I feel especially blessed for having met so many very holy people. Some of these are sisters; others would be considered the very least among us.”
It was over the toaster at Holy Family House where, perhaps four years ago, Christian Brother Louis Rodemann, who staffed the house, asked me to suggest to Henry, my husband, that we move from Overland Park, Kan., to midtown KC as part of the Holy Family community. Knowing the link between serving the poor and opposing the care and feeding of US nuclear weapons, I replied something like this to Louis: “Not a lot of people are working against the new nuclear weapons parts plant. It’s in our backyard. I have to focus on that.”
Since then, I’ve tried to balance family, peacework, and hospitality. The three merge. Together, as the years pass, they shape my effort to follow God’s law of love.