World Citizens for Peace turns 25

Jim Stoffels

Jim Stoffels, Richland, Wash., is a co-founder and chairman of World Citizens for Peace. He is a retired physicist and former member of the Richland City Council. This article was published in the Tri-City Herald on July 29, 2007.

Twenty-five years ago, on July 27, 1982, a news conference was held in the Richland Public Library to announce the formation of World Citizens for Peace as part of the Nuclear Freeze Campaign — a national activist movement to halt nuclear weapons production during the time it would take for the United States and the former Soviet Union to negotiate an arms reduction treaty. Although such treaties were subsequently negotiated and ratified, nuclear weapons and the countries that possess them have continued to proliferate, making the threat to humanity as dangerous as ever.

The Nuclear Freeze movement was stimulated by the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who came into office in 1981 and set a goal of producing 17,000 new nuclear warheads in ten years. That goal had a direct impact on the Tri-Cities [Washington]. Plutonium production at the [adjacent] Hanford Nuclear Site, along with eight production reactors, had been shut down for a decade. President Reagan’s goal put Hanford back to producing weapons grade plutonium. The N Reactor — a dual-purpose reactor that still was operating for electric power generation only — was put back to a weapons production mode. And the PUREX chemical processing plant was reactivated to dissolve irradiated uranium fuel elements from N Reactor and extract the plutonium bomb fuel.

The founding chairman of World Citizens for Peace, Maurice Warner, a Ph.D. ecologist and associate manager at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said in his statement at the news conference: “The growing threat to world survival posed by the continuing and even accelerating proliferation of nuclear weapons is of concern to people everywhere. ... Though these concerns are widespread, the feeling among individual citizens that they themselves can do nothing is almost equally widespread. Some of us, however, feel that effective citizen action is not only possible but morally required.”

The month before our founding, approximately one million people had demonstrated against the nuclear arms race in New York City’s Central Park. It was the largest political demonstration in U.S. history — unprecedented and never repeated. The following year, on May 23, 1983, our fledgling organization held the first-ever public demonstration against Hanford’s role in nuclear weapons production, specifically aimed at the planned restart of PUREX. The day-long protest, just outside the Hanford 300 Area gate, brought a few thumbs-up signs, many obscene gestures, and one mooning from the back of a pickup.

In 1983, nuclear freeze resolutions passed in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, but they never were implemented. However, with 70 to 80 percent of Americans supporting the freeze proposal, President Reagan returned to nuclear arms negotiations with the Soviet Union. He and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev went on to negotiate the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) that reduced the nuclear arsenals of both countries for the first time.

Following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Hanford’s N Reactor was placed on standby in 1988 for safety reasons and never restarted. The United States was already awash in plutonium. Hanford’s mission subsequently changed to immobilization of its radioactive waste and environmental cleanup — a daunting mission that will take decades to accomplish.

With the climactic fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, the Cold War effectively ended and the whole world breathed a sigh of relief. But the greatest opportunity to remove the nuclear weapons threat since the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wasted, and the anticipated “peace dividend” of significantly reduced U.S. military spending never occurred. Instead, peace activism declined dramatically and nuclear disarmament suffered from neglect.

In spite of some treaty-based arms control successes, the nuclear weapons threat continued to grow. The number of nuclear powers has increased from the Big Five — United States, Russia, Great Britain, France and China — to include Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Reliance on nuclear weapons for national security, by the United States especially, now serves as an incitement to others to join the club, including some whose governments are not stable or friendly to the U.S. And the emergence of nuclear terrorism is a deadly and frightening new possibility.

In 1996, the International Court of Justice unanimously ruled that “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is generally illegal under international law.” Disregarding that ruling in recent years, we have seen four decades of [bi-partisan] progress toward nuclear disarmament by the United States not only halted but overthrown.

In 1999, the Republican-controlled Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty — a treaty that, ironically, was first proposed by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. Subsequently, President George W. Bush unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, one of the cornerstones of nuclear arms control, and rejected the U.S. obligation under the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty to achieve nuclear disarmament.

In January, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand of the “Doomsday Clock” — its iconic symbol of how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction — from seven to five minutes to midnight. Along with its action, the Bulletins Board of Directors asserted: “Nuclear weapons present the most grave challenge to humanity, enabling genocide with the press of a button.”

The reality of that present danger was highlighted by the recent refusal of presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in a possible war with Iran.

Today, there are still more than 25,000 nuclear warheads in existence — 12,000 of them are deployed and 3,500 are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched in a matter of minutes. Today’s thermonuclear weapons (hydrogen bombs) make the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs seem puny. It takes only one to destroy a city. And 1 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenals could destroy human civilization itself.

Now even former Cold War hawks are sounding the alarm. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this year, former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz and former secretary of defense William Perry, along with former senator Sam Nunn, declared that reliance on nuclear weapons as a deterrent is becoming “increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.” They called for urgent international cooperation to move toward a world free from nuclear weapons.

After 25 years, sad to say, the need continues for World Citizens for Peace and similar organizations to keep the issue of nuclear disarmament in focus. The total elimination of nuclear weapons is the only absolute guarantee for all of us to be safe from the threat of nuclear annihilation. And although the Nuclear Freeze era is past, its slogan still holds today: “You can’t hug your kids with nuclear arms.”

– PeaceMeal, July/August 2007

25th Anniversary Greetings

Congratulations for 25 years

Lois Gibbens

I greet you all on the 25th anniversary of World Citizens for Peace. When this small group of people came together in 1982 because of our concern over the possibility of nuclear war and a sincere desire to see the world become a safer place, we knew our position opposing nuclear weapons made us pariahs of sorts in the Tri-Cities. The day we spent protesting outside the Hanford reservation at the restart of the Purex plant was a day I realized how entrenched the nuclear culture was. As I stood by the highway holding my signs along with my four children at my side, we were subjected to responses from people who had little regard for the First Amendment and our right to assemble and express our views publicly.

Those first years were spent focusing on the dangers of nuclear weapons. We became part of the “Tracks Campaign,” a citizens’ group that reported the locations of the White Train, carrying its cargo of nuclear warheads from the Pantex plant in Texas to the Bangor submarine base on Hood Canal. On one occasion, we held a vigil at the train station in Pasco; we held peace vigils in Kennewick and Pasco. We hosted peace activists from around the country and held our Nagasaki/Hiroshima memorial in Richland that first year.

Of course the world has changed since 1982. The danger of nuclear weapons has been somewhat diminished with the end of the Cold War, but proliferation is still a concern. WCPeace, too, has changed, but you have continued to be a presence in the Tri-Cities and a reminder of the importance of doing something to make the world a better place. I eagerly read the newsletter each month to find out what you’re doing. You have made a difference and it will take the efforts of many to truly change the world. Keep up the good work and “Shalom” to you all.

Lois Gibbens was the founding Treasurer of World Citizens for Peace. A mother of four grown sons, she is still an active high-school teacher in Ephrata, WA.

“Happy birthday to you, happy 25th birthday to you!”
World Citizens for Peace just keeps getting better every year. This summer you expanded your protests to once a month in Kennewick. You invited the State Democratic Progressive Caucus to join you on G.W. Way to protest the Iraq war when they held their quarterly meeting last month. And this week you met and walked with Nipponzan Myohoji and the Interfaith Peace Walkers when they visited Richland.
~ Margaret Munro, Richland

Happy 25th birthday, peace and love!
~ Shirley Miller, Richland

Random thoughts of a 25-year veteran

Ed Frost

WCPeace has served thanklessly as the community’s conscience for a quarter of a century. It has been there to remind us that there is much malevolence afoot, regardless of how pleasant life is in our little desert community. It has been left to WCP to rain on our parade—to point out the war, injustice, and the horrible conditions in which so many people exist. It has been there to shame us, to nag us into doing something besides shopping, to take action.

World Citizens for Peace is like a small volunteer fire department. No one except the ultra-dedicated few pays any attention to it, until the next war breaks out. Then we scurry to dust off our picket signs, maybe even plunk down a $10 donation, and head out to save the world. Soon after, we revert to apathy, narcotized with shallow entertainment and encouraged by the powers that be to pay the most attention to the least important—to major in the minor.

I am proud to say that I have been involved with this little burr-under-the-saddle operation since 1982. I served as Chairman for several years [more like seven –editor], including during the first Gulf War. I’ve tolerated the insults, had my patriotism challenged, and been told to “like it or leave it.”

Things I remember over the life of WCP:

* How hot it was when we did the Nagasaki memorials in the afternoon
* Selling world famous WCP cotton candy at Howard Amon Park
* Writing the first edition of PeaceMeal on an old Apple II computer
* Holding all those yard sales
* Hearing new members of the community remark, “There’s a peace organization in this town?”
* Forming the Central Washington Peace and Environmental Council
* Putting my loose change in the “Pennies for Peace” cans
* The incredible dedication of Jim Stoffels
* The wonderful people that I met through the journey
* The feeling that at least we tried to do something

Happy Birthday, Peace & Luck!

We are grateful for World Citizens for Peace and join in celebrating the organization’s 25th anniversary! Over the years, we have felt honored to participate in gatherings sponsored by WCP. We value WCP because it creates in people an awareness of the injustice and inhumanity of war, and it represents our hopes for peace in the world.
In Love and Peace,
Mike and Shannon Truex, Richland

Congratulations World Citizens for Peace for 25 years of continuing the message that we need to keep working for world peace. The memorial gatherings, the peace walks in Richland and Kennewick, and, of course, the PeaceMeal newsletter, all challenge us to be active participants of the world peace movement. These efforts all play important roles in waking fellow citizens to the issues confronting peace. Thank you, Jim and Gene, for your leadership and inspiration for World Citizens for Peace!
~ Amedee & Emmett Marx, Richland

What if Peace Breaks Out?

Gene Weisskopf, Vice Chairman

I’ve been associated with WCPeace for almost the entire 12 years that I’ve lived in Richland. I first met Jim Stoffels when I started going to the meetings of the B Reactor Museum Association (BRMA). It was the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan, so there were lots of events in commemoration that drew me into the history that flows through Richland.

From the start, I appreciated Jim’s grasp of the importance of our local nuclear history, and his practical and (in his view) moral perspective on the disastrous possibilities that nuclear weapons have brought on the world. It was a nice mix that you don’t find very often in Richland.

So I went on to swim in the history that the BRMA was (and still is) trying to preserve, while also enjoying the philosophical and moral exercise of belonging to WCPeace as we considered the role nuclear weapons have played since the history was first written in the 1940s.

I would sometimes tease Jim by pointing out that with the Soviet Union gone, so was the nuclear threat, and it was time to pack up the organization’s files and go home. You know, if peace were to break out, we’d be ruined. Hah!

Then in 2002, the Bush administration began promoting a war with Iraq, and WCPeace took on a new role — thankfully, from my perspective. Ever since then, the organization has given me and many others a platform on which to speak out against the madness and deceit of the war. The sidewalk in Richland is well worn with the shoeprints (and footprints!) of many voices of democracy.

So, thank you WCPeace for giving our community a voice over 25 years, and for dealing with issues that most people would rather not even think about, let alone act upon. Happy birthday, and many more.

– PeaceMeal, July/August 2007