“We still hold that nonviolent resistance is the only sane solution,” Dorothy Day wrote in 1940, in a time of war much like our own, minus the daily escalating threat of nuclear annihilation that we face today. “We have to continue to make our voice heard until we are finally silenced—and even then, in jail or concentration camp, to express ourselves” (The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day, Robert Ellsberg, editor). In that spirit, Catholic Workers and other activists in Kansas City will be hosting the annual Spring Midwest Catholic Worker Resistance Retreat there April 12-15.
Each spring for more than 20 years, Catholic Workers and their fellow travelers have left their homes, houses of hospitality, and farms to lend support for a local campaign of resistance somewhere in the Midwest.
The Kansas City National Security Campus (KCNSC), “creating technology roadmaps to ensure we’re at the forefront of national security innovation,” along with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, The Nevada National Security Site, the Pantex Plant, the Sandia National Laboratories, and the Y-12 National Security Complex, is a facility of the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). With some 7,000 employees, the Kansas City “campus” produces more than 80% of the U.S. nuclear weapons’ non-nuclear components.
In January 2022, officials at the Kansas City National Security Campus announced the completion of the B61-12 Life Extension Program’s First Production Unit (FPU): “It is with great pride and excitement that we see the B61-12 achieve FPU,” said Eric Wollerman, President of Honeywell Federal Manufacturing & Technologies, which manages and operates the campus.
The new B61-12 bombs are on their way to replace the old B61 freefall gravity bombs at bases in five NATO countries in a “nuclear sharing” arrangement. These new, more flexible bombs with adjustable tail assemblies that allow them to be guided and a built-in option to dial up to 50 kilotons (three times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb) or down to less than one kiloton, are the nuclear weapons closest to the borders of Russia. If or when the order is given, they will be “delivered” to their targets by their host countries’ air forces.
New technologies like the B61-12 have inspired optimism in U.S. war planners that a nuclear war, once started, can be controlled and brought to decisive victory. Talk that was unthinkable 20 years ago, that “using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” in the words of a June 2019 report by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, “and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict,” has become commonplace. On October 12, 2023, the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States published its report on the dangers posed by China and Russia, suggesting that “the United States and its Allies and partners must be ready to deter and defeat both adversaries simultaneously.”
Responding to “the demands of a rapidly evolving security environment,” on October 27, the Department of Defense announced that “the United States will pursue a modern variant of the B61 nuclear gravity bomb, designated the B61-13,” to be developed and produced by the NNSA. With a larger payload than the B61-12, the B61-13 “would be deliverable by modern aircraft, strengthening deterrence of adversaries and assurance of allies and partners by providing the President with additional options against certain harder and large-area military targets,” according to the DOD.
The doctrine of “mutually assured destruction,” that a nuclear war could have no winners and would annihilate the combatant parties and leave much of the planet lifeless, was never a good plan for lasting peace. The existential fear that gripped the planet in the Cold War years, “not a way of life at all, in any true sense,” President Eisenhower said in 1953, but “humanity hanging from a cross of iron,” didn’t prevent endless conflicts and wars of proxy, but somehow, by sheer luck, some say, a final nuclear weapons exchange had not happened in those years.
In the 1990s, there was some real progress toward disarmament and even now, the nations of the world are uniting in support of a total prohibition of nuclear weapons. Over the past three administrations, however, the United States has led the other nuclear powers in a new arms race. For elected officials and policymakers, talk of arms reduction has been replaced by “stockpile stewardship,” ensuring the nuclear threat for future generations. While the quality of life declines globally and the world faces imminent climate collapse, the U.S. Department of Energy commits trillions of dollars for “life extension” of the B61-12 and other weapons systems.
High-tech solutions pursued at places like the security campus in Kansas City inspire “great pride and excitement” in the hearts of corporate executives, but they do not make us any wiser nor the weapons any less destructive. In August, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned, “This year, we face an alarming rise in global mistrust and division. At a time in which nearly 13,000 nuclear weapons are stockpiled around the world—and countries are working to improve their accuracy, reach, and destructive power—this is a recipe for annihilation.”
“Since war preparation brought war,” suggested Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker with Dorothy Day, “why not quit preparing for war?”
This will be the second such retreat and action by Catholic Workers at the Kansas City National Security Campus. The first one in 2011 drew some 150 participants and culminated in fifty-three arrests on May 2 for blocking the construction of what was to become the nation’s first nuclear weapons production facility to be built in 33 years. Since then, Catholic Workers have regularly participated in protests and resistance there, as they had at the weapons plant that preceded it, sponsored by PeaceWorks Kansas City.
In August 2023, to commemorate the anniversaries of the destructions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Jeanette Noel Catholic Worker in Amsterdam convened a peace camp at Volkel, the Dutch air base where a U.S. Air Force squadron maintains B61 bombs ready to be loaded onto Dutch bombers at a moment’s notice. In recent years, Catholic Workers from around Europe and the U.S. have joined protests at Büchel, the German “nuclear sharing” air base, sponsored by the German coalition, “Büchel is Everywhere!” In April, we will meet those bombs at their source.
“Fill the Jails!” was Dorothy Day’s urgent advice to Catholic Workers during the war on Vietnam. The earth has not seen such perilous times as the “rapidly evolving security environment” that we are living through today. Details for this spring’s retreat in Kansas City are in process, but what is envisioned is a weekend of education, prayer, reflection, fellowship, and training, followed on Monday, April 15, with nonviolent direct action to disrupt the deadly business as usual at the Kansas City National Security Campus. More information to follow.
Cover photo: Catholic Workers blocking construction of the Kansas City National Security Campus, May 2, 2011, by Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter