December 2008

Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

November’s general meeting found a young, enthusiastic speaker, Danielle Endres, PhD, educating us about Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (UCAN). A relatively new non-profit organization, UCAN informs us that worldwide, there were in 2007, over 25,000 nuclear weapons, 15,000 of them built by the US. Except for 400 in Europe, the rest of them are scattered throughout our country. Most of the remaining 10,000 were built by the Soviet Union and remain in Russia. Others are in other members of the international nuclear club.

According to Endres, the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) follows Bush’s November 2001 agreement with Putin in calling for a reduction in the United States’ strategic nuclear arsenal from 7,000 to 1,700-2,200, operationally deployed weapons by 2012.

The NPR states that the US should rely less on nuclear weapons and depend more heavily on conventional weapons and missile defense to ensure national security. Most of the reduction, though, will merely be shifting warheads into storage where they could quickly be reactivated.

Endres continued by referring to rhetorician Kenneth Burke who argues that certain phrases color other ways of defining security, phrases like “reasonable preparedness,” “multilateral solutions,” “economic and social justice,” and “elimination of our greatest threats.”

In addition to using national security as justification for nuclear weapons, other common myths about nuclear weapons abound:

Nuclear weapons are too difficult and costly to dismantle, nuclear weapons production and development provides jobs in the US, and we need to compete in the nuclear sciences and to keep scientists employed.

Before addressing these myths Endres said we need to look at some history: Not until World War II were nuclear weapons used in the form of atomic bombs, the first and only time. The Cold War ushered in a nuclear arms race, based on the deterrence theory, which states that rational actors will use nuclear weapons for their deterrent value. The risk of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) prevented the use of nuclear weapons by the US and Soviet Union.

As many of us are aware, the majority of US nuclear testing was at the Nevada Test Site. 928 tests were conducted there between 1951 and 1992, when we entered a moratorium and President Clinton signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Still, Endres told us, many issues exist, including development of new nuclear weapons like the bunker buster and the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), a controversial new American nuclear warhead design and bomb family intended to be simple and reliable to provide a long-lasting, low maintenance future nuclear force. RRW, however, presents risks of nuclear terrorism and possibility of nuclear accidents, like the one when US B-52 bomber, armed with several nuclear warheads, accidentally flew from North Dakota to Louisiana on August 30, 2007.

While the Nuclear Posture Review calls for continued adherence to a nuclear testing moratorium, it opposes US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. By advocating acceleration in the nuclear test readiness posture, the Review brings out the possibility that we might resume nuclear tests.

Already, we are modernizing our nuclear arsenal on several fronts: The US Minuteman ICBMs have received upgraded targeting systems. Two US aircraft, the B2 and the B52H, can carry nuclear weapons. The Pentagon maintains a tactical nuclear arsenal. We have tactical weapons stored on a few attack submarines and 150 tactical nuclear bombs in Europe for NATO use. Fighter-bombers maintain a nuclear capability.

So why abolish nuclear weapons? Chief among the reasons are terrorism, accidents, and ongoing nuclear weapons development and use. Through these reasons, UCAN builds an argument for a moral imperative to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

  1. According to Endres, there is a palpable risk that as long as we have nuclear weapons, there may be terrorist uses of them. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn wrote: “Most alarmingly, the likelihood that non-state terrorists will get their hands on nuclear weaponry is increasing. In today’s war waged on world order by terrorists, nuclear weapons are the ultimate means of mass devastation. And non-state terrorist groups with nuclear weapons are conceptually outside the bounds of a deterrent strategy and present difficult new security challenges.”
  2. Accidents: According to Department of Defense estimates, at least one serious nuclear weapon accident occurs every year. There are false alarms and technological errors. Case in point: In1980, a computer indicated a massive Soviet attack was on its way to the US, so we had 100 nuclear-armed planes readied for takeoff. The mistake was detected, but the same computer produced the same warning three days later. There have been at least eighteen US plane crashes involving nuclear weapons. Lost in the ocean are forty-three Soviet and seven US nuclear warheads. A US B52 bomber, armed with several nuclear warheads, accidentally flew from North Dakota to Louisiana on August 30, 2007.
  3. Other problems: There may be problems with our aging stockpile as discussed in “Security Upgrades at Several Nuclear [Bomb] Sites Are Lagging,” Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times, October 29, 2007, p. A-12.

There are ongoing costs to the nuclear age, but these have been largely out of sight for most Americans. There are immense environmental implications of nuclear weapons development. Nuclear weapons development has had a toll on human health. Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in 1990 to financially compensate people or the families of people who were exposed to fallout from atomic testing.

Some, like Enres’ co-author Mary Dickson, argue that this compensation has not been enough. Richard Miller’s creates a map of fallout from testing in his 1999 book, Under the Cloud: The Decades of Nuclear Testing. Using data from the federal government, he dotted the map every time fallout reached a location, showing the extent of nuclear testing’s potential impact.

What can we do to help abolish nuclear weapons? Write letters to the editor, blogs, and articles. Join discussion groups. Read the literature.*

UCAN is not alone in their advocacy for the abolition of nuclear weapons, concluded Enres. Said former President Eisenhower’s famous admonition about disarmament:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”


Readings suggested by UCAN website:

A World Free of Nuclear Weapons by George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn.

Complex 2030 Fact Sheet (pdf) by the Friends Committee on National Legislation

New Nuclear Weapons -The Reliable Replacement Warhead by the Union of Concerned Scientists

Nevada Test Site: Desert Annex of the Nuclear Weapons Laboratories (pdf) by the Western States Legal Foundation

“Under the Cloud: The Decades of Nuclear Testing” by Richard L. Miller

“Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons” by Joseph Cirincione

Inside the nuclear underworld: Deformity and Fear. CNN – Asia, August 31, 2007

Rocky: U.S. nuke work afflicted 36,500 Americans, Ann Imse, Rocky Mountain News, August 31, 2007

“The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger” by Jonathan Schell

Note from article author: One main concern from the HOU audience was how we would defend our country without nuclear weapons. UCAN’s answer is to use conventional weapons of war, believed by some to be effective. Weapons not considered conventional are chemical and biological warfare and nuclear weapons.

–Sarah Smith

Letters to the Editor

Here is a point-counterpoint discussion:

Humanism is NOT Atheism

Long time chapter member Rolf Kay is offended by the AHA campaign involving the phrase “Don’t believe in God?” Here is a letter he submitted for publication and sent to the AHA:

I am still in a mild state of shock and confusion. I recently receive your request for my annual dues. In the envelope was a blue sticker that said, “Don’t believe in God? You’re Not Alone.” What message are you trying to send? The Humanist Manifestos contain many, many positive thoughts and the fact that most of us do not believe in the supernatural is a minor point in my estimation.

I have been a member of Humanists of Utah for more years than I can remember. Atheism is negative and counter-productive. If you make atheism your main goal I predict that you will not gain any new members but instead, you may lose some like me.

I believe that it is just as invalid for the Pope to say that there is a God as for an atheist to say that there is no God. Both are based on faith alone with no scientific proof.

I would have been very pleased if the sticker said, “Don’t’ believe in God? You can still be a humanist!” I think that would attract more interest in humanism than as it now stands.

–Rolf Kay

Freethinkers Unite

I have a few issues with Rolf’s logic. First, the AHA campaign never mentions the “A-word.” The idea is to find people who, like us, prefer a rational approach to life and reject the supernatural; aka: God.

And even if the “atheist” word were included, I personally don’t have a problem with that either. I do not refer to myself as an atheist just as I don’t call myself a non-black, a non-gay, a non-Mormon or a “not” anything. I prefer the moniker “humanist” because it says what I am instead of what I am not. However, if you define an atheist as someone who rejects the notion of supernatural beings called “gods” then I guess I am an atheist.

Perhaps most troubling to me is Rolf’s rejection of atheism and the atheist movement. Yes, I think that sometimes some atheist go overboard in their radical attacks of organized religion. Much like, in my opinion, reactionary televangelists and their ilk treat freethinkers. I have little patience for either. However, I submit that going after the atheists is wasted energy that could be better spent challenging craziness on the other side. Senator Butters is submitting a resolution to the State Senate to “encourage” businesses to use the phrase “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” He even went so far as to declare the US a Christian nation. Apparently he isn’t familiar with the US Constitution with its treaties. The freethinking family includes humanists, atheists, brights, and others who place value in rational thinking and rational behavior. Let’s try to get along with each other.

–Wayne Wilson


In light of service members’ stories of aggressive evangelizing, the ostracizing of nonbelievers, and the failure of the military to investigate complaints by non-theists of discrimination, the Secular Coalition of America (SCA) and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) are asking the incoming Obama administration to consider changes to military regulations to protect their rights and ensure the implementation of procedures for investigating complaints.

Although a military directive prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and affirms the right of service members to practice a religion, it is “silent on how to handle nonreligious Americans who make up 21 percent of the armed forces,” said SCA Executive Director Lori Lipman Brown. “Non-theists have no recourse when religion is forced upon them in both formal and informal settings affecting their daily work and their careers and, in some cases, their safety.”

According to Jason Torpy, president of the MAAF, most people who contact his organization “fear reprisals and don’t speak up publicly.” Prayer, he added, “bookends nearly every military ceremony…and exhortations to find faith and attend church are common.”

“We need an overhaul and it needs to come from the top down,” said former Army 1st Lt. Wayne Adkins, who served as a public affairs officer in Iraq and witnessed disparagement of nonbelievers by chaplains and officers to members of the press. “Atheists don’t ask for much. What we do ask is that our leaders refrain from publicly disparaging us, from calling us liars, cowards, lesser soldiers, simply because we don’t share their belief in the supernatural.”

Extracted from the American

Darwin Day 2009 – Time to Get Excited!

This past February we sponsored a highly successful “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah.” In a couple of months the world will celebrate Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and Humanists of Utah will be there!

Plans are well underway to celebrate the life and accomplishments of one of the greatest visionaries and free thinkers of all time.

So mark February 12, 2009 on your calendar and plan to join the fun. The basic tenets and core values we will be celebrating include:

  • Science is our most reliable knowledge system.
  • We encourage curiosity and ingenuity through the pursuit of the scientific method.
  • Darwin’s exposition of Evolution is arguably among the most important scientific contributions in history.
  • We advocate the teaching of Evolution in our public schools beginning in elementary school.
  • We support the promotion of science to the general public, private and public institutions, science professionals, science educators at all levels, libraries, museums, the print and electronic media and science enthusiasts.

President’s Message

In my message last month, I mentioned that it was against IRS rules to endorse any candidates in our newsletter because of our tax-exempt status. But now that the election is over, I see no reason why I can’t say, YAHOO! Way to go, Obama! Not just a victory, but also a huge defeat for Republicans in general. It has made me willing to say to people I talk to that for the first time in nearly eight years; there is a reason to nurture a seed of hope for the future. As the President-Elect has said, “It won’t be easy,” but I think we as Americans can start making some progress in turning things around. But not just progress with new ideas and programs, but reversing as much as possible a lot of the damage done by (in my estimation), the worst presidential administration in my lifetime and quite possibly all of U.S. history. It is also extremely encouraging to hear Obama speak to the public and show that he has a brain in his head, which thinks and speaks clearly and truthfully.

Moving on, I would like to comment on an issue that has been discussed by some of our chapter members and was one of the agenda items at our last board meeting. Members of our chapter may or may not be aware that the American Humanist Association has embarked on a campaign of advertising. This advertising has been on some billboards and buses in several large cities. One ad in particular states, “Don’t believe in god? You’re not alone,” and contains contact information for the AHA. I have not viewed all of the messages, but they appear to have an atheist flavor. You may well know that we humanists come from various viewpoints to our humanism, including, among others, atheists, agnostics, and Unitarians. As such, this campaign is seen as a good idea to some and a bad idea to others. I myself feel the message quoted above is a good one and that speaking up and coming out of the closet, so to speak, is also a good thing to do. At the same time, I agree with many of our members that our primary goal as a humanist group is to foster the ideals of humanism that are found in the manifestos and aspirations that have been formulated over the years. It is why I have advocated that we stand as a chapter of AHA, without affiliation to other groups.

Having made those disclaimers, I wish to express my opinion on a few points. I have always believed that being civil towards others is most often the way to go and a good thing to do. I don’t feel it is necessary to try to change anyone’s mind about their belief in a god. But I will challenge them when they try to insert their accompanying ideas into secular institutions, such as creationism in schools. Nor will I stand silent when a religious group works to deny fellow citizens of their constitutional rights, as we have seen lately in California. For me, having respect for someone’s religion is my choice, which I base on my understanding of that religion, and I decide whether they deserve that respect. For example as I write this, a recent incident is still clearly on my mind. A few days ago, a group of 15 female students and their teacher were walking in Afghanistan, when several Islamic men rode past on motorbikes and threw acid on these women. The reason? For the horrible “crime” of trying to become educated and to better themselves. I ask you: does the religion that spawns this kind of sickness deserve respect? Does a religion that, for the most part, looks the other way when these things occur deserve respect? Does a religion that discriminates and works to deny civil rights to citizens deserve respect? I think not.

Additionally, when we are verbally castigated and vilified by the religious, I would ask: when was the last time an atheist, humanist, or freethinker strapped on explosives and went into a pizzeria and killed a number of people or delivered a car bomb? I think probably never. That appears to be the way of religious zealots.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

Leicester Secular Society

Member Recommended Websites

This website claims to be the oldest secular society in the world, formed in 1851.

“Secularists are also called freethinkers, since we like to think for ourselves, and sceptics because we question traditions and all people who set themselves up as authorities or experts, and rationalists because we rely on reason applied to the evidence of our senses. For most matters of everyday life this amounts to little more than common sense.”

Leicester Secular Society