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Section III — Peace Movement, Nuclear Disarmament, and the Future

Chapter 1:
Opposition to Nuclear Armament (late 1950s—90s) (continued)

Activist Groups — Beliefs and Mission

Individuals and groups protesting the nuclear build up during the Cold War acted for a variety of reasons. Some, such as Joe and Jean Gump, participated in actions that damaged silos in Missouri in 1986 and 1987. The Gumps and other individuals did not have any organizational affiliation and protested out of personal religious conviction. [405] Some organized groups also acted out of religious beliefs. The Ploughshares organization based its activism on the biblical reference to hammering swords into ploughshares. [406] The group's activism lay grounded in its members' belief that nuclear weapons were and remain instruments of mass murder.

Some activists objected to nuclear weapons for fear of the environmental consequences of a nuclear accident involving the nuclear material or concerns with future cleanup of nuclear waste. Others, like John LaForge and Nukewatch, adhered to the legal argument that the proliferation of nuclear missiles, with their ability to annihilate whole populations, violated the Geneva Convention and the Nuremberg Charter. [407]

In general, anti-nuclear groups endorsed nonviolent actions aimed at increasing public awareness of the potential dangers of nuclear weapons. Activists hoped that increased awareness would result in the public outcry necessary to disarm nuclear weapons arsenals. Their typically pacifist views, which recalled non-violent protests in Ghandi's India or America's own civil rights marches as models, contributed to the generally peaceful and non-confrontational tone of their protests.

Efforts in South Dakota (1980-90s)

South Dakota's peace movement did not agitate to the same extent as its neighbor North Dakota. In reflecting on the beginnings of anti-nuclear peace activism in South Dakota, long-time peace activist and resident of Rapid City, Jay Davis stated, "The nuclear arms race specifically organizing against that really started to gain steam during the Reagan presidency at the very early 80s and really continued throughout the Reagan presidency and then when President Bush came in 1989 it wasn't long after that that you had the end of the Cold War and all that. Which made this particular issue somewhat moot. It's easy to forget how intense the people felt and how scary things were at times during the 80s." [408]

Jay Davis also reflected that residents of South Dakota and Rapid City in particular have generally been very supportive of their Air Force base. Residents of the state are keenly aware of the economic benefits they enjoy as the result of the military presence on the state's Western Plains, and the military program received substantial local and statewide political support. Peace movement adherents in South Dakota recognized quite early that they were outnumbered by those who supported local military installations. [409]

It is difficult to determine the number of South Dakota residents that identified with or joined the peace movement. Jay Davis stated, "Well we never had as much [activism] in South Dakota as the more urban states so we had that perspective. We were kind of the country cousins to a peace movement that was much more prominent on the east and west coasts in bigger cities. We certainly had our own branch of it and I'd say it maybe hit its peak from about 1982 to about 1987. So that would be most of the Reagan era." [410]

Local support of the increased military presence at Ellsworth Air Force Base was not universal, however. Individual acts of resistance included rock art symbols placed at the end of the runway at Ellsworth by Marv Kammerer and fellow activists. Kammerer, described by Jay Davis as a "rancher for peace," owns land adjoining Ellsworth Air Force Base. [411] During the Cold War, Kammerer placed three symbols on his land at the end of the runway to signal his objection to nuclear weapons—a peace sign, a Native American earth symbol, and an ecology symbol.

The South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, an organization of "preachers, teachers, and social workers," arranged missile silo demonstrations throughout the state during the 1980s. [412] They were responsible for coordinating Easter Sunday protests at missile silo sites, events that involved prayer vigils and communion. After the services ended, a small group of pre-selected activists trained in nonviolent action trespassed onto the silo sites, sometimes placing an Easter lily on the silo cap. These events were intended to raise the level of public debate about the weapons and to make a statement about the appropriateness of building and maintaining these weapons systems. [413]

The Easter Sunday protests occurred at numerous missile launch facility sites in South Dakota, including at Delta-09 in 1987. Four people trespassed onto the silo site that day and were arrested. The federal magistrate decided to make an example of this group of protestors, fining them $525 each, for a total fine of $2,100. Members of the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center felt obligated to help the protestors pay their fine. However, according to Jay Davis, the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center did not have money in the bank to cover the fines, placing the burden of payment on the members. These fines caused protesters in South Dakota to rethink their methods, and effectively put an end to trespass actions in South Dakota. [414]

When asked to describe the overall impact of the anti-nuclear protests in South Dakota, Jay Davis responded, "Well, I think if we hadn't been there people would have absolutely taken the missile silos for granted. Those silos are there to preserve peace. At worst, they're a necessary evil. At best they help our local economy and by having protests which were broadcast to the state and to the community and the news media people at least became aware of the fact that there is another side to the story. ...So we provided balance in a conservative area of the country during a very conservative time." [415]

Continued Activism

Over the years, protestors met with a mixed reaction from the public and anti-nuclear/peace groups in the United States and Europe. The public remained divided on the issue of maintaining the United States' nuclear force, while peace groups could not agree on either the utility or the ethics of damaging government property. Local press coverage ranged from matter-of-fact to openly hostile, accusing the protestors of being unpatriotic or un-American. [416]

Individuals and groups protested the Cold War's nuclear buildup and continue to oppose the very existence of nuclear weapons for a variety of reasons. Religious, legal, and environmental arguments remain central to the agitation for American and international disarmament. The 550 ICBMs still in the ground remain a focus for the peace activists. [417] Today, debate continues to rage throughout the activist community over the usefulness of employing tactics involving property damage to missile silo sites or trespassing onto the sites. European activists have raised concerns over the jail sentences received by American activists and question the effectiveness of a peace movement that suffers from having many of its leaders in jail. For example, the long sentence of Helen Dery Woodson, a member of the Silo Pruning

Hooks who received an eighteen-year jail sentence for trespassing onto a silo Launch Facility and damaging the silo, illustrates the toll of the peace movement on the lives of individuals. [418]

A new tactic employed by the activist groups since the 1990s centers on posing as weapons inspectors and they have attempted to inspect weapon sites in Europe and the United States. To John LaForge, of Nukewatch, these inspections "highlight the hypocrisy of these first world nuclear arm states as well as a way to bring attention to the deployment of the weapons all over the place." [419] For peace activists opposing nuclear weapons, the battle for disarmament continues.

The Cold War, however, has ended. Gone with it are the bipolar tensions that divided the international system for nearly a half century. We next turn to the dismantling of those international tensions and the concurrent dismantling of Minuteman.

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Last Updated: 19-Nov-2003