Anti-Nuclear, Historical Memoir, Political Activist

Courage and “mission fortitude”

Dear Betsy,

You may add one more person to your list of readers. I saw your book lying on our dining table and was soon informed by my wife, Natalia, that you had generously given it to her during her stay in your West Seattle home. My interest was piqued by its title, which I could not imagine relating to today’s use of this term. And certainly it wasn’t, as its content quickly revealed.

You seem to be one of these individuals, almost all female, victimized by the patriarchal era in which you lived. Bright, talented, ambitious, and capable of far more spacious boundaries, you mostly played the role of the times. But your spirit was evident in what you did achieve, and your book is testament.

I, too, have a history of a brief residence in Russia, two years for me, in Moscow. Aside from my all-engaging work as an English teacher, I was primarily an ethnologist, exploring the question  of what 73 years of the Soviet experience did to people, not to mention the centuries of servitude under the Czars. As your book makes clear, there is one overarching lesson from foreign immersion. People are people wherever you find them. The aphorism observes that there is a line in human nature below which we are all the same. Big or small, smart or dull, kind or mean, hopeful or fearful, such as we are, are about the same in proportion everywhere on the planet. Aspirations for oneself and for our progeny and friends seem universal, and are heavily driven toward peaceful, supportive, and loving connections between all of us. There is no such thing, under superficialities, as “the Russian character” or the “the Asian nature”. Around the kitchen table, we are all pretty much the same.

The subject of attitude, molded by life, is where we find differences across cultures, and these differences have substantial bearing on the success or failure of entire cultures, judged by those qualities that lead to human fulfillment.

Your writing classes and, as we all experience, your life-long practice in journals and so forth, has made you a pretty good writer. You cleared the bar in my book. I enjoyed your style and frankness. Your story of your work with Target Seattle and the Tashkent sojourns is really quite inspirational and, as I perceive it, took a good deal of courage and “mission fortitude”. You would have made a good US senator or a governor.

With utmost respect and sincere good wishes,

Paul Shelton

Anti-Nuclear, Political Activist

Who are the Marshallese?

Some months ago I hung a world map as my shower curtain. I wanted to visualize the places I have traveled, the places in the news, and the regions where military tensions and potential nuclear weapon exchanges or accidents might take place. A two-fold objective: pleasurable memories and frightening possibilities.

World Map shower curtain

My work on the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility’s task force provided incite into a previous unknown [to me] world: the Marshall Islands, their people, and the use our government made of this tiny archipelago as the testing site for our hydrogen bombs in 1954.

I searched my plastic map for the Marshall Islands scanning the South Seas from my seat or waiting for the water to run hot before stepping in the shower. I never found them.

Yesterday I googled the Marshall Islands, took longitudinal and latitudinal eye-ball measurements removing any doubt about where to look. The island nation did not exist on my large and detailed map. Overlooked on my shower curtain map. Overlooked in the national consciousness of Americans, and perhaps the world. [I have taken my Sharpie and drawn them in, on the end seam where the roundness of the Earth splits to make a flat map.]

Two years ago the population of the island’s sovereign nation was 58,400. Tyson Foods in Arkansas employs many Marshallese from the 17,000 member community living there. In Spokane, Marshall Islanders makeup 1% of the population (and account for 33% of the Covid-19 infections). Many live in Hawai’i.  Their difficult history may be new to you.

On March 1st, 1954, the United States’ most powerful hydrogen bomb, with a 15 megaton yield and code-named Castle Bravo, was detonated upon Bikini Atoll – Marshall Islands. To this day, generations of people are without home and food security, and many face generational health disparities. But not even weapons of mass destruction can destroy Marshallese culture. The Marshall Islanders in Washington State are well organized and have not given up hope of getting access to health care, Medicaid, and other health services.

They live in a strange limbo resulting from a deal their government made to the US: to give our US military access to their islands for weapons’ testing and the creation of military bases in exchange for their citizens to obtain visas to live and work in the US, earn money and pay taxes. But, this is a big BUT, a Marshall Islander living in the US is not qualified to receive any of our social safety net provisions such as social security. To understand their limbo status better, read this article from the Spokane Tribune.

Since 1986, the Compact of Free Association (COFA) between the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia (Chuuk, Kosrae, Yap, Pohnpei), and the United States allows COFA citizens to serve in the U.S. military and enter, lawfully reside, and work in the U.S. in exchange for providing the U.S. exclusive military control of the region.
When the Compacts were originally signed, COFA migrants were eligible for Medicaid and other federal programs. That eligibility changed with a new law in 1996, when these and other migrants were excluded from benefits.

The WPSR has been instrumental in making the Marshallese presence and plight visible to the rest of us living privileged lives in Washington State. They was us to celebrate their resilience in the face of their circumstances.

Put this date on your calendar, March 12-14, 2021, In Washington, the Marshallese and nuclear frontline communities welcome us to attend the 2021 Marshall Islands Nuclear Victims and Survivors Remembrance Day. We will remember the legacy of the nuclear era, the resilience of nuclear frontline communities coping with today’s pandemic, and the crossroad of nuclear and climate change justice.

Is this news to you? Any reactions you would care to share? Please comment. If you have read this, you will be changed and become more aware of the need to abolish all nuclear weapons, their manufacture, their storage, and you may even join the efforts of WPSR.

Your donation helps support their lobbying efforts to change the nuclear landscape and the cost of maintaining it.

Thanks for reading. Marshall Islands and form your own mental image of this one-time island paradise’s place in the vast Pacific ocean.

For a Nuclear Free World, Betsy

My next public appearance will be hosted by the Anacortes peace activists No More Bombs in February. Watch this space for date and time and how to participate.




Anti-Nuclear, Political Activist

Raytheon Missile and Defense contract a bad idea

A recent article in Defense news came to my attention thanks to Carly Brook of WPSR, staff support to Washington Against Nuclear Weapons Coalition. Our work to abolish nuclear weapons is a David vs. Goliath story. Raytheon corporation has been a primary private sector supplier to the Pentagon for decades. I have a personal connection to Raytheon through my uncle Thomas Hope Johnson who served as vice-chairman of research for the company during my college years.

Raytheon has just been named the sole provider of a Long Range Standoff Weapons Program. This story probably won’t make the national news although some Members of Congress are asking questions about this decision.

 Air-Launched Cruise Missile for a Nuclear Weapons System
Airmen from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., prepare an AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missile for a Nuclear Weapons System Evaluation program test flight on April 10, 2013. (Tech. Sgt. Mark Bell/Air Force)

I decided to send a letter to the current head of the Missile and Defense arm of Raytheon. Here is what I had to say:

Dear President Wesley D. Kremer,

In your role as head of Raytheon Missiles & Defense, you have the power to stop the escalation of nuclear weaponry across the globe. The United States already has enough nuclear firepower to destroy the planet. Other countries with nuclear weapon arsenals know this. We have nothing further to prove.

Your words, “LRSO will be a critical contributor to the air-launched portion of America’s nuclear triad,” speak of Raytheon’s ability to manage the risk of arming aircraft with a weapon that could be either nuclear or conventional. This addition to a conventional aircraft could unnecessarily raise the risk of miscalculation, triggering a nuclear war. [I quote the recent article in Defense News by Valerie Insinna. 4-20-2020]

I write to you as the niece of Dr. Thomas Hope Johnson who retired from his position as Vice President of Research at Raytheon in 1965. Uncle Tom began his career at Brookhaven working with the Manhattan Project’s nuclear physicists to split the atom. During the Second World War, he turned to military projects. As chief physicist at the Ballistic Research Laboratories from 1942 to 1947, he measured the blast force of bombs and used microwaves to record movements of bullets and other projectiles.

Two years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he became vice president of research with the Atomic Energy Commission to discover peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Do you and your scientists have that youthful excitement in the power of microwaves and nuclear energy I witnessed in my uncle when I was a freshman at Bryn Mawr College? I visited him and my aunt in Georgetown, DC in 1955. He was working at Raytheon at the time. At breakfast, he emerged from the kitchen with the grin and gleam of a ten-year-old with a new discovery. He opened a mason jar full of freeze-dried strawberries. “Betsy, someday you will open a box of cereal, pour milk on it and these little red flakes will bloom into strawberries.”

He, Leo Szilard and other physicists from the Manhattan Project were horrified that nuclear fission had been used to kill millions of people. They formed the Council for a Livable World in 1962, determined to educate our citizens and our government about the destructive course of nuclear armament buildup. Surely the current mission of Raytheon could be life-giving instead of life-destroying.

Raytheon’s overall mission states that the company can be trusted to do the right thing and act with integrity. How is your division operating in harmony with this larger mission? How is a revenue stream of 60 Billion and a mission to provide the industry’s most advanced end-to-end solutions to detect, track and engage threats a trusted way forward? That 60 billion could be spent in diplomacy and arms reduction rather than producing weapons we never plan to use.

You have the power to change the “Peace Through Strength” model. The world needs Raytheon’s leadership for peace, not war.

Elisabeth Johnson Bell

The Washington Against Nuclear Weapons Coalition needs you, dear Reader, and your organization to join us. We must increase the voices in Washington State that urge, request, demand that our Members of Congress stop spending money on nuclear weapons. Please join

If you are curious about how my Uncle Tom influenced my work in the anti-nuclear movement, check out my memoir, Open Borders: a Personal Story of Love, Loss and Anti-war Activism.

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Anti-Nuclear, Political Activist

conventional or nuclear bombs–what’s the difference?

This just came across my desk. You need to know about it. Our planet depends on us for survival.

Anti-nuclear weapons groups of every ilk have written a letter to congress to help our elected officials understand the strategic difference between a nuclear weapons and a conventional weapon. The risk of starting an irreversible conflagration between hostile nations increases exponentially with the deployment of so-called low-yield nuclear war heads. Please read the document and consider expressing your opinion to your Member of Congress (MOC). Make a call; make a difference.

2019 NGO stop W76-2 ltr-1
Anti-Nuclear, Political Activist

Holy Saturday Heartbreaking Grief

News of Death

Last night they came with news of death,
not knowing what I would say.

I wanted to say,
“The green wind is running through the fields,
making the grass lie flat.”

I wanted to say,
“The apple blossom flakes like ash,
covering the orchard wall.” 

I wanted to say,
“The fish floats belly up in the slow stream,
stepping stones to the dead.”  

They asked if I would sleep that night,
I said I did not know.

For this loss I could not speak,
the tongue lay idle in a great darkness,
the heart was strangely open,
the moon had gone,
and it was then
when I said, “He is no longer here,”
that the night put its arm around me
and all the white stars turned bitter with grief.

David Whyte, River Flow (Many Rivers Press: 2007), 313 published today in Richard Rohr’s meditations.

I’ve been asking myself why so few movements, presidential candidates, justice organizations like the Church Council or Faith Action Network or Earth Ministry–to name a few local to Seattle–have put the banning of nuclear weapons first and foremost on their agenda? I think we are in deep denial. We speed past Holy Saturday, that awful presence of death counting on the truth of resurrection.

The Trident submarines proliferated since the first one steamed into Puget Sound in 1981 and scared many of us into action against it. When I tell my Open Borders audiences that there are eight of those submarines over there, just twenty miles away, their eyes open, then glaze over, then drop to their lap or the floor; their shoulders drop. Some may shake it off. Anyone under fifty has lived their whole life under the potential cloud of nuclear winter.

We can not find true resurrection unless we acknowledge the death that is happening to our planet right now and the threat of death hanging over us. 

Can we grieve together? Knash our teeth, beat our breasts, weep harsh, wet, unstopable tears of grief for the state we are all, everyone of us, from here to North Korea, to Pakistan, to Iran, to Russia, to India, all of us? Standing in the darkness, let the night put its arm around us, comfort us, so that through our grief we can open our eyes to the steps we can each take, however small and seemingly insignificant, to bring life back into our future.

Join me with Washington Against Nuclear Weapons. Together we can awake from denial and change the future.

Act II of the Great Tridium of Easter