27 July 2003
Land, sea, air, space
Bath Iron Works launches a new Aegis destroyer; a life-long activist wonders about its greater purpose, and who this ship is really meant to protect


DON'T GO THERE: for Bruce Gagnon, space exploration is fine, just don't put lasers.there.


Maine Veterans for Peace (VFP) organizers are expecting hundreds of activists from around the region to turn out for the USS Momsen protest. If you want to show your support or just check it out, here’s a schedule of events:

7 a.m.: gather in Library Park (Bath, Maine)

7:45: speakers and music

8:45: march to BIW front gates

9: hang out until half-hour after the launch

11:30: closing circle

Speakers at the protest include Bruce Gagnon, Kathy Kelly (founder of Voices in the Wilderness; she’s led more than 70 humanitarian missions to Iraq to deliver medical supplies), and Liz McAlister (widow of well known peace activist Philip Berrigan, and a lifelong activist herself).

Just before the march to BIW’s gates, organizers have planned a christening ceremony of their own, for the USS Philip Berrigan — a fishing boat that will be the "flagship for Maine’s Peace Navy." Berrigan did jail time back in 1997 for his participation in a highly publicized, symbolic "disarming" of the USS Sullivans (another Aegis) at BIW, in which he and four others took to the ship with household hammers and baby bottles filled with their own blood.

"We will be asking all attending to leave a symbolic gift in the boat," says VFP’s Jack Bussell. "A doll, a peace sign, a penny, a flower (incidentally, roses were Phil’s favorite flower) along with a renewed commitment, from all who do leave a gift, to work for peace and justice in the coming months and years."

For more information about the convergence, call (207) 772-1442 or email jafabussell@gwi.net

— JK

On August 9, dignitaries and elected officials will gather at Bath Iron Works to celebrate the launch of the USS Momsen, the twentieth Arleigh Burke Class Aegis destroyer to be built by BIW. And at 11 a.m., when the ribbon is cut and the champagne bottle is smashed against the hull of the world’s newest, most advanced fighting machine, the world will witness another historic moment: the fifty-eighth anniversary of the US bombing of Nagasaki, which killed 73,884 people and injured another 74,909. Of course, the synchronicity is a bit off: Fat Man detonated over a tennis court in residential Nagasaki at 11:02 a.m. Japan Standard Time.

Not surprisingly, activists have planned a massive protest on the day of the christening, spearheaded by Maine Veterans for Peace and dubbed the "Convergence for Peace at Bath." Though the Nagasaki anniversary adds insult to injury, the convergence was planned long before the ship’s launch was rescheduled from late July to August 9, and the agenda for the day includes speakers from various walks of the peace movement.

The Phoenix caught up with one of those keynote speakers: Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. Originally an activism organizer in Florida (which is how, with his proximity to Cape Canaveral, he got involved in space issues), Gagnon recently moved to Brunswick with his family. He talks to us about space as an extension of our natural environment, the dangers posed by engaging in a space-based arms race, and how America’s ocean-going military fleet fits into the bigger picture of plans for global domination by the US military-industrial complex.

Phoenix: Can you tell me a little bit about your organization?

Bruce Gagnon: It was created in 1992, to essentially build a global constituency around the space issue. Most people haven’t been and still aren’t aware of how space has really become the linchpin of all warfare on earth . . . The recent Iraq war was all coordinated with space technology.

And then, more importantly, [we’re concerned with] the plans for putting weapons in space — and having the US "control and dominate" space is really the agenda of the future.

So today we have 168 affiliates on virtually every continent of the earth, groups that are working on [these issues]. And I spend a lot of time traveling and organizing and working on events in all these various places around the world.

Q: Do you find that the people who are interested in these issues fit the typical activist demographic, in that they’re involved in other issues, too, or are you starting to see more people from the general public becoming aware of these issues?

A: I think initially it was just the "peace and environmental" folks who were interested. But now, interestingly enough, it is reaching out, and because of practical necessity. For example, there are people who work in the business of cable TV and cell phones who use satellites for their business. They’re beginning to realize that if there’s war in space, that as you blow up rockets or other countries’ satellites, you’re going to create what’s called space junk, orbiting debris — there’s already a problem today — orbiting at 15,000 miles per hour that would knock out your satellites for your cell phones or cable TV, and everything else. So there’s starting to be a growing consciousness in the industry that "Hey, by god, this would be a disaster."

Q: When you say there’s already a problem with space junk, can you talk a little bit more about that?

A: Yeah, today there are over 110,000 pieces of space junk larger than a half an inch [being] tracked on the big radar screens at NORAD in Colorado, at Cheyenne Mountain, and they’ve already had to, for example, move the international space station to another orbit because they were tracking these bits of space junk that they thought were going to smash into it. The Challenger shuttle, on its previous mission, before it blew up, it had its windshield cracked by a tiny speck of paint traveling at 15,000 miles an hour.

And so what we’ve been trying to get people to do is view space as an environment, an extension of our earthly environment, that needs to be protected. There’s a whole plan to put massive amounts of nuclear power into space, to fund all different kinds of space technology, including nuclear reactors . . . to power space-based lasers that would knock out other countries’ satellites and hit targets on the earth below.

Q: Where does the space junk come from, and is there any way to clean it up? I’m guessing not.

A: No, there’s not — like a big vacuum cleaner or something [laughs]. It doesn’t exist.

It comes from all the years of the space age, by the US and the former Soviet Union. Things that have been left up there, wrenches, and other things that have been lost from space walks. All different little bits of satellites that have broken up in space. All a mess of things up there.

Q: It’s my understanding that your organization views both the mining and the weaponization of space as harmful things. Are there any uses of space that you advocate, or that you’re okay with?

A: Well, actually, there are quite a number of our members around the world who are very much interested in space. Some of them have actually worked in the space industry, at one time or the other. So we’re really not opposed to the exploration of space. But our clear position is that, right now, the military industrial complex has taken over the space industry.

If you listen to the new director [of NASA] under Bush, Shawn O’Keefe, former Secretary of the Navy, he said everything we do at NASA from now on will be dual use — meaning every single mission will be both military and civilian at the same time. Because all space technology now really is dual use. So there really is no separation any more between civilian and military. And so to say, "Well, we support civilian [uses], but we don’t support the military," is almost impossible anymore. Because it’s all the same thing.

So our position is, until the day comes when we can separate them again, we’ve got to essentially stop this massive growth of research and funding and development — and now they’re moving, under the Bush administration, toward the deployment of military space weapons systems. We’ve really just got to shut the whole thing down, and have the public intervene and reseparate them because, right now, it’s the same program.

Q: The first commercial, unmanned mission to the moon was launched on December 20, 2002, by a company called Transorbital. What’s your position on commercial space exploration?

A: All this commercial stuff with the moon and ultimately Mars and some of the asteroids is all about mining operations. They say that there is helium-3 and water on the moon, there is gold on the asteroids and cobalt and uranium on Mars. And part of the space command’s job is not only to control and dominate the earth to benefit the US multinational corporate globalization of the planet, but they also want to create a parallel military highway between the earth and the planetary bodies in order to preserve them, or control the shipping lanes. Think of it like the British Empire with their ships that ruled the seven seas; their military navy was really all about protecting the global empire of the British all over the world. It’s the same way now, as technology allows for the going out and the mining of the heavens.

Q: So we’re letting the corporate interests go in there and do the trailblazing, and then the government is going in to secure what private companies have staked out?

A: That’s the plan. On two levels there is something at work here. Number one, it allows US corporations to go and control these places. And secondly, this whole proposition to control this highway, [these] shipping lanes — just think of the expense involved in doing that. It is unbelievably massive, trillions and trillions of dollars — and who will benefit from that? Of course: the big aerospace corporations, the military industrial complex.

So this is where they view that they will secure massive profits in the next 50 to 100 years. And they are now calling for, in the documents they write, the defunding of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, because they say we’ve got to transfer those dollars into the military budget in order to pay for these enormous, enormous projects of the future.

So it is really going to create a head-long collision between people’s needs here on the planet for security — elderly security, educational security for our children’s future, those kind of securities — up against this notion that we’ve got to have security of the skies above our heads.

Q: How do you secure shipping lanes in space?

A: Well, you fundamentally deny other countries access to space. And the way you do that is by putting systems in orbit like space-based lasers that would be powered by nuclear reactors, giving them ample projection power to fire a laser through space to knock out other countries’ satellites, to hit rockets as they try to leave the planet.

There have been plans going back years and years to the 1950s to have bases on the moon, to have orbiting space stations that are outfitted with weapon systems. These are all in the vision for the future. So all these systems together would give you the ability to control who can get on and off the planet earth.


Space-based lasers
Bruce Gagnon talks about their reality, and a host of other things the government is wasting your money on — including Aegis destroyers

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND: Bruce Gagnon says that the military-industrial complex's hunger for space is insatiable.

Q: Are there any specific government projects that the American public should be worried about right now?

A: The developments on these space-based lasers are very, very important. The Pentagon has said that these technologies are very difficult to create, but I’m one that does not believe they will not succeed. Some people say "Ah, this stuff will never work," whether it’s so-called missile defense — the idea of having a bullet hit a bullet in space — or space-based lasers. There’s a new project called the air-born laser — a converted Boeing 747 with a laser beam on its nose. Its job would be to fly over a particular country and if they tried to launch anything to hit it immediately, as soon as it was launched in what is called its "boost phase."

Another program that is very important that is now undergoing testing is the sea-based launch program, and these are outfitted on the Aegis destroyers made at Bath Iron Works. It’s now had four tests. Its most recent test in June was a failure — they tested it off the coast of Hawaii.

What they are doing on the Aegis is they’re outfitting them with missile interceptor systems . . . and the Aegis destroyers would be forward deployed surrounding a particular country, so that if they tried to launch anything you’re right up close to the shore, you hit it immediately, firing from the Aegis and knocking it out.

There is a whole collection, then, of these different systems: space-based systems, sea-based systems, air-based systems, and they’re saying that probably not all of them are going to work, but the more we develop and the more we test, some of them will work.

I think that collectively what we see then is an enormous, enormous fiscal investment in creating this new arms race for space, knowing that some of them indeed will work.

In addition to the [United States Space Command’s Long Range] Plan for 2020 that says that the US will control and dominate space . . . there is another planning document put out by Congress. Congress asked for a congressional staffer to write the definitive study on this whole thing, and his report to the Congress was called "Military Space Forces, the Next Fifty Years." And in here he lays out the plans for orbiting battle stations, space-based lasers powered with nuclear reactors, all these kinds of things. He also talks about the need for military bases on the moon, and he says with armed bases on the moon we would be able to hijack rival shipments upon return.

Now he’s thinking long term; he’s thinking of the day when you can go out and mine the sky, come back with gold from the asteroids — and if anyone else tried to do it, with our armed space stations and our bases on the moon . . . I’ll read you the entire quote: "Armed forces might lie in wait at that location to hijack rival shipments upon return."

Now this book — it was turned into a book, published by Congress — the book is signed by the likes of John Glenn, who at that time was a senator; Bill Nelson, who used to be the congressman from Cape Canaveral, went up on the shuttle, now one of the two US senators from Florida; and a host of other leading politicians that work on space issues. So this is really a very chilling document because it really does show this long-term vision, not only of the Pentagon — some people say "It’s just the Pentagon, they’re crazy" — but here we have key politicians in the United States Congress, in the House and the Senate, saying "Yes, this is an incredible document, we need to follow this as our vision for the future."

Q: That’s frightening.

A: Yeah, it is. It’s piracy.

Q: Other countries are developing space-race weapons as well — how do we defend ourselves against the same type of domination at their hands, without creating these systems ourselves?

A: Well right now there is no one who can compete with us either technologically or economically. First of all, nobody can play this economic game; nobody has the money and we barely do. Like I said, we’re going to have to raid Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, [and] education in order to do this, and it is very clear that that is what is going to happen.

China, for example, today, has 20 nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States. We have 7500. They don’t have the money to compete in this game. They are trying to develop space capabilities, they are beginning to create some space satellites that give them the ability to launch rockets, but they are in the elementary-school stages compared to us.

The former Soviet Union, Russia, was in the game . . . but with the break-up of the Soviet Union and now the bankruptcy of Russia, the life expectancy of males in Russia is 48 years now. So their economy has totally collapsed; they can’t afford to play this game any more.

The only possible competitor to the United States, at this time or in the future, would be the European Union, who today has just the most elementary space program. They are now developing a program called Galileo, that would allow them to have reconnaissance satellites in space. I’ll tell you a story just to illustrate this. You remember the Kosovo war? NATO was our ally in that war — the European countries were with us, and in that war we were bombing, together, Yugoslavia. Well I was reading articles in industry publications like Aviation Week and Space Technology, that the Europeans were furious with the United States because here they were involved in that war with us but we would not share with them any of the satellite reconnaissance information with them. So their planes were flying over dropping bombs but we wouldn’t give them any of the satellite information to show them how things were going. And they were furious and said "Never again will this happen."

So, coming out of that war, the EU has begun to create its own satellite program to view the earth outside of the US GPS system. [But] I’m just reading . . . today, in various industry publications that I subscribe to, that they’re having major fiscal problems in order to pay for just that program, something that we had established a long time ago, and we are now moving on to weapons in space, and nobody is near us.

And what is interesting is that, for the last several years, Canada, Russia, and China have gone to the United Nations General Assembly and introduced a resolution calling for a ban on weapons in space — let’s close the door to the barn before the horse gets out. Today nobody has weapons in space. There are a lot of military satellites in space and lots of technology, but no actual weapons deployed in space. So let’s have a treaty, say nobody can do it, and that way we don’t create a new arms race.

Well, for the last couple of years, this resolution passed the United Nations General Assembly unanimously except for the United States and Israel abstaining. And the US position is "We won’t negotiate a global ban on weapons in space because there isn’t a problem." Well, obviously we don’t want there to be a ban on weapons in space because we have an agenda — a clearly defined agenda.

Q: Isn’t there an existing outer-space treaty of some sort?

A: There is. But the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, it bans all weapons of mass destruction in space, [but] the Pentagon says "It’s an outdated treaty and we, with our new technologies, can get around it." For example, the space-based laser powered with nuclear reactors would not be a weapon of mass destruction, it would be a weapon of selective destruction and therefore we would get around the treaty.

Q: What’s going to be the focus of your speech at the USS Momsen protest?

A: I’m really going to focus on the role of the Aegis destroyer in the US military strategy.

First, let me read to you a couple of things from the Pentagon Missile Defense Agency. They say that the fundamental goal of the planned ballistic missile defense system is to defend the forces and territories of the United States and its allies. But when they say "defend our forces and territories of the United States" they’re not just talking about the continental United States. What they’re really acknowledging is that the United States is a military and economic empire in the world. We have our troops and ships deployed around the world.

In fact, Representative Allen — I’ve seen transcripts of statements in which he has said things like Aegis destroyers . . . their job . . . is to protect troops and ships around the world. The real fundamental question is: What are our troops and ships doing around the world? And what they are doing is participating in this global empire. And who does this global empire represent? They say we are protecting our interests around the world — whose interests are they really talking about? And in this case I think it is clear to say what we are really talking about is corporate globalization.

So the Aegis destroyer that is made here in this state, creating X number of jobs, its job is not to protect the American people from attack from anyone — it is not to protect the coast of the United States. Its job is to forward deploy, and in this case they are going to forward deploy it . . . in Taiwan, 90 miles off the coast of mainland China, and surround China. Remember I said China only has 20 nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States, and we have 7500? And if you have been to Wal-Mart recently you’ll notice that we are China’s best customer. China is not going to attack the United States with nuclear missiles, but we’re going to deploy the Aegis to surround China and China has already said that if you deploy the systems with these new interceptors that would essentially negate China’s 20 nuclear missiles, they will be forced to go and build more — to create, essentially, a new arms race.

This is a provocative move on the part of the United States and I believe, for one, that it is intended to try to control China. There was an article in the Washington Post about two years ago entitled "For the Pentagon, Asia moving to the forefront." And the article said that the United States will now begin to manage China. And the way we are going to manage China is by doubling our military presence in the Asian-Pacific region, so that we will be able to dictate terms to China . . . Because we fear that they, left unattended, will become a major economic power of the world, that they will be even bigger than us and we want to make sure we control them . . . This will cause an arms race and I believe that’s what they want. Because if China does go and build more nuclear missiles, then the US government can come back to the American people and say "Look what they’re doing. They’re building more nuclear missiles. We’ve got to have missile defense more than ever to protect us from China. We have to have more Aegis destroyers, more missile defense interceptors, more space-based lasers because of what they’re doing."

And this what I think it’s all about — building the empire, protecting the interests of the corporations.

Q: It also sounds like we’re trying to out-spend China into collapse, like we did to the Russians.

A: Exactly. You know if military spending — and we all acknowledge this as fact — destroyed the Soviet Union because they neglected everything else, in this case it would do the same to China. But what does that mean to America?

Now some people say "Oh, you can’t complain about Bath Iron Works, you can’t complain about the Aegis destroyers because they create jobs in Maine." But there is empirical evidence that says that every million dollars you spend on military production, yes, you create X number of jobs, but, in every single instance, when you take that same million dollars and put it into any other kind of job production, you create more jobs per million dollars than military spending does.

What I am saying is that the money that is pumped into Bath is a loser. We are getting less jobs for that money than if we were to build schools and hospitals and fix roads and do environmental clean-up or hire teachers — whatever, create a world-class health system that everyone could use.

It’s not good for the country, and it’s one of the reasons our economy is taking a dive, because we’re wasting money on capital-intensive programs that do nothing, they put nothing back in to the society. You can’t read or eat or sleep in an Aegis destroyer.

Jess Kilby can be reached at jkilby@phx.com

For more information about the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space visit www.space4peace.org


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