Reports on 12th Annual GN Conference

26 April, 2004

Also, see full Conference site


Leslie Talmadge, Times Record | W.T. Whitney Jr.
Lance Tapley, Portland Pheonix | Bruce Gagnon - Press Release

Caldicott demands change at BIW

Nobel Peace Prize winner leads Bath peace demonstration

(Correction: 4/27/2004 - Dr. Helen Caldicott did not win the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize as was stated in a story that appeared on Page 1 of Monday's newspaper. She was nominated as an individual, but Physicians for Social Responsibility, an organization that she helped create, won the award.)

BATH - The prospect of a nuclear war has not diminished, and the building of Aegis ships by Bath Iron Works could lead to a nuclear war between Russia and the United States, according to Dr. Helen Caldicott, pediatrician and president of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute.

Warning that "the Earth is in the intensive care unit," Caldicott spoke to a crowd of about 75 people at Waterfront Park in Bath on Friday. Her speech was the kickoff of a three-day international conference sponsored by the Global Network Against Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, which is based in Brunswick.

"America still has a policy to fight and win a war against Russia," said Caldicott, whose latest book is titled "The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush's Military-Industrial Complex." In Friday's speech, Caldicott, the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize winner, argued that it's imperative that U.S. citizens demand that the government alter this policy.

Russia aims most of its 8,200 nuclear warheads at the United States, and the United States targets most of its warheads at Russia, Caldicott said, in a speech that was timed to end in time to allow peace activists to march to Bath Iron Works during a shift change. Organizers had planned to urge employees of the shipyard to demand either a change in what is produced there or closure of the yard.

"These Aegis ships are death-dealing machines," Caldicott said.

"How can we destroy life on the planet? Why are we so blind?" she asked the crowd, which consisted mainly of older protesters, many of whom waved peace flags and held handmade signs that included such messages as "Money for Jobs Not War" and "Windmills not Destroyers."

"Americans want to do the right thing," Caldicott said, but they need to be educated. Quoting Thomas Jefferson, the native of Australia said, "An informed democracy will behave in a responsible fashion." But, she said, it's up to the media to inform people so they can act responsibly.

"The media is determining the fate of the Earth," she said. Caldicott went on to assert that, people in America "don't really know what Aegis ships do."

Caldicott's speech reinforced the Global Network's theme, as put forth in literature and signs, that the Aegis destroyers won't be used to defend the United States but rather to surround China, an act that could provoke a new arms race in the Asian-Pacific region.

As a traffic control measure, Bath police directed the marchers to an area that kept them at a distance from most of the workers leaving the yard at the end of the early shift.

Friday's rally also attracted a small group of counter-protesters.

Annual gathering

Each year, the Global Network hosts a conference in a different location. This year, there were representatives of 12 countries, including Ghana, Germany and Korea, at the annual gathering.

"We have to have a long perspective," said Gareth Smith, of Australia. "We desperately need vision."

Peter Baldwin of Brooks, Maine, who works for the Peace and Justice Center, stood beating a large drum, on which were printed the words "One people, one earth, one heartbeat."

A young man strolled along Waterfront Park, carrying a paper dove on a stick. "One Aegis destroyer carries 840 Hiroshimas," one woman sang.

Others present at the rally included members of Veterans for Peace, along with Charlie, a Portuguese water dog, who accompanied his owner from Georgetown and sported a pink T-shirt bearing the slogan "Paws for Peace."

Another guest of the Global Network, Frances Crowe, 85, of Massachusetts, who has been involved in the anti-nuclear weapons movement since Hiroshima, said, "We really need to be putting our money into building a decent society right here instead of trying to take over the world." In a Thoreau-like gesture of civil disobedience, Crowe recently refused to pay taxes "because the money is going to build weapons of mass destruction," she said. "It feels good not to be paying for weapons."

After marching to the gates of the shipyard Friday afternoon, Crowe and three other women from the Global Network presented a letter to Kevin Gildart, BIW's vice president of human resources. In it, they wrote, "Weapons are today the No. 1 industrial export of America. ... We oppose the construction of the offensive Aegis destroyer at BIW." The missive urged the company to build ships of peace, windmills for sustainable energy creation, rails cars for public transportation and other nonmilitary products.

William Haggett, former president, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of BIW, said of the protesters, "They're well intentioned and they're entitled to their views." But, he said, it's unrealistic to think the shipyard could be converted to a facility that builds things other than ships, specifically warships. "There is no feasible way in my opinion that BIW is going to convert from building ships for the Navy to doing commercial work that's nonmilitary," he said.

In the past, BIW has built merchant ships and has done other industrial work while simultaneously building ships for the Navy, he said. "But today it's very difficult to compete in those markets." Most of the construction of that equipment has gone overseas, where labor and material costs are lower.

But still, the protesters can dream.

Wearing a BIW sweatshirt, Renee Carbone, whose grandfather works at the shipyard, was walking by the rally with two friends when they decided to stop and watch. Friday was the date of her 15th birthday.

"It would be nice if you got peace on your birthday," one of her friends told her.

(See also: "Letter Delivered to BIW")

Report on the Global Network Conference in Portland, Maine

By W. T. Whitney Jr (South Paris, Maine)

The Global Network against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space held its 12th annual organizing conference in Portland, Maine, from April 23 through April 25. The Conference theme was "Resisting Empire: Understanding the Role of Space in U.S. Global Domination."  225 peace activists, including leading organizers from 10 nations and 21 states were on hand.

The Network came into being in 1992 in response to a U.S. turn toward weapons in space to shore up its strategic advantage in a unipolar world. According to Network secretary/coordinator Bruce Gagnon, the organization gathers and analyzes information, educates and agitates throughout the world. The Global Network calls for peaceful, common use of space, democratic debate about its future, and the use of space technology to solve human needs.

On April 23, Craig Eisendrath, a Fellow of the Center for International Policy, set the stage as he outlined the history of U.S. disengagement from disarmament treaties and treaties for the peaceful use of space. Washington, in its pursuit of a messianic, self-appointed American mission to make the world right, has rejected multilateralism and now seeks "full spectrum dominance." For Eisendrath, megalomania like this aggravates military competition, sets up provocations, inflates the already immense profits of corporations, and places humanity itself at risk.

The emotional and oratorical highpoint of the conference was Helen Caldicott’s keynote presentation the next day. A symbolic figure in the anti-nuclear movement, founder of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Nobel Prize nominee, Caldicott reminded the gathering that Russia and the United States are still aiming thousands of nuclear weapons at each other. A miscalculation, or accident, could still trigger a thermonuclear holocaust. The human race and the earth itself remain in "intensive care," says Caldicott.

On the afternoon of April 23, 125 delegates marched and demonstrated in front of Maine’s Bath Iron Works to protest the manufacture there of Aegis destroyers. Jack Bussell of Maine Veterans for Peace reminded them that since 1992, Bath Iron Works has built 42 such warships, at a cost of one billion dollars each. Each warship carries 54 Tomahawk Cruise Missile. Armed with a nuclear tip, each missile carries the equivalent of 15 Hiroshimas.

85 year-old Frances Crowe from Massachusetts delivered a letter on behalf of the demonstrators to the president of the shipyard– a division of General Dynamics. It called for conversion of the yard to the production of ships of peace, windmills and rail cars, and it castigated U.S. foreign policy for widening the gap between the world’s rich and poor and promoting the export of weapons. The Brunswick Times-Record was publishing the letter as an op-ed piece just as the demonstration was taking place. The newspaper serves the area where most of the workers at the shipyard live.

Back in Portland, Global Network activists reported on anti-nuclear, anti-weapons protests they have been leading all over the world. Lindis Percy of Otley, UK, received the annual "Peace in Space" award. Over the course of three decades of organizing demonstrations at U.S. bases and installations in Britain, this nurse-midwife has been arrested over 150 times and jailed 20 times. She marked the occasion of George W. Bush’s dinner with Queen Elizabeth in December, 2003, by climbing a 20 foot high fence that surrounds Buckingham Palace. She was delivering an American Flag with a message inked onto it that President Bush was an unwelcome guest.

Presentations by a young Portland, Maine advocate for poor people’s rights and by a Global Network board member from Ghana brought life to the notion of joining the global and the local. Jesse Vear told about human needs going unmet in Portland - and received a standing ovation. Edward Appiah-Brafoh testified to the human costs in Africa of spending for world domination. People there, he said, are "left out, alone and suffering."

David Knight capped off the April 24 session in eloquent fashion, reminding the assembly that weapons in space serve the security needs of the elite; people themselves gain security only through mutual concern about each other and solidarity. He called for a revolution, for radical change brought about through non-violent resistance. Knight was National Co-chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the U.K from 1996 to 2001.

A conversation with an Australian activist was instructive. The politics of planetary doom apparently are not far removed from everyday street politics. Gareth Smith of Byron Bay attributes Australian subservience to American dictates to racism. Too many Australians, he says, look to the United States as a protective buffer between Australia and masses of their Asian and Muslim neighbors.

The last day of the annual conference was devoted to a membership meeting with reports, elections of officers, and planning for the future.

"Resisting Empire"
Where are the young resisters? What will inspire them?

By Lance Tapley
The Portland Phoenix, April 30, 2004

Portland recently hosted a knockout, national-class conference about the future - a. terrifying future. Its subject was the real-life equivalent of the most exciting war-fighting video game. Just the ticket to attract and stimulate young people, right?”

Nope. There were practically no young people there. The average age of the 200 attendees was, I guessed, 60 - that's right, 60, with many older people - a fluffy sea of white and gray heads nodding in agreement to "Resisting Empire: Understanding the Role of Space in US Global Domination."

These were the lefty stalwarts of Maine's "peace and justice" movement, a congregation learning about the military aspects of American imperialism and corporate globalization; learning about what the left sees as a metastasizing and the right sees as a blossoming of American power.

The conference, most events of which took place on Saturday, April 24, at the Woodfords Congregational Church, might even be called world-class. The key speaker, Australian activist and author Helen Caldicott, is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. She cofounded Physicians for Social Responsibility, whose international umbrella group won the prize in 1985. She is probably the most famous antinuclear protester in the world.

People from 10 countries attended the conference, Bruce Gagnon bragged. Fiftyish, blue-jeaned, he is the coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space (, the sponsor. The network has 185 affiliated groups involving "millions of members," he claimed, but it's" run on a shoestring, with a $75,000-a-year budget, in Brunswick.

A forbidding, convincing scenario

Even if half the fears expressed at the conference are valid, the world is in for big trouble. And the trouble is us, US. The speakers were well informed, sober, and sobering in their descriptions of the dangerous immensity of the American war machine. The conference's stated topic was the projection of the US military into space, but it really was about the connection of our global military to global corporations, especially our arms industry, and about how the military-industrial complex corrupts the country and threatens the world.

To the inevitable opening bars of Strauss's "Thus Spake Zarathrustra," forever associated with the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but whose title refers to Friedrich Nietzsche's book on the Superman, Dave Webb, an Englishman, narrated a fast moving Powerpoint presentation of the United States Air Force Space Command's notorious 1997 "Vision for 2020." This document was the scary premise of the conference (Google it; it's on scores of Web sites). With flashy color pictures of satellite-generated laser beams striking the earth (including a point in Iraq), it stokes the worst nightmares about American imperialism.

It outlines a plan for "Full Spectrum Dominance," in the military's lingo, of worldwide communications (including global surveillance) and war fighting with space-based lasers, particle beams, space planes, and perhaps orbiting nuclear bombs. The goal is to be able to rain down fire from the sky anywhere at any time at a push of a button in Virginia or Colorado.

For what purpose? The Air Force is pretty damn candid. In "2020," the need given is "to protect US national interests and investments" as "the globalization of the world economy" results in conflicts because of "a widening between 'haves' and 'have-nots'."

Progress is occurring. "The war in Iraq was coordinated by 50 military satellites," Loring Wirbel, a Colorado peace activist; told the group.

The immediate militarization of space that concerned him and many other speakers, however, is the Bush administration's deployment this September of the first Star Wars antimissile missiles in Alaska. They would try to knock down North Korean and perhaps Chinese ICBMs beginning, the activists fear, a new arms race. Bush is deploying the unproyen missiles after unilaterally abrogating the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty with Russia.

Craig Eisendrath, senior fellow at Washingfon's Center for International Policy, noted that Bush is the first American president ever to abrogate a treaty. Will this administration lose sleep over abrogating other treaties, he asked, like the treaty forbidding weapons in space? He didn't believe so.

Bush's revival of Ronald Reagan's missile shield ideas would also install missiles on Bath Iron Works-built Aegis ships off the coast of Asia in order to hit missiles aimed at us immediately after their launch. Aegis refers to the computerized radar system the ships are built around. It allows a cruiser's or destroyer's weapons to lock onto 100 targets at once within a radius of 300 miles. To protest the $I-billion-plus each Aegis fleet, many of the conference' s attendees had rallied and marched the day before at BIW.

Aircraft- and space-based lasers (whicp don't yet exist) in due course also would try to hit ICBMs in this initial 'boost’ phase. The missiles planned for Alaska (100 of them), North Dakota (100), and possibly Maine (100) would try to intercept enemy missiles in midcourse. A final defense would be to try to hit the warheads as they descend on the homeland.

Eisendrath spoke of Bush's plan - especially when no tests assure the missiles will work – as a gift to the military-industrial lobby. It also rewards many members of Congress, There are military-related employers in most congressional districts.

When a speaker from New Mexico sketched out his state's massive dependence on the military, it sounded a little like Maine. It dawned on me how hard it would be to dismantle the "permanent national security state," as it has been called, that the US has been since World War II. There would be enormous economic dislocation.
"Can anyone imagine one of our congressional delegation - even liberal Tom Allen - calling for the Bath Iron Works to turn away from making warships?" I asked in an afternoon workshop.

"We must have a dialogue with the unions," optimistically replied Dave Knight, who used to head up the legendary Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Britain. "Conversion is the key word." Let them build container ships, windmills, or railroad cars. Easier said than accomplished.

As the procession of Cassandras continued, the picture steadily got darker. Joseph Gerson, PhD, of the American Friends Service Committee, gave an historical overview of US imperialism. Secretary of State William H. Seward, who purchased Alaska from Russia during the Civil War, bought it with the explicit intent to make the US "the dominant global power," he related.

Gerson saw a similar craving for global power inscribed in Bush's famous "National Security Strategy of the United States of America," which proclaims we will tolerate no rivals. He also saw it in a half-trillion-a-year military budget "equivalent to the rest of the world's military spending combined.”

Satomi Oba exclaimed that "the Bush administration wants to change the constitution of Japan!” to allow her country (she is from Hiroshima) to support the US in its military activities abroad - even though the victorious Americans at the end of World War II insisted on the article in Japan's constitution that forbids such excursions.

Lest we forget: the continuing risky standoff

Helen Caldicott is a handsome, healthy looking; 65-year-old woman. Dressed in a dark blue pants suit, she was a vigorous and effective speaker. Her free association provided a scattered talk, but she had lots of facts that she turned into arresting stories - "the Russians have 40 H-bombs targeted on New York City, two for Wall Street." And she mixed in personal stories. Speaking of the human propensity to fight, "I hit my kids a few times until I stopped," she admitted.

A pediatrician who in recent years founded the Washington, DC-based Nuclear Policy Research Institute, she has returned to her message of the 1980s': the menace from the continuing face-off of thousands of American and Russian nuclear-tipped missiles. She recounted hair.-raising tales of accidental near-launches that, with minutes to spare, almost began nuclear war.
Caldicott saw Bush's antimissile defense as a message to North Korea and other countries that the US wants a first-strike capability through eliminating their deterrents. Inevitably, threatened countries will respond by building up their threats to us.

"'All of these Star Wars programs do nothing to make the US more secure," Gagnon, the conference director, agreed.

Could our irreproachable country want a first-strike capability? Well, we struck first in Iraq. Need I point out that this choir sang a distrustful song? These folks did-not trust the American military, the rest of the government, Big Business, the media, or just about any institution. In fact, they didn't seem to trust anyone over 30. But, wait, they were all far over 30. I thought it was young people who were supposed to question authority.

These folks also questioned John Kerry, the presumed Democratic alternative to Bush.

Loring Wirbel, the Colorado activist, didn't believe Kerry's foreign policy would be much different from Bush's. "Imperialism is a bipartisan policy," he said, and "the Democrats are afraid of being called wimps."
"He's a very good guy underneath," Caldicott offered about Kerry, "but he's caught in the Washington morass."

Summing up this crowd's predicament, entertainer Holly Gwinn Graham, from Washington State, singing a rousing song with these lyrics:

We're stuck with Kerry. Hope he eats his spinach
But God I wish it could be Kucinich.

Why didn't the young people show up?

I have to say we're not young enough," observed Cris Gutierriz, a Californian who moderated one of the panels.

So where were the young or even the early middle aged?

"The younger generation has been dumbed down," opined Louisa Hart, a Brunswick activist "They're into instant gratification."

"But she doesn't blame them: "They haven't had good moral leadership. Their parents' generation is my generation, the Me generation."

Even though some boomers rebelled in the '60s - the conference was proof the rebellion continues - this generation also produced Bush and Dick Cheney. And "our generation was one of conspicuous consumption," Hart said. Materialism trumped politics.

But could it be that Bruce Gagnon just hadn’t tried hard enough to reach the young? More broadly, is lack of outreach a problem with contemporary progressive movements? Perhaps because they're often run by and, consequently, mainly attract the grizzled veterans of the radical '60s?

Yet the absence of young people at the conference couldn’t be just Gagnon’s error. "We did try," he maintained. He even visited Portland High School to promote the conference. And older people often dominate similar events. At a recent Augusta war protest, three quarters of the marchers had gray hair.

Could it be that the picture of American military-imperial-corporate globalization is just too hopeless? Is a positive alternative vision needed? The only alternative presented at this conference was, simplistically, de-militarization.

A flyer distributed by Citizens for Peace in Space, however, hinted at the need for a new popular vision of the world and ourselves: "The terror attacks of 9-11-01 should have been a warning that our policies were a failure. Instead they have led to more of the same. More war, more threats, more military spending..."

What new policies might be needed? Many speakers touched on how military money would be better spent on human health and welfare. But this redirection is an alternative only in a negative sense ~ what could be done if we stopped undesirable expenditures. It is not in itself an inspiring dream.

It is instructive to note that the more radical anti-gIobalization protesters today define themselves negatively as "anti-capitalists." In the 1960s, the left-wing radicals had a frank positive vision: They called themselves democratic socialists. The US has shifted so far to the right that socialism, though it is still an acceptable topic in Europe and in much of the rest of the world, cannot even be discussed in our society.

This conference was a critique of the American military. Although participants talked of "conversion," it would be too much to expect the Global Network on Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space to develop the positive alternative to the current American Way - sadly, a way now repugnant to much of the world after two centuries of being' a global inspiration.

Still, I suspect something is needed to attract the young besides a negative. And, if the speakers at this conference are correct, a positive alternative is needed to save the world.

Lance Tapley can be reached at




Press Release


Contact:  Bruce Gagnon (207) 729-0517 (o)

                                               (207) 319-2017 (cell)


An international peace group, headquartered in Brunswick, is calling for the conversion of Bath Iron Works to civilian production.  By doing so the group maintains that many times more jobs could be created for Mainers as “military production” is capital intensive, not labor intensive.  The group will gather at the Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland on April 23-25 for the 12th Annual International Space Organizing Conference sponsored by the Maine-based Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space (GN).


Events will begin with a protest rally on Friday, April 23 at Waterfront Park in Bath at 2:00 pm.  Following the rally the assembled will march through downtown streets to Bath Iron Works at the time of a worker shift change. 


On Saturday, April 24 at the Woodfords Congregational Church (202 Woodford Street) the GN will hold its day long conference entitled Resisting Empire: Understanding the Role of Space in U.S. Global Domination featuring plenary sessions and educational workshops.  Featured as the keynote speaker at the conference will be Dr. Helen Caldicott founder of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute.  Dr. Caldicott, a long time leader in the anti-nuclear movement, years ago founded the Physicians for Social Responsibility.


“We are all concerned about jobs, especially in Bath and throughout Maine,” says GN Coordinator Bruce Gagnon.  “The question is: What is the best way to create good jobs in Maine?  Aegis destroyers are built with our tax dollars and it is clearly a political decision that keeps us from using those same dollars for other kinds of job creation.  We believe that BIW should be converted to build ships of peace, windmills for sustainable energy creation, rail cars for public transportation, and the like.”


Studies by the National Commission for Economic Conversion have long shown that the most effective way to create lots of good jobs is to invest in those things that are socially and environmentally beneficial. 


The GN maintains that the Aegis destroyer’s military mission is not to defend the U.S. but instead will be used to surround China thus provoking a new arms race in the Asian-Pacific region.  The Aegis, with new interceptor missiles that will be part of the Star Wars program, will be deployed in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia.  Today China has 20 nuclear missiles capable of hitting the continental U.S., while the U.S. has 7,500 nuclear weapons.  Peace activists from several Asian-Pacific countries are expected to be at the April 23-25 events in Maine to describe their concerns about the implications of Aegis deployments in their part of the world. 


The Global Network was founded in 1992 to stop the nuclearization and weaponization of space and today has 185 affiliate groups all over the world.  Each year the GN meets in a different part of the world. 


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