|Words from Fr. Frank Cordaro|
A HISTORY OF THE STRATEGIC COMMAND (STRATCOM)
If the Pentagon is considered the brains of our military establishment, then StratCom would be the brain stem. The roots of StratCom go all the way back to the end of World War II and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Instead of putting on sack cloth and ashes and begging forgiveness from the family of nations for our crimes against humanity for the indiscriminate bombings of all the major cities in Germany and Japan that culminated in the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. brought this demonic way of war-making back to Bellevue, Nebraska, just south of Omaha, and set up the Strategic Air Command (SAC) at Offutt Air Force Base in the late 1940ís. Offutt was selected because it is located in the center of the country, considered the most secure place geographically to headquarter the new command. General Curtis LaMay, the mastermind behind the fire bombings of major cities in Germany and Japan, was its first Commander in Chief.
At first, the only strategic nuclear weapons delivery system was World War II B-29s. These bombers could take off from Offutt or another SAC base, be refueled in midair and drop their nuclear bombs on cities in the Soviet Union and return to the U.S. without needing to land outside the U. S. In the 1950ís, atomic bombs were replaced by much larger hydrogen bombs and a land-based strategic nuclear weapons delivery system called inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMís) were deployed. The ICBM systems were placed under SAC command at Offutt. When the Soviet Union acquired nuclear weapons, the nuclear arms race took off in earnest with both sides trying to develop the largest and the most nuclear weapons and delivery systems in a strategy known as Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).
In the 1960ís, the third leg of the U. S. strategic triad came on line with the deployment of the Polaris Nuclear Submarines. Our nuclear submarines command was not stationed at SAC. Also, during this decade the B52 Bomber became our premier strategic all purpose bomber. It was in the 1970ís that nuclear strategist began to re-think the strategy of M.A.D. With the advancement of nuclear weapons technology, the idea of fighting and winning a nuclear war was believed feasible. This was deemed possible through the development of smaller, more accurate, less detectable and speedier nuclear weapons delivery systems. It was during the presidency of Jimmy Carter that the development of first strike weapons systems like the cruise missiles, MIRV (multiple nuclear warheads) missiles, the Trident submarine, and the MX missile were approved. Carter was also the president who established the U. S. policy that we would use nuclear weapons first if we deemed it in our national interest. It was not until the 1980ís and the Reagan years that the first-strike weapons systems that Jimmy Carter signed off on came on line. It was in the 1980ís that the nuclear arms race hit its highest point. In the end, the determining factor for victory was not the weapons themselves but which country would be bankrupted first by the drain of money and resources wasted on these outrageous weapons of mass destruction. To this end, the Soviet Union hit bankruptcy before the U. S. Throughout these years, the people at SAC Headquarters played a central role in the strategizing and rational for all these weapons developments. Also stationed at SAC Headquarters was the Targeting Command Post responsible for the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). SIOP is the targeting and nuclear war plans the U. S. can indicate at any given moment, from a limited nuclear exchange to all out nuclear war. These are the people the President will turn to when he wants to use nuclear weapons for any contingency. They are also the people most directly involved in the daily criminal act of planning the use of nuclear weapons, which amounts to a crime against humanity. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, SAC was reconstituted into the Strategic Command (StratCom) still headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base. StratCom is the operational command for all of our countryís strategic nuclear weapons systems. This means, along with all of our land and air-based nuclear weapons systems, our Trident Submarine fleetís operational command is stationed at Offutt. Under the command at StratCom, these weapons systems are kept ready to be used, either on their strategic nuclear capacity or to be released to any other command which the President deems necessary. For example, all the B52ís and B1 bombers used in the recent war in Afghanistan were released from StratCom.
AN INCOMPLETE HISTORY OF PROTEST AT SAC, NOW STRAATCOM
First protests at SAC headquarters were done during the late 1950ís and early 1960ís during the "Ban the Bomb" and "End the A-Bomb Testing" movements. Among those who went to jail for trespassing onto a missile site just outside of Omaha were A. J. Muste of Fellowship of Reconciliation, Karl Meyer of the Chicago Catholic Worker and Liz. I know there was a famous woman who protested with A J and Karl but canít remember her name. Do you? Offutt became the focus of the anti-Viet Nam War protest in the Omaha area. For a more detailed account of this era of protesting, I recommend contacting our good friend and fellow SAC/StratCom protester, Fr. Jack McCaslin. Fr. Jack is a retired Omaha Archdiocesan priest and long time civil rights and peace and justice priest. The first persons that I can remember who started protesting the SAC headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base after the Viet Nam War were Jack Dudgen and Roger Carol of Omaha. In the spring of 1977, Jack participated in one of Jonah Housesí two week training sessions that ended with a protest and blood spilling at the Pentagon. Jack returned to Omaha and with the help of Roger started a regular presence and protest at Offutt. I did my two-week training session with the Jonah House community in late summer of 1977. On the last day of the session, August 9th, I did my first act of civil disobedience with a blood spilling at the Pentagon. I got 30 days for the effort. I returned home to the Des Moines Catholic Worker determined to connect with other like-minded nonviolent faith-based resisters in the region and find in the region a nuclear weapons facility on which to focus. I soon learned of the presence of SAC headquarters and of protesting efforts already happening. It wasnít until August of 1979 that a number of local and regional anti-war folks met in Omaha to plan a protest at Offutt. We ended up sending four people over the fence onto an active runway to hold a banner and pray the rosary. We fully expected to be arrested before we finished the first decade. Instead, Air Force security posted a jeep with four security guards about 50 yards away from us. We ended up doing the whole 15 decades of the rosary and when it was clear that we were not to be arrested, we climbed back over the fence having accomplished what we set out to do.
The next time we showed up at Offutt was the Feast of Holy Innocents, December 28th of that same year. Eight of us blocked the SAC headquarters on the southwest side of the base. This started an annual protest on the Feast of Holy Innocents that continues to this day. For the next few years, a strong local Omaha-based resistance community formed. To name just a few who formed a core group during those years: Fr. Darrel Ruppiper, Joyce Glen, Richard Koepny, Kevin McQuire, Marylyn Felion, Mike Polachek, and Jeanie Pettersaen. The Serpents and Doves Resistance House and the New Covenant Peace and Justice Center made protest at Offutt a local priority. Most of the actions done during these years were small, done during the annual calendar dates set aside for faith-based peace witnessing: Christmas, Holy Week, Easter, Penticost and August 6-9. Other protests were done at random when the Spirit moved folks. Weekly days of vigil, prayer and leafleting were established. Most of the actions involved one form of trespass or another, either by blocking a main entrance or climbing a fence and sneaking onto base. The two favorite places to focus on were the base chapel and Building 500, the SAC headquarters. There was a lot of imagination put into these efforts and great stories to tell. Like the great SAC Feast of Holy Innocents witness when twelve activists occupied a small island in the middle of a lake on SAC property declaring it a No Nuke Zone. There was also the time two women sneaked onto the base to hand deliver a leaflet to the officer in charge of the War Room in Building 500. They got all the way into the lobby of Building 500, left the leaflet with a receptionist in the lobby for the War Room, called their support people from a pay phone in the lobby, and walked out of the building and off the base without being caught.
It was during this time that the government started prosecuting people for breaking "ban and bar" letters and destruction of property. One of the first actions that earned jail time was a billboard painting effort at the main entrance of the base. SACís motto at the time was "Peace is our Profession". This motto was on a billboard at the main entrance of the base. On December 28, 1981, the Feast of Holy Innocents, ten of us activists, believing truth in advertising was more important than a good paint job, crossed out the word "peace" and added the word "war" while spilling blood on the rest of the billboard. Eventually, three of us, myself included, ended up doing six month sentences for our effort. Most of the time, the charges were a simple breaking of past "ban and bar" letters. A select number of repeat offenders were prosecuted and sent to jail. By the end of the 1980ís, over 15 years of jail time was served collectively for protests at Offutt. By the mid 1980ís, the resistance at SAC took on the proportions of a regional campaign. My brother, Tom, moved to Omaha and joined Joyce Glenn, Rick Koepny, and others to form the Mustard Seed Resistance Community. They had a house and lived in community. Their focus was SAC. Nationally, the anti-war and nuclear movements were at their peak. Resistance efforts at SAC took on a more formal and organized structure. Hundreds of people started to participate in the efforts. Hundreds crossed the line. In February of 1985, the first Faith and Resistance Retreat took place at SAC. Bishop Maurice Dingman of the Des Moines Diocese hosted the retreat in Glenwood, IA, just across the Missouri River from Offutt Air Force Base. Fr. Dan Berrigan SJ and Jim Wallis were among the speakers. There was a major snowstorm that weekend that hit the Midwest and half of the people who pre-registered were not able to attend. Still, over 600 people attended the retreat and in the end over 250 crossed the line at Offutt. This retreat was a watershed experience for the anti-war and nuclear movement in the Midwest. Similar faith and resistance retreats were done in Missouri and Michigan. Repeat efforts were done at SAC over the next few years. Like everywhere else in the country, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the local Omaha and regional anti-war and nuclear weapons movements practically disappeared. Those lose of Fr. Darrel Ruppiper from the Omaha area had a particularly negative affect on the Omaha peace and justice community. By the beginning of the 1990ís any local Omaha resistance efforts at Offutt AFB disappeared. It was during this time that SAC was reformed into the Strategic Command (StratCom). It was also at this time, for those of us who were left in the region and wished to continue our resistance efforts at Offutt, had to adjust to the new realities.
The protesting that did take place in the 1990ís was done under the sponsorship of Lakes and Prairie Life Community (LAPLC). This was a small, loosely formed network of nonviolent war and nuclear resisters in the Midwest. With a LAPLC identification, a small number of folks in Omaha, Jo Peterson, Fr. Jack McCaslin and Mark Kenney, with help from the Des Moines Catholic Worker community, were able to keep a protesting line-crossing presence at Offutt during the annual August 6-9, Feast of Holy Innocents, and Memorial Day celebrations. Folks from all over the region continued to join us in our efforts, admittedly in much smaller numbers than they did in the 1980ís. The late, great Sam Day was one of our regulars along with Bonnie Urfer from Nuke Watch in Wisconsin, Mike Sprong, Beth Preheim, and Brian Terrell. These folks were often on hand to help with planning and organizing. In the last three years since LAPLC is in a dormant state, the Des Moines Catholic Worker has organized and sponsored annual August 6-9 vigils and line crossings and the Feast of Holy Innocents retreat and line crossing at Offutt. Last yearís (2001) Feast of Holy Innocents Retreat and Line Crossing was co-sponsored by Pax Christi USA and they are promising to work with us again next year. Recent jail sentences minted out to Mark Kenney, Ed Bloomer and myself indicate that the Federal government still takes our line-crossings at Offutt seriously. We are returning to Offutt this August 6-9 for our annual three day vigil and line crossing and this yearís Feast of Holy Innocents Retreat and line-crossing at Offutt marks our 24th anniversary. I still believe a continued resistance effort at StratCom headquarters is as necessary and as important as ever. I still believe that some day in my lifetime weíll show up at Offutt AFB with tens of thousands of people willing to cross the line in a nonviolent witness for peace and shut the base down. And I would invite anyone and everyone to us in this noble and life-giving endeavor.