Nuclear weapons ruined my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way via Waging Nonviolence

As someone deeply embedded in a life of anti-nuclear resistance, I know the only way to get rid of these weapons is to never stop thinking about them.
Frida Berrigan

I want to offer you something different than the barrage of facts and figures around nuclear weapons. But let’s establish the basics. There are nine countries that possess them: France, China, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and — of course — Russia and the United States. Together these nine countries possess a total of 14,575 nuclear weapons, with the United States and Russia accounting for 92 percent of them.

Then there’s the outlandish nuclear weapons budgets and U.S. plans to modernize and upgrade current nuclear weapons stockpiles at egregious expense. According to a new government estimateplans for modernizing and maintaining the nuclear arsenal will cost $494 billion over the next decade — an average of just under $50 billion per year.


March 28, 1979
Three days before my fifth birthday, the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant suffers a partial meltdown. It is decades before I learn what that term really means, but the terror is real. Three Mile Island is less than 90 miles from our house and radiation is headed our way. My parents take my little brother and I to West Virginia — as far away as they could figure — for the better part of two weeks.

We return to a changed diet: miso in hot water for breakfast every morning. My mother read that healthcare workers in Hiroshima drank the fermented soybean paste in water after the U.S. atomic bombing in 1945. They strengthened their immune systems and cleansed radiation out of their bodies with this ancient traditional Japanese food.

Miso is brown, salty and is disgusting to the 5-year-old palate. But we drink it every morning for years.

My parents start to look more deeply at the connections between nuclear weapons and nuclear power. There are nearly 100 nuclear power reactors across the United States, and they provide roughly one-fifth of the electricity produced in the country. Nuclear power is one of the dirtiest, most dangerous and most expensive sources of energy. Nuclear reactors in the United States and around the globe are plagued by accidents, leaks, extended outages, delayed construction and skyrocketing costs. Nuclear reactors produce highly radioactive waste that continues to threaten the environment and public health for thousands of years and for which no safe disposal exists.


Our father spends that Christmas in jail. Just before the holiday, we go and visit him and my brother Jerry says: “We want to thank you, Dad. You’ve given us the greatest Christmas gift anyone could.”

“What’s that, Jer?” our Dad asks. There were no presents from the Montgomery County Jail in rural Pennsylvania.

“Your action. You were making peace, just as Jesus was in coming to us at Christmas.”


I know all about depleted uranium — the radioactive byproduct that is used as a covering on munitions to give them armor-busting capabilities. Some of my favorite times with my dad are trading bad news story for bad news story. He is reading (and enjoying) the many articles I am writing and publishing. He occasionally enjoins me to not have such a secular voice and to end my articles for In These Times or The Progressive with a Jesus quote. I demure.


Nuclear weapons ruined my life.

I am never not thinking about them. Nuclear weapons are present in my most mundane tasks. Nuclear weapons are present in all my major relationships. Every goodbye and hello is freighted with uncertainty.

They have shaped how I think about time. Nuclear weapons have caused me to honor and treasure the present. They have made the future provisional, muted, not taken for granted. I try to be present to the present and hold the future loosely, but with hope.

Nuclear weapons ruined my life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way In fact, I hope they are ruining your life too. Because that is the only way we are going to get rid of them.

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