An Open Letter on National Priorities in the Face of a Pandemic via Medium

The United States is currently faced with a public health crisis the magnitude of which no one in living memory has experienced. The COVID-19 virus has already infected hundreds of thousands, interrupted trade, stalled the economy, caused massive hour cuts and layoffs, forced families apart, isolated elders, and caused a growing list of fatalities. We encourage the public to take all responsible precautions to keep themselves and others healthy during the outbreak. We also encourage people to support one another to help mitigate the worst effects of this virus.

COVID-19 carries special health risks for many members of radiation and chemically exposed communities because individuals and communities impacted by the development, testing, and production of nuclear weapons often have so many underlying factors which magnify their risks, including these exposures, air and water pollution, poverty, poor nutrition and institutionalized racism, etc. These factors can result in weakened immune systems in veterans and civilians exposed to radiation through above-ground nuclear testing, civilians and workers exposed at or downwind of nuclear weapons production sites, uranium miners and their families, and people living near abandoned mines and waste sites. Compounding the problem, these exposed populations are disproportionately from indigenous communities, communities of color, low-income, or rural communities, and often face significant barriers to receiving adequate health care.

As the son of a uranium miner described it: “Just from a personal perspective, my father has COPD [Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] from his years working in the underground uranium mines. At this moment we are on pins and needles just praying that he does not contract COVID-19 as we know for certain he would not survive it. It is awful to know that your father will die a very horrible death at some point likely by drowning in his own mucus[…]” Find out more from communities who are impacted here.

As a nation, we must put the needs of people first. This outbreak starkly highlights our misplaced national funding priorities. This Administration’s spending includes nearly $49 billion for nuclear weapons for the coming year. By comparison, that would be enough money to provide 300,000 ICU beds, 35,000 ventilators, and pay the salaries of 150,000 nurses and 75,000 doctors. Even after that, there would still be $14 billion left over to produce face masks and other protective equipment to offset the shortage being felt by many hospitals. As states respond to the shortages, strained budgets, and discordant responses in providing care to residents, federal priorities illustrate a lack of understanding of what constituents really need. It’s time to refocus our national priorities on preventing and treating real threats, like the COVID-19, not in creating new ones.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 demonstrates that even the previously unimaginable is possible. As we worry about overwhelmed medical infrastructure and a recession, we are seeing what Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert, compares to a “nuclear war in slow motion.” Reversing decades of bipartisan consensus, the Trump Administration continues to encourage a new arms race by tearing up treaties, increasing nuclear weapons spending, and building new nuclear weapons.

A different outcome is possible. Socially responsible leaders must act now to shift funding from the nuclear weapons budget to more effective means of protecting our security. In the face of a pandemic projected to take millions of lives globally, we must redirect money from life-ending to life-saving spending.

Sadly, in the past few weeks the president has further demonstrated his inability to show leadership in a crisis. Even with expert recommendations from members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Trump has fumbled every attempt at a uniform response to curtailing the spread of COVID-19. This inept response throws even further doubt on the wisdom of entrusting President Trump with sole authority, as Commander-in-Chief, to launch a nuclear attack.

To address the COVID-19 outbreak we need to marshal all of our national resources. This will mean making hard choices around funding priorities. Diverting money away from a new nuclear arms race is one source of funds we can put towards this crisis. Instead of funding weapons of mass destruction that only increase the risk of another crisis, America’s leaders need to shift that money toward protecting the health of Americans and bolstering our nation’s ability to cope with such emergencies in the future. The burden on state and local leaders to manage their own responses demonstrates how crucial it is that all levels of government be aligned in keeping constituents safe.

[Updated 4/16/20]

Beyond the Bomb
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility
Women’s Action for New Directions
Pax Christi USA
Black Lives Matter Boston
National Association of Atomic Veterans
Gender + Radiation Impact Project
Marshall Islands Atomic Cleanup Mission Committee
Rachel Carson Council
Tewa Women United
Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine Chapter
Washington Against Nuclear Weapons Coalition
Physicians for Social Responsibiity, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter
S.H.A.W.L. Society
Washington Truth in Recruiting
Enewetak cleanup veterans
No More Bombs
Veterans For Peace Chapter 72
Physicians for Social Responsibility, AZ Chapter
Veterans For Peace Ch. 71
350 Seattle
Reality News Network
Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
Baltimore, MD Phil Berrigan Memorial Chapter Veterans For Peace
Peace & Justice Action League of Spokane
Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility
Veterans For Peace Chapter 157 Eisenhower
Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action
Consequences of Radiation Exposure (CORE)
Post ’71 Uranium Workers Committee
Donald and Sally=Alice Thompson Veterans For Peace Chapter #63
Peace Action New York State
New Jersey Peace Action
Faith Action Network
Veterans For Peace San Diego
Progressive Democrats of America Central New Mexico
Alaska Peace Center
Seattle Fellowship of Reconciliation
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Tri- Valley CAREs
COFA Alliance National Network of Washington
Red Water Pond Road Community Association
Laguna Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment
Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining
Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment
PEAC Institute
Public Citizen
Win Without War
Veterans for Peace

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