COLUMBIA — Almost 48 years ago, Bill Wickersham, adjunct professor of peace studies at MU, took on a task that would come to dominate his life: trying to bring about global nuclear disarmament.
Wickersham is part of the eight-member Missouri University Nuclear Disarmament Education Team, which he helped found in 2009. Their mission is to enlighten Missouri and the rest of the world about the need to abolish nuclear war weapons from the planet through discussions and presentations to interested groups. In November 2009, he self-published the book “Confronting Nuclear Warfare: The Role of Education, Religion, and Community.”
Twenty years after the Cold War ended, Wickersham asserts that nuclear annihilation is still a threat.
"Nuclear disarmament needs to be put back at the top of the academic agenda, and dealt with seriously in colleges and universities throughout the world,” he wrote in the article "Confronting Nuclear War: The Role of Peace Studies."
Hence, Wickersham’s motivation for writing his book.
Wickersham and Jared Gassen, a journalism graduate student and Wickersham's assistant, wrote “Confronting Nuclear Warfare: The Role of Education, Religion, and Community,” to explain why they think nuclear weapons are still a threat, what can be done to reduce or eliminate them, and what the obstacles are to accomplishing this goal.
The book is a citizen's guide to the role parts of culture should play in abolishing nuclear weapons. The authors want everyone to know that nuclear weapons are a threat because there have been numerous accidents in the last 50 years.
“Confronting Nuclear War: The Role of Education, Religion, and Community” is available online and at MU Bookstore. The book is free at confrontingnuclearwar.com. Gassen and Wickersham decided to help advocate nuclear abolition through a simple medium.
"We came to the conclusion that self-publishing would be faster, reach more people and we can retain the rights to do what we want," Gassen said. "The point is for people to use it, not making money. What makes this book different is that Bill has been doing this work for fifty years and he gives examples from his life of what has, and hasn't, worked over the years.”
Wickersham agreed. "You have to appeal to different audiences in different ways. In the early days, scientists were all over (nuclear disarmament). National organizations were all over it; the good materials were with the people at the top, but never got down to the bottom. This book is an attempt to get to the top and the bottom. There needs to be local attitude change - which requires time, energy and money.”
Many members of the community don't think it is a local problem, Wickersham and Gassen both said. Naturally, people focus primarily on issues like their household incomes, their jobs and their children's health, they said.
Wickersham warned that, while paying attention to personal needs is important, there is a danger of countries like the U.S. and Russia destroying communities with "suicidal weapons."
“Contrary to conventional wisdom, nuclear war is a local problem," he said. "For over 45 years, we in mid-Missouri are less than 30 minutes away from instant extinction by missiles that the Russians have aimed at St. Louis, Kansas City and Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Missouri."
Mark Haim, director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, agreed that most people don't take nuclear warfare seriously enough.
“What's at stake is not only the welfare of ourselves, our children and grandchildren, but the other life forms that we share the biosphere with could be destroyed,” he said. “We have the potential to tear asunder the very fabric of human life.”
Haim had heard of Wickersham for years, but their paths hadn't have crossed until Wickersham moved back to Columbia. Haim has known Wickersham since the mid-1990s. While both have worked to educate people on the dangers of nuclear arms, there are many obstacles to overcome for nuclear disarmament.
Wickersham names three major problems with trying to disarm:
- Psychological denial, sometimes known as the ostrich technique, causes people to avoid a troubling situation.
- "Obscene" profits made by nuclear war profiteers, such as the arms-producing companies like Boeing, Honeywell Corp. and hundreds of others.
- The U.S. quest for the weaponization of space causing an arms race.
Wickersham said he is hopeful that nuclear disarmament will re-emerge as a national priority. He responded to a speech by President Barack Obama's promise of making the "elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide a central element of U.S. nuclear weapons policy."
“Without question, this is the most promising nuclear disarmament statement by a U.S. president in recent history,” Wickersham wrote.
There are treaties, like the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, that government officials worldwide are advocating to advance.
Meanwhile, local activists like Wickersham and Gassen plan to carry on their work of raising awareness and education, hoping that more political leaders will heed their call to action.