Duluth City Council divided on stand against nuclear weapons

City leaders failed to pass a resolution Monday in support of a nuclear treaty banning nuclear weapons.

3229721+Nuclear Test Operation Hardtack 1 FEA.jpg
In 1958, Operation Hardtack 1 involved the detonation of a U.S. nuclear weapon on the Bikini Atoll.
Contributed / Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

DULUTH — Members of the City Council were divided Monday night over a resolution meant to send a message to national leaders calling for nuclear disarmament.

With councilors locked in a 4-4 tie vote despite extensive public testimony in support of the resolution, the measure failed for lack of a majority.

The disagreement stemmed largely from debate whether the City Council would be overstepping its purview to register its support for the proposed international Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Tom Morgan, a Lakeside neighborhood resident and Vietnam combat veteran, urged Duluth to join in its support of the treaty, alongside city councils that have already done so in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Chicago, Milwaukee, Des Moines and Evanston, Illinois, as well as many other communities.

"Our signing of this treaty, I would remind you, does not call for immediate unilateral disarmament. But it does call for the United States to demonstrate leadership in ridding the world of the scourge of nuclear weapons. I call on you to demonstrate leadership, as well," Morgan said.


While the vast majority of speakers voiced support for the resolution, at least one person stepped forward to challenge it.

"This is a federal issue," Eric Smith, of Duluth, said. "It is not a state or local issue, contrary to what some believe. I know everyone thinks the world is perfect and we're not going to get into a nuclear war. But the way to do that is: peace through strength. I'll say it time and time again. If you want to get rid of nuclear weapons, I'll tell you what that's going to do. China is going to invade. That's the first thing that's going to happen. You won't have a country left if you don't have nuclear weapons to deter the enemy."

There’s a strong myth in this country and the world that nuclear weapons somehow make us safe. They don’t.
Dr. Ira Helfand, 1985 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize

Dr. Ira Helfand, 1985 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and co-president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, testified to the council remotely from Massachusetts.

“There’s a strong myth in this country and the world that nuclear weapons somehow make us safe," Helfand said. "They don’t. We have come close to destroying civilization on many occasions because of the existence of these weapons.

“And we are alive today, not because we have had wise leaders or sound doctrine or infallible technology, but in the words of former defense secretary Robert McNamara, because quote, ‘We lucked out. It was luck that has prevented nuclear war.’ End quote,” Helfand said.

He asked Duluth representatives to join other cities in calling for the passage of a verifiable, enforceable and time-bound treaty agreement to move toward nuclear disarmament.

“We can’t know that this effort will be successful even if the United States adopts this policy. But there’s no reason not to try, because we do know what’s going to happen if we fail,” Helfand said.

“It is not a question of ‘if,’ it’s only a question of ‘when’ these weapons are used. And we have learned in the last year, that as few as 250 of the 13,000 nuclear warheads in the world can cause enough climate disruption to kill 2 billion people worldwide, including 130 million people here in the United States, mainly in the northern part of the country, where famine will decimate our population,” Helfand said.


black bear nuclear war
In this undated U.S. Air Force photo, a crew readies a Genie air-to-air missile with a nuclear warhead for mounting on an F-106. The same planes carrying the same missiles were nearly scrambled in October 1962 from a Wisconsin airfield after a black bear caused a disturbance at the Duluth Air Force Base. Supporters of a treaty that would ban nuclear weapons argue the risk of human error make it unwise to continue to maintain a nuclear arsenal.
Contributed / U.S. Air Force

Sharla Gardner, a former city councilor and member of Grandmothers for Peace, said: "Duluth has a proud tradition of passing advisory resolutions, and it is indeed our city's right to petition and advise our national government on citizens' concerns about the deadly effects of nuclear war, annihilation, a nuclear winter and the deadly effects of radiation. There is no way this planet will survive even a limited nuclear war, because these weapons are 100-150 times more deadly than the weapons that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945."

Women are happy to promote their perspective as society's female elders.

Having brought forward the resolution, 3rd District Councilor Roz Randorf said council members represent "the interests of the citizens who elect us, and we advocate for them on issues that matter to them."

"And as you heard tonight, this issue matters to them," she continued. "This advisory resolution can provide the momentum that drives this issue forward to our senators, our state representatives and onward."

Resolution co-author and 2nd District Councilor Mike Mayou, said: "Children growing up in our city and our region could potentially be impacted by the decisions we make today, for years and years to come."

I ... have a difference of opinion as to whether this is truly a local issue or not. So, that's why I won't be voting in support of this tonight.
Councilor Arik Forsman

But Council President Janet Kennedy, who represents the 5th District, said she had not heard enough from her constituents to feel comfortable supporting the resolution. She also cited the silence of the local 148th Air National Guard unit and port officials on the issue.

At large Councilor Arik Forsman thanked people who had come to speak in support of the resolution Monday night: "I appreciate that. I do, however, have a difference of opinion as to whether this is truly a local issue or not. So, that's why I won't be voting in support of this tonight. But I understand where you're coming from and would be happy to help in other ways."

Voting in support of the resolution were councilors Randorf, Mayou, Azrin Awal and Gary Anderson. Voting against it were councilors Kennedy, Forsman, Hannah Alstead and Noah Hobbs. At large Councilor Terese Tomanek was absent, producing the tie result.

This story was updated at 11:30 a.m. March 14 to correctly attribute the Operation Hardtack 1 photo to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It was originally posted at 9:05 a.m. March 14. The News Tribune regrets the error.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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