This essay was rejected by the Dayton Daily News in autumn 2010:
Earlier this summer I was noodling around on the internet, reading reports about defense contracting conducted at the University of Dayton, when I saw a seemingly innocuous program — a certain “Propulsion Replacement Program”– and was then stunned to read which weapon system is being “propelled:” The Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile.
The University of Dayton — my alma mater; I am class of 1990 — is a Catholic university. It is run by the Marianist order, an international order of brothers and priests who state that they “view Mary as the model of discipleship.”
A few other friends and I have long been concerned that much of the military contracting at UD — conducted by the UD Research Institute (UDRI) and also LOCI, the Ladar and Optical Communications Institute — runs afoul of Catholic teachings. Several of these friends did not believe that the information about the Minuteman III could be correct, at first, but then I found a newsletter from UDRI which publicized the work and named a few of the researchers. The administration of UD confirmed that they have a five-year, $30 million contract in a Dayton Daily news article on August 20. [I later learned there have been at least two additional contracts taken by UD for this program.]
I am not playing a game of “Catholic gotcha” in which I point my finger and screech at, say, a priest eating a hamburger on a Friday during Lent. One Minuteman III missile can carry between one and three nuclear warheads, each of which, according to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, is in “the megaton range;” that is, each warhead has destructive power equal to at least 1,000,000 tons of TNT. For comparison, The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 were 15 and 21 kilotons, respectively (15,000 tons and 21,000 tons of TNT). The Minuteman III warheads, then, may be 50 times as destructive, or more, than those blasts; and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks are estimated to have killed, respectively, 70,000 people and 40,000 in the initial blasts alone; more died later from radiation effects. The Air Force states that there are currently 450 Minuteman III missiles. You might imagine 450 Hiroshimas, but with blasts 50 times as strong. Some victims would be crushed by collapsing buildings; others would be burnt alive.
The Catholic Church has consistently spoken out against nuclear arms. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, in section 2314:
” ‘Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.’ A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons – to commit such crimes.”
Pope Benedict XVI spoke out against nuclear arms in an address on January 1, 2006:
“What can be said, too, about those governments which count on nuclear arms as a means of ensuring the security of their countries? Along with countless persons of good will, one can state that this point of view is not only baneful but also completely fallacious. In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims. The truth of peace requires that all —whether those governments which openly or secretly possess nuclear arms, or those planning to acquire them— agree to change their course by clear and firm decisions, and strive for a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament. The resources which would be saved could then be employed in projects of development capable of benefiting all their people, especially the poor.”
There is so much other more positive work to which University of Dayton researchers could be contributing. Around the time that I found the report about UD and its nuclear missiles, I opened USA Today and read a big article with a nice photo about an Ohio university “reinventing itself as a solar power innovator.” It’s a mid-size university; it’s in Ohio; it’s in a city with six letters . . . but it’s not my alma mater — it’s the University of Toledo. I wish UD could make those sorts of headlines. UDRI and LOCI clearly have the talent and the track record to do it if they wish.
Now, The University of Dayton has indeed expressed interest in the eventual civilian applications of its military-based research; for example, a UD press release on March 30, 2010 made it clear that the University hopes that research it is doing on biofuels for the A-10 Thunderbolt combat aircraft will eventually benefit every American who uses any kind of internal combustion engine. A spokesperson for UD said that “certification of alternative fuels, along with demonstration of market demand, will enable sizeable quantities to be produced in the U.S. at prices competitive with traditional fossil fuels.”
Unfortunately the plane which will be the initial beneficiary of the biofuels research — the A-10 Thunderbolt, also known as the Warthog — has been criticized specifically by Human Rights Watch, in October 2006, because of its association with civilian deaths in Afghanistan.
How can UD obtain government contracts to research biofuels while avoiding work on misused weapons like the A-10? Simple: UDRI is a 50-year-old institution with the brains and the clout to lobby the government to switch its biofuels contracts from the Pentagon to the Department of Energy. University officials should work on this — I want to see President Daniel Curran and Provost Joseph Saliba working the phones to make it happen. Federal bureaucrats who want biofuels should be sending emails to decision-makers along the lines of: “Look, UDRI and LOCI are top-notch; they can solve your problems; they can deliver, on time and under budget; but you have to work with us, because they are understandably reluctant to be associated with anything having to do with nuclear weapons or human rights abuses.”
What other sort of research should a Catholic university engage in? In his book Common Wealth, Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and former director of the UN Millennium Project, notes that the world needs improvements in battery technology to increase mileage in hybrid vehicles; and other automobile technologies, such as low-weight construction materials, which also improve mileage. UDRI does materials research, so this is right up their alley (or right up their HOV/hybrid lane). Personally, I am slowed down on my way home from work every day when the temperature rises above 90, here in the Washington DC area, because when my metro train runs along its above-ground tracks it has to slow down or else the rails are liable to bend out of shape. How can we improve those rails? Dayton has many, many sharp researchers and engineers who can come to the rescue if their university will point them the right direction.
Propulsion Replacement Program:
Stats from National Museum of the U.S. Air Force:
Air Force, 450 Minuteman IIIs:
Catechism of the Catholic Church:
University of Toledo article:
A-10 and civilian deaths:
Sachs: Common Wealth, pages 99 and 100
–and finally, if you’ve read this far, blog visitors, you can see mucho mas of my peace writing at: