40 year Ash Wednesday anniversary in the Nuclear war room at Pacific Command headquarters

Ash Wednesday 1981 — 2021

     Today is the 40th anniversary of the most significant Ash Wednesday event of my life.  It was a statement of nonviolent resistance to the preparation for nuclear war.  In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday is the beginning of 40 days of lent (prayer and fasting) before Easter. It’s considered a day of repentance where ashes in the form of a cross are put on people’s foreheads as a reminder that we are dust and to dust you shall return.  Traditionally, the ashes come from burnt palm fronds. 

     40 years ago, at the height of the cold war, 8 other friends and myself participated in a non-sanctioned Ash Wednesday ceremony in the “Nuclear War Policy and Plans” office at Camp H.M. Smith, the military Pacific Command center based on Oahu above Aloha Stadium in Aiea Heights.   It was a bit of a miracle that 9 of us were able to enter this high-security base let alone this high-security Nuclear war room.  The group was an interesting mix of people: 3 priests, including a Monsignor who was the superintendent of all Catholic schools in the state of Hawaii, several of us lay activists and a mother (a former nun) with her 3-month-old daughter.  As we entered the Nuclear War room, filled with Nuclear War office workers, one of the priests began reading aloud from “the Sermon on the Mount” Matthew Chapter 5 of the New Testament.  Some of us went to the right, some to the left, and we began placing crosses of ashes on the walls of the Nuclear war room.  Our ashes were made from traditional palm fronds with a mixture of burnt IRS tax forms since roughly 60 cents of every federal tax dollar is spent on militarism.  After placing a significant number of ash crosses on the walls, the nine of us came together, joined hands in the center of the nuclear war room, and prayed.  Within a short time armed military troops arrived and took all of us into custody where we were ID, questioned, and kept for a couple hours, then photographed, and surprisingly released.  We expected to be prosecuted but never were.  We later learned that several of the high-ranking generals and admirals had children in the Catholic school system and wondered how could they prosecute the group that included several priests and the superintendent of the Catholic Schools with their kids in Catholic Schools?

     Today, in 2021 the danger of nuclear war is even greater than in 1981.  The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist famous “Doomsday Clock” is now set at 100 seconds to midnight — the closest the hands of the symbolic clock have ever been to the doomsday hour.  Nuclear war and climate disaster are the 2 greatest threats to the future of life on planet earth.  May we have the wisdom and courage to turn away from this self-destruction and redirect the wasteful military spending to meet human needs, especially in this time of an unprecedented global Covid pandemic.

     This Ash Wednesday, let us rededicate our lives to justice, peace, and a living planet, with a commitment to nonviolence, kapu aloha, that respects the dignity of every human being and the sacredness of the earth that we all share.

Jim Albertini

Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021


Jim Albertini Malu ‘Aina Center For Non-violent Education & Action P.O. Box 489 Ola’a (Kurtistown) Hawai’i 96760 Phone 808-966-7622 Email ja@malu-aina.org
Visit us on the web at www.malu-aina.org