An impressive group of Frederick citizens exercised their constitutional rights and civic duties last night in thoughtful, impassioned dialogue concerning the planned Fort Detrick multi-agency expansion (which includes the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security.)
An articulate lifelong activist expressed her concern that necessary security precautions might screen the illicit activities of a small but powerful paranoid minority. What if a secret few rationalized production of dangerous new viruses? Wouldn’t those new viruses be subject to misuse, terrorism, theft, accidents, and carelessness? Even with past assurances, she thought, bad things can happen. They’ve happened before.
A caring, erudite scientist advocated cool heads, citing good intentions, expertise, experience, safety, and the many advantages of the planned diagnostic and protective research for both soldiers and citizenry.
A thoughtful businessman offered practical suggestions on how to continue to spread the group's concerns and ideas–where concerned citizens might go and whom they might see–the mayor, Ft. Detrick leaders, members of Congress. He encouraged continued participation in the issue.
A young Quaker pacifist asked how everyone felt about working cooperatively with Ft. Detrick to assure transparency and open processes? Did the group still hope to influence Ft. Detrick to reverse itself on the expansion in general?
No compromises, urged a war-weary longtime activist, suspicious after many years of uphill battles. What if we collaborate while new strains of deadly viruses are weaponized? What if the Ft. Detrick expansion begins a new arms race in biological weapons as uncontrollable and dangerous in this brave new world as the current arms races in nuclear bombs, missiles, and conventional air, sea, and land weaponry?
A retired teacher wondered aloud whether the expansion might attract terrorists to Frederick. What if someone lobbed a bomb over the post perimeter fence from a home in any of the nearby neighborhoods? It’s not only the loss of lives and property, she added wistfully. Wouldn’t there be a national panic over the possible biological contents of floating and falling debris? Would that panic be legitimate?
The possibility of a bomb alarmed a tireless peace worker who handles much of the group’s paper and phone work. Nothing in the Ft. Detrick report said anything about a bomb, she worried, passing chocolates down the conference table (the group was temporarily meeting at a nursing home where she was recovering from a stroke.) A bomb. What about all our lifelong Frederick friends, family, our grandchildren?
The Peace Resource Center’s founder, a selfless, peaceful activist and community leader for more than twenty years, sought consensus by restating what he had heard from all of us: Were we still hoping to prevent the Detrick expansion? Or were we willing to continue to strongly share our concerns while working for transparency and openness in all processes?
A firm “NO” came from a knowledgeable woman who dons black clothing to conduct public evening vigils in solidarity with women everywhere suffering from violence. What would spending this money tell the world about our national priorities? How could America throw money at potential threats when so many here and abroad are suffering and dying right now from real and present threats, like preventable diseases and malnutrition?
A soft-spoken newcomer wondered aloud whether bioterrorism research was at all suited for a military base, especially a base historically synonymous in the minds of the international community with biological warfare. Was it wise to deliberately inflame international perceptions? Why create more fear and anger? Even if U.S. actions are unimpeachable, will anyone trust our intentions, given our bioweapons history, our military presence in hundreds of bases all over the world, the size of our defense budget, our use of atomic weapons, and our current proactive conduct of the war on terror?
One powerful citizen offered a European perspective: All this focus on terrorism–wasn't it just serving the interests of those who might wish to divert national attention away from greater threats to our homeland’s security—our unpopular foreign policies and wars, our national debt and deficit, our lack of living wages, unaffordable health care, housing, and higher education, our troubled education system, our threatened civil and political rights, our beleaguered environment? And what about our fights against drugs, pornography, alcohol, crime, low moral standards, and imprisonment? Aren’t these threats endangering our beloved country’s security right now, every bit as as much or even more than potential acts of terrorism?
A young collegian who had listened in silence spoke out in challenging yet measured terms. If you want young people to support your efforts, he said, don’t water this stuff down. Speak up. Take a stand. Be clear. If you know what you want, go after it. I think we should oppose the expansion.
A cacophony of sharing and side-conversations ended the meeting. We can still do some good…. We can support needed work without supporting secrecy and dangerous experimentation…. Let’s talk more at our next meeting about our films-for-peace project…. You can’t control technology—didn’t you see Jurassic Park?… You just have to be careful…. Are you coming to the peace conference?… Can the rewards match such risks?… Someone should write all this up…. Hugs…warm handshakes…. That new website looks great…. Courage…. How is your family?… Want a ride home?… Here, take this candy…. Good-bye good-bye, until next time.
(The people and ideas shared in this article are composites of attendees and opinions exchanged at recent meetings. The Peace Resource Center of Frederick invites constructive participation and objective debate on this and other issues. They meet at 4 East Church St. on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month from 7:30-9:30 pm.)