Art Casey's lonely vigil
San Diegan takes a stand for peace at nuclear test site
Author(s): Peter Rowe Staff Writer Date: October 15, 1986 Section LIFESTYLE
"What are we doing out there blowing up bombs at an ever-increasing rate?" he wondered. "There is no military purpose. It is counterproductive politically. We look like asses to the rest of the world. I can't believe that we need it to keep the economy going."It has got to be an act of faith that in nuclear violence lies the salvation of the United States..."Casey is not totally alone in his resolve. This summer, he appealed to fellow parishoners for prayers and money.
"When he came to us," said Sister Louise McDonald, a staff member at Christ the King,"he came to us for support. He said he didn't have any other basis for support." Many responded wholeheartedly. Others had misgivings. "There are people here who feel very strongly that this is just a big waste of time, that when the bomb falls, the bomb falls. What can one voice do?" said the Rev. Bob Fambrini, S.J., the pastor"But our spiritual tradition impels us to look at that one voice and what it can do."
Casey makes no claims for his mission. In his life, things have rarely worked out as planned. Born in Anaheim, he was reared in the Nevada desert, first in Moapa, a remote whistle stop where father worked in the train station, and then Las Vegas.
At USC, he earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. Upon graduation, he heard the same magical word whispered in the ears of a generation of West Coast engineers: "aerospace."For years, the work was steady and good. Casey landed jobs with General Electric, Hughes Aircraft, the Army, General Dynamics, yo-yoing between Los Angeles and San Diego.
But his conscience also embarked on a long-distance commute, from untroubled patriotism in the 1950s to vague uneasiness in 1968, the year Vietnam exploded in the Tet offensive and the United States was torn by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F Kennedy.
"A crazy year," he said. "A year of explicit knowledge that I was devoting my life to weapons of death and destruction. It was the first time I remember hearing people talk of the Death Industry as a code word for the military-industrial complex."
His marriage unraveled. So did his career, as aerospace slumped nationwide. He clung to various industry jobs through 1975, when Control Data Corporation in San Diego cost-cut his job into oblivion.
Alone and unemployed, Casey followed his instincts. He joined a volunteer grass-roots urban planning group, pushing mass transit and opposing the Naval Hospital's expansion in Balboa Park. But in 1982, another crisis hit. This time, Casey needed to do more than reevaluate his career. After reading Schell's "Fate of the Earth," he needed to reevaluate his faith in God.
Reared Catholic, Casey had started attending Christ the King church in 1971. Newcomers to the predominantly black parish invariably comment on the hand-clapping rhythms of the Gospel choir, but Casey recognized that the church offered more than soulful music.
"It is a community that moves people," he said. "I really do experience a powerful connection with the prayers that happen in that community."But after reading "Fate," he questioned his beliefs. If man can cause his own extinction, what do the prayers and hymns mean? His faith, built on the notion of a benevolent Creator whose love suffuses the globe, wavered.
"We people have the whole world in our hands. It's ours to destroy. That is new," he said. "I don't need any more information, I don't need any more studies, I don't need any more computer models. To me, it's a fact. Any one of a number of ordinary human beings can initiate the end of life on Earth.'
So Casey demonstrated at Ballast Point. At a fall 1983 protest outside the Kearny Mesa plant of his former employer, General Dynamics, Casey trespassed and was arrested.
But it is the Nevada Test Site that seems to exert the strongest tug on his conscience, drawing him to relatively brief demonstrations in 1984, 1985, and 1986.
On the first Sunday in October, eight cars left Las Vegas, carrying Casey, 18 members of the Christ the King congregation and two representatives of American Peace Test, an anti-test group based in Las Vegas.
They drove north on Interstate 95 and the city petered out, as though Nevada's stocks of concrete were exhausted. Then all was rock and Joshua tree, jagged peak and dust-choked arroyo.
An hour later, the cars took the Mercury exit. Two miles within the test site boundaries, they parked. The 21 protesters had an Energy Department permit for an hour-long prayer service.Standing in a circle, they held hands and read from slips of colored paper stuffed in a ceramic pot sent from Christ the King. Casey closed his eyes as the prayers rose on the cool desert wind.
"God, please give Art the strength he needs to be a witness...""Art, we pray that you will be the first of many to be called to the desert..."Some of Casey's companions wept."Peace requires constant ferment, it doesn't mean passivity," said Lillian Macy, a Christ the King parishioner. "Art is full of ferment."
They linked arms and marched down the road to a white line. On the other side stood two Nye County sheriff's deputies and a handful of armed security guards. The familiar ritual -- demonstrators are a constant fact of life at the Nevada Test Site -- began."Good morning," Casey called out."Good morning," a deputy warily returned, rolling a thin cigar between his lips.Casey wished them well and notified them he will not be arrested today -- he will not trespass by crossing the white line."Thank you," Casey finished."Thank you," cigar-smoker replied.
Their hour-long permit expired, the protesters drove off the test site and up a dirt road leading into the foothills. Casey wanted to camp by a rusting water tank a mile from the highway, but found it guarded by 30 head of cattle and a truck.
Edward Frehner, 61, a bluff, weather-beaten cattleman, leaned out of the cab and told Casey to move on. He watched with a bemused smile as Casey and his followers set off."Don't make a damn to me as long as they stay away from the water," said Frehner, who leases 1,400 square miles here. He laughed. "Damn fools."
Casey led his group north of the cattle. At a junction in the power lines -- a spot some 40 miles southwest of Pahute Mesa, site of tomorrow's test -- they set down his supplies. Casey walked them back to their cars and said goodbye.And then they were gone.
Casey checked his supplies: seven gallons of water, a large sack of granola and packets of dried peaches and bananas. Inside the pack were jeans, shirts, thick woolen socks, a parka, a camp stove, matches, a lighter, sunscreen, a clock, paper and pens.No books. No radio.
The wind flattened the nylon sides of his home, a narrow yellow and white mountaineering tent."I don't understand all this stuff that I'm doing," he said. "I don't understand all this stuff I'm talking about."
Some links to civilization are unbroken. Once a week, the American Peace Test will resupply him and deliver mail. Each morning, Casey will walk to I-95 and greet workers entering the test site. He will hold a banner: "Christ the King Peace Witness, San Diego, CA."
But now, on the borders of a kingdom where the nuclear genie is regularly uncorked, he clung to a belief:I am alone but unabandoned.
"That is an act of faith," he said. "Spiritual power can be present somewhere physically different than where it is offered. I don't have any doubts about that."