Opinion Columns & Blogs

War wiring yields tokens of peace

Three words. Three of the dumbest words ever to shape a national defense policy involving children: duck and cover.

I was in Miss Pearson’s third-grade class at Fremont Elementary in San Luis Obispo when we first practiced the drill. We were told that if we saw a bright flash, we were to drop to our knees below our desks and clasp our hands behind our necks.

I guess it was lost on the powers at the time that the H-bomb had been tested in 1954, producing the equivalent of 10,400,000 tons of TNT — or something on the magnitude of about 450 times more explosive force than the A-bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

By the early ’60s, though, duck and cover was passé as the government began planting nuclear-tipped Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles in thousands of launch silos on ranches and farmland in the upper Midwest as part of its Early Warning Defense System. Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD, became the policy. Talk about a bitter harvest.

Although many of the silos have been decommissioned and their nukes removed, the U.S. still has a nuclear arsenal of 2,468 active warheads and another 7,000 in reserve, with many of those silos still wired together for launch with thick, deeply buried copper cables. Those cables are where San Luis Obispo’s Paul Ogren enters the scene.

Paul and his wife, the late Sandee Ogren, a former Minnesota State Supreme Court justice and Cal Poly vice president, started a company in San Luis Obispo called From War to Peace. The aim is to convert components of war — in this case the silos’ copper wiring — into “peace bronze” that’s then cast into jewelry depicting universal symbols of peace and justice. The concept is as beautiful and brilliant as the company’s jewelry.

An entrepreneur who served 12 years in the Minnesota state Legislature, where he authored MinnesotaCare — a landmark act that provides subsidized health care for children and the working poor, among a host of other social legislative achievements — the 59-year-old Ogren has always been passionate about peace and justice.

Toward that end, the seeds of From War to Peace were sown when he and Sandee moved to San Luis Obispo in 2004.

From War to Peace really began to take shape after a friend called Ogren and told him that a friend of his had gotten the contract to buy miles of the nuclear silo copper piping. Knowing Ogren as a businessman, the friend thought he could move the copper and accompanying plastic cable on the international scrap metals market.

So they mined the copper tubing from the silos and had the virtually pure components sent to an outfit in Iowa that breaks the metal into tiny bits and pieces and alloys it into “peace bronze” ingots by adding 4 percent silicon and 1 percent manganese to the 95 percent copper.

“The melting point of copper is 2,000 degrees; our peace bronze melts at 1,500 degrees, pours like butter and gives a perfect finish that accepts patinas and colors,” he says.

His company has six local employees, including jewelry designer Jason Main, son of San Luis jeweler Kevin Main.

“He does the finest designs and is central to the operation,” Ogren says.

“People may say this is politically naïve and that the world is a complex geopolitical place, and because of that, we need to be armed to the max and need to fight wars around the world on a fairly regular basis. Well, we are proudly naïve, and we reject that sophisticated analysis. That analysis takes you to that same place every time: eternal war everywhere.”

To show the world a kinder, less warlike American face, From War to Peace donates 20 percent of its profits to peace, social justice and health issues.

“We’re going to examine what it means to take our efforts in fighting people and putting them toward curing what ails us — illiteracy, malaria and paving roads rather than bombing villages,” Ogren says.

“To that end, we’re turning the weapons meant to destroy us into works of personal artistry meant to restore us.”

Find out more

For more information, reach Paul Ogren at 805-305-3710 or 805-544-1526 or paulogren@fromwartopeace.com, or visit the website www.fromwartopeace.com

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or at 781-7852.