LONDONDERRY, NH — Having once been witness to the brink of nuclear warfare, U.S. Navy veteran Will Thomas had a few questions for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) about his military policies.
At a town hall in the conservative suburb of Londonderry, Thomas told Christie that he was stationed off the Florida coast during the Cuban missile crisis, an experience that taught him the dangers of militarism and the importance of diplomacy.
Like many candidates running for president, Christie has included praise for veterans and promises to care for their mental and physical health in nearly all of his town halls and speeches. Other candidates have gone further, boasting of raising millions of dollars for veterans groups and daring one another to debate using veterans’ charities as bait.
Thomas, a New Hampshire native and voter in next week’s critical primary election, has been trying to nail down the candidates visiting his state on how they would pursue peace, not war, if elected to the White House.
“As president, how would you respond to this issue: we have a nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but we’re not living by it,” said Thomas, adding that he was deeply concerned that President Obama has proposed spending hundreds of billions of dollars upgrading and modernizing the nation’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. Thomas told Christie he thinks that money should be spent instead on domestic needs like fixing aging roads and bridges, and asked if the presidential hopeful would resolve international crises through diplomacy or warfare.
Christie began his answer by mocking Donald Trump for flubbing a debate question on the nuclear triad — the submarines, strategic bombers, and intercontinental ballistic missiles the US could use to fire a nuclear weapon. Christie then said he sees upgrading the submarines as the highest priority and that the other two legs of triad “can wait.”
He added that he wants to massively increase the number of people serving in the US armed forces as well as their conventional weapons stockpile, lamenting that the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps have shrunk over the past decade.
Thomas later told ThinkProgress he found the response “very concerning,” especially because Christie did not mention the use of diplomacy in his response.
“I don’t think we should be spending that much money on weapons we can’t afford and that we can never use,” he said. “We should be using that money for affordable housing and healthcare and education and job training. We shouldn’t be putting it in the back pockets of Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, and Boeing.”
Looking across the room to where Christie was shaking hands and posing for selfies with voters, Thomas added, “There is a military industrial complex, and he’s part of it.”
CREDIT: Alice Ollstein
Christie has been criticized before for pursuing policies that benefit the bottom lines of military contractors. In 2014, the governor proposed giving Lockheed Martin at least $100 million in tax subsidies, after the corporation donated heavily to the Republican Governors’ Association, which Christie chaired at the time.
Yet Thomas, who currently serves as the state’s leader of the group Veterans for Peace, says he has been asking every candidate for president the same question, and nearly every response has been worse in his mind than Christie’s.
“Bush, Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Fiorina, Rand Paul, they all said, ‘We need to modernize [our nuclear weapons],'” he said. “So just spending money on one-third of the triad, I’ll have to take that for now.”
Thomas also expressed disappointment in Christie and his Republican rivals for focusing on military action and ignoring diplomacy in their campaign trail speeches. As candidates pour into New Hampshire for next week’s “first in the nation” primary, he has listened to Carly Fiorina vow to call up the Ayatollah of Iran on her first day in the White House and threaten him with sanctions, heard Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) promise to “carpet bomb” the Middle East, witnessed Donald Trump promising to “beat the shit out of” nations who attack the US, and watched Christie slam the nuclear agreement with Iran as a “bad deal.”
“I believe in diplomacy. It would have been nice to hear them say they do too,” he said. “I don’t think my organization can endorse any of them.”