Monday, January 17, 2011

Paying the Price for Peace

Published on Thursday, December 16, 2010 by Waging Nonviolence

by Anna Brown

On December 13th, a Tacoma-based jury declared five Disarm Trident Now Plowshares activists “guilty” of trespass, felony damage to federal property, felony injury to property, and felony conspiracy to damage property. The charges against the Disarm Now Trident activists resulted from their November 2, 2009 Plowshares action at the Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base, which is located just outside of Bremeton, Washington. The activists, who will be sentenced on March 28th, 2011, each face a potential prison sentence of ten years.

According to the Disarm Now Plowshares blog:

Anne Montgomery, 83, a Sacred Heart sister from New York; Bill Bischel, S.J., 81, a Jesuit priest from Tacoma Washington; Susan Crane, 67, a member of the Jonah House community in Baltimore, Maryland; Lynne Greenwald, 60, a nurse from Bremerton Washington; and Steve Kelly, S.J., 60, a Jesuit priest from Oakland California … cut through the chain link fence surrounding the Navy base during the night of the Feast of All Souls … They then walked undetected for hours nearly four miles inside the base to the Strategic Weapons Facility, Pacific (SWFPAC). This top security area is where the Plowshares activists say hundreds of nuclear missiles are stored in bunkers. There they cut through two more barbed wire fences and went inside. They put up two big banners which said “Disarm Now Plowshares: Trident Illegal and Immoral,” scattered sunflower seeds, and prayed until they were arrested at dawn. Once arrested, the five were cuffed and hooded with sand bags because the marine in charge testified “when we secure prisoners anywhere in Iraq or Afghanistan we hood them…so we did it to them.”

After the jury rendered their verdict, Father Steve Kelly “faced the jury, and all the Disarm Now Plowshares defendants stood with him with their hands raised in blessing as he said, ‘May you go in peace and have a safe, happy holiday.’” These words and loving gesture well encapsulate the profound spirit that animates the witnesses of Plowshares activists and their supporting communities, as well as that of generations of nonviolent peace activists and actions that root the Plowshares.

This spirit was well expressed, for example, by theologian William Stringfellow, who, during an autumn of 1968 Baltimore gathering in support of Catonsville Nine activists, exclaimed: “Death shall have no dominion!” Or, currently, as Lynne Greenwald wrote in a recent Disarm Now blog entry: “Now more than ever I am convinced that this [Plowshares] is the community I want to remain a part of, and with whom to continue working towards the creation of a world without violence. This community embodies the world we previously dreamt and have had glimpses.”

The animating spirit and nonviolent act of the Disarm Now Plowshares provides a clear and stark contrast to the spirit of death and destruction that wields its iron fist at the Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base. The Disarm Now blog reports:

The eight Trident nuclear submarines home ported at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor each carry 24 Trident D-5 nuclear missiles. Each missile carries up to eight warheads, each one having an explosive yield of up to 475 kilotons, over 30 times the destructive force of the weapon dropped on Hiroshima.

Additionally, Bangor is home to SWFPAC where nuclear warheads are stored ready for deployment. Located just 20 miles west of Seattle, it is home to the largest single stockpile of nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal, housing more than 2000 nuclear warheads.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the 2,364 nuclear warheads at Bangor are approximately 24 percent of the entire U.S. arsenal, more than the combined nuclear warheads of China, France, Israel, India, North Korea and Pakistan.

In his book, The Nightmare of God, Daniel Berrigan, S.J., a Catonsville Nine and Plowshares Eight activist, writes that few in our society recognize the “mortal danger” and depraved spirit of nuclear weapons. “It isn’t so much that we have The Bomb,” he continues, “as that The Bomb has us.”

The importance of the Disarm Now activists and action—indeed of each of the over 150 Plowshares actions since 1980—is that they show us how not to be held captive by The Bomb. Each of the activists has spent the better part of their lives working in service to others, risking numerous arrests on behalf of peace, living unencumbered by consumerism, building loving communities, and, in some cases, risking their lives in war zones. Given the possibility of a ten year prison sentence, they demonstrate what it means to “pay the price” that peace in our world demands of us.

Having lived in community and acted with Steve Kelly, Anne Montgomery, and Susan Crane, I can attest to the radiant, compassionate, and courageous spirit of these good people. A sharp intake of breath, upon my hearing of the guilty verdict and sentencing date, was soon followed by a moment of prayer and praise: praise to those who are awake, praise to those who work for peace, praise for those who dare to love. Now it is up to each of us—in our own daring and imaginative and loving way—to “cut through fences, plant sunflower seeds, and proclaim that way of peace not war shall be ours.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Anna Brown teaches political science and is the Director of the Social Justice program at Saint Peter's College, Jersey City, NJ. She is a member of the Kairos community, Witness Against Torture, and the Garden State-Los Amates (El Salvador) Sister Cities Program. She can be reached at: ajbspc[at]

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