I was a young associate editor at Sojourners magazine when Dan Berrigan sent a poem for a special issue sometime in the early 1980s. Accompanying it was a note that read “Here’s the poem—my first on a word processor. Seems a bit jumbled. Might have got a food processor by mistake.” He was not yet a friend, so I wasn’t familiar with the mischievous grin that likely spread across his face as he wrote it.
I had first learned of Dan, his brother Phil and sister-in-law Liz McAlister a decade before. I was a high school senior in Hershey, Pennsylvania—writing papers with such titles as “Stopping Communist Aggression in Vietnam” (well researched from a wide variety of issues of the Reader’s Digest)—while they were on trial thirteen miles away in Harrisburg for their opposition to the war.
I was a searching seminary student at Yale when I first heard Dan speak. It was the day before a Trident submarine, capable of creating multiple nuclear conflagrations more powerful than the one that had destroyed Hiroshima, was launched from the coast of Connecticut. That day Dan joined many others in a public act of resistance and was carted off to jail. I was just beginning to make connections between the gospel and peace and putting faith into action. …–Joyce Hollyday
You know the saints not by their works but by their dreams. Terry Messman’s wonderful article on Jim and Shelley Douglass and the great movement of White Train activists and Catholic communitarians gives you a glimpse at not only the fruits of their lives of faith but of the dreams that inspire.
I first visited Jim and Shelley at the Ground Zero community near Seattle in 1984. Barbara Bennett (of blessed memory) and I were driving from Davis, Calif., to Seattle to catch the Inside Passage car ferry to Haines, Alaska, then on to Anchorage. We spent the night at the Ground Zero community’s tracks house outside the perimeter of the Bangor nuclear submarine base on the Hood Canal. I remember watching the sunset turn the gun-metal grey sub hangers a deep, disturbing red.
I’ve had the honor of knowing Jim and Shelley since then and being a guest and hosting them as guests in the tradition of Christian hospitality. They are mentors, saints, prophets, and friends. (Learn more about Jim Douglass’ books and witness and Shelley Douglass’ witness and ministry at Mary’s House.)
Thank you to Terry Messman for this exceptional article on one portion of their lives:
Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker, has been a lifelong source of inspiration for James and Shelley Douglass, both in their nonviolent resistance to war and nuclear weapons, and also in their solidarity with poor and homeless people.
Day devoted her life to the works of mercy for the poorest of the poor, and often quoted Fyodor Dostoevsky on the high cost of living out the ideal of love in the real world. “As Dostoevsky said: ‘Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.’”
The same warning might be given to those who try to live out the ideal of nonviolence in action, since love and nonviolence are essentially one and the same. (One of Mohandas Gandhi’s descriptions of nonviolent resistance is “love-force.”)
Although it may be heartening to read about nonviolence in the lives of Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Dorothy Day, it is a more “harsh and dreadful” proposition to engage in actual resistance to a nuclear submarine capable of destroying hundreds of cities, and protected by the most powerful government in the world.
Instead of nonviolence in dreams, one faces nonviolence in handcuffs and jail cells, nonviolence sailing in the path of massive submarines, nonviolence on the tracks blockading “the train out of hell.”
By the early 1980s, Jim and Shelley Douglass and the members of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action had created a highly visible campaign of resistance to the Trident nuclear submarine based at Bangor Naval Base near Seattle. …
Nicholas Kristof wrote a great column in the NYT on Saturday about American Catholic sisters. Part of his op-ed focuses on Sr. Megan Rice, age 82, who is spending 3 year in the federal pen for exposing U.S. nuclear hypocrisy. Watch for Dan Zak’s new book coming out about “The Prophets of Oak Ridge,” including Sr. Megan. (Editor’s note: This Washington Post article series by Dan Zak should be a required Bible study for all U.S. Christians.)
Here’s an excerpt from Kristof’s column:
IN an age of villainy, war and inequality, it makes sense that we need superheroes. And after trying Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, we may have found the best superheroes yet: Nuns.
“I may not believe in God, but I do believe in nuns,” writes Jo Piazza, in her forthcoming book, “If Nuns Ruled the World.” Piazza is an agnostic living in New York City who began interviewing nuns and found herself utterly charmed and inspired.
“They eschew the spotlight by their very nature, and yet they’re out there in the world every day, living the Gospel and caring for the poor,” Piazza writes. “They don’t hide behind fancy and expensive vestments, a pulpit, or a sermon. I have never met a nun who rides a Mercedes-Benz or a Cadillac. They walk a lot; they ride bikes.”
One of the most erroneous caricatures of nuns is that they are prim, Victorian figures cloistered in convents. On the contrary, I’ve become a huge fan of nuns because I see them so often risking their lives around the world, confronting warlords, pimps and thugs, while speaking the local languages fluently. In a selfish world, they epitomize selflessness and compassion.
There are also plenty of formidable nuns whom even warlords don’t want to mess with, who combine reverence with ferocity, who defy the Roman Catholic Church by handing out condoms to prostitutes to protect them from H.I.V. (They surely don’t mention that to the bishops.)
One of the nuns whom Piazza profiles is Sister Megan Rice. She earned a graduate degree at Boston College and then moved to Nigeria in 1962 to run a school for girls she had helped establish in a remote area with no electricity or running water. After eventually returning to the United States, she began campaigning against nuclear weapons.
In 2012, at the age of 82, she masterminded a break-in of a nuclear complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to call attention to the nuclear threat. As she was handcuffed by armed security guards, she sang “This Little Light of Mine.” She is now serving a prison sentence of almost three years.
“Resistance” is the secret of joy, wrote Alice Walker in Possessing the Secret of Joy. In the great 20th century experiment of nonviolent civil disobedience, there are currently two cases worth keeping an eye on, reading about, and providing prayerful and material support to those involved.
1. Dennis Apel, longtime Catholic Worker, founder of Beatitude House in Guadalupe, Calif., and organizer of the peace witness outside the Vandenburg Air Force base, recently had his case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. [Send donations to support Beatitude House here: 4575 9th St., Guadalupe, CA 93434]
Issue: When a military installation share custody over a public highway and designated “protest area,” can the base commander bar someone from that area? In what cases is a “public road” a “military zone”?
Judgment: Yes, a “military . . . installation” for purposes of § 1382 encompasses the commanding officer’s area of responsibility, and it includes Vandenberg’s highways and protest area.
Justice Ginsburg and Sotomayor concurred with the judgement. But, they said, “a key inquiry remains, for the fence, checkpoint, and painted line, while they do not alter the Base boundaries, may alter the First Amendment calculus … it is questionable whether Apel’s ouster from the protest area can withstand constitutional review.”
It’s likely that Dennis’ lawyer will bring the case again, this time making a constitutional argument. Read more on this case here.
2. Greg Boertje-Obed (age 58), Sister Megan Rice (age 84), and Michael Walli (age 65), Catholic peace witnesses, were sentenced last week to federal prison for roughly 5 years for Greg and Michael and 3 years for Sister Megan, for crossing the property line of the Oak Ridge, Tenn., nuclear weapons facility and spray painting bible verses and religious slogans on the outbuildings. (Read Washington Post reporter Dan Zak’s groundbreaking coverage.) [Send donations to assist the Transform Plowshares here: Dorothy Day Catholic Worker 503 Rock Creek Church Road, NW, Washington, D.C. 20010]
Their public witness was called Transform Now Plowshares. It is part of the faith-based Plowshares Movement, an effort by people of faith to transform weapons into real, life-giving alternatives, to build true peace. Inspired by the prophets Micah and Isaiah, Jesus and Gandhi, Transform Now Plowshares began a symbolic conversion of the Y-12 Highly-Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility on July 28, 2012.
Issue: The U.S. government charged the defendants with willful injury of a national defense premises with intent to harm the national defense (“Count One”) and willful injury or depredation of property of the United States in excess of $1,000 (“Count Two”). On May 10, 2013, Thapar cited the definition of “federal crime of terrorism” to rule that the protesters must remain in jail until their sentencing. The charge of sabotage – which could have brought a life sentence – was brought forward, discussed, and ultimately dropped.
Judgement: Judge Thapar sentenced Megan Rice to three years in prison for breaking into the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and defacing a bunker holding bomb-grade uranium, a demonstration that exposed serious security flaws. The two other defendants were sentenced to more than five years in prison, in part because they had much longer criminal histories. Judge Thapar said he was concerned they showed no remorse and he wanted the punishment to be a deterrent for other activists. They were also charged with more than $50,000 in fines.
Quotes worth noting:
A. “What is the national defense the three are accused of sabotaging? The answer to that question is not defined in the statute. The prosecution wishes to punish the defendants for interfering with national defense without 1) defining what national defense is and without 2) defining what part of their definition of national defense was interfered with by defendants.
The prosecution wants to use the vague sabotage charge as a blunt instrument to prosecute defendants and also as an impregnable shield to avoid admitting that there are preparations for a nuclear war going on at Y-12. The prosecution wants to proceed without admitting that materials for nuclear weapons are prepared, refurbished and stored at Y-12 or allowing defendants to put on any evidence about those weapons. There is a very good reason for the reluctance of the prosecution – the weapons themselves, thermonuclear warheads produced or refurbished at Y-12 are designed solely to reliably and effectively unleash mammoth amounts of heat, blast and radiation. The uncontested fact is that these weapons, as the prosecution well knows, cannot discriminate between civilian and military and are uncontrollable in space and time. They are designed to cause such massive damage that they necessarily would inflict unnecessary and indiscriminate suffering upon non-combatants and thus violate 18 U.S.C. § 2441. Likewise, the planning, preparations or threat to commit the war crime in 18 U.S.C. § 2441 are crimes in themselves.
B. “[Judge] Thapar said the recommended sentences seemed extreme given the circumstances and did not distinguish between saboteurs and peace protesters. “Here, it seems like overkill,” Thapar said of Rice’s recommended sentence. “Six-and-a-half years for Megan Rice? Isn’t it supposed to be sufficient but not greater than necessary?”
Announcing the shorter sentences, the judge cited Rice’s decades of service and Walli’s military history, among other things. And he said he gave similar sentences to Walli and Boertje-Obed to avoid sentencing disparities. Even while emphasizing the importance of deterrence, though, Thapar acknowledged the good works of the defendants, which have ranged from volunteering in soup kitchens to teaching science in Africa.
“The court can say it is generally distressed to place good people behind bars,” Thapar said. “But I continue to hold out hope that a significant sentence may deter…and lead (the defendants) back to the political process that they seem to have given up on. Without question, the law does not permit the breaking and entering into the secure facilities of the United States.” Thapar urged the trio to use the political process and their community of supporters to go to Washington, D.C., to try to abolish nuclear weapons.”–Oak Ridge Today
C. Also fascinating is the “Heartland” Amicus brief and response by the defense on federal sentencing guidelines. Judge Thapar asked for guidance on whether he had to use the federal sentencing guidelines for “terrorism” in judging a nonviolent peace witness and how much he could take into account a defendant’s “good works” and contribution to the community.
Both cases remind me of practices in the early Christian church. A 3rd century Christian manual, called the Didascalia, reads as follows:
You shall not turn away your eyes from a Christian who for the name of God and for His faith and love is condemned to the games, or to the beasts, or to the mines; but of your labor and of the sweat of your face do you send to him for nourishment, and for a payment to the soldiers that guard him, that he may have relief and that care may be taken of him, so that your blessed brother be not utterly afflicted.
“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”–Elie Wiesel, Night
War is a depredation of the human spirit that is sold as the loftiest of livelihoods. To hide the rape and pillage, the degradation and disaster, the training of human beings to become animals in ways we would allow no animals to be, we have concocted a language of mystification.
We could casualties now in terms of “collateral damage,” the number of millions of civilians we are prepared to lose in nuclear war and still call ourselves winners. We call the deadliest weapons in the history of humankind, the most benign of names: Little Boy, Bambi, Peacemakers. The nuclear submarine used to launch Cruise missiles that can target and destroy 250 first-class cities at one time, for instance, we name “Corpus Christi,” Body of Christ, a blasphemy used to describe the weapon that will break the Body of Christ beyond repair.
We take smooth-faced young men out of their mother’s kitchens to teach them how to march blindly into death, how to destroy what they do not know, how to hate what they have not seen. We make victims of the victors themselves. We call the psychological maiming, the physical squandering, the spiritual distortion of the nation’s most vulnerable defenders “defense.” We turn their parents and sweethearts and children into the aged, the widowed, and the orphaned before their time. “We make a wasteland and call it peace,” the Roman poet Seneca wrote with miserable insight.–Joan Chittister, OSB
Mitsuyoshi Toge, born in Hiroshima in 1917, was a Catholic and a poet. He was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city on August 6, 1945, when he was 28 years old. After the war, Toge became a leader in the peace movement. He published a number of books opposing the atomic bombing and advocating peace. While hospitalized with tuberculosis at the National Hiroshima Sanatorium, he published the book A-bomb Poetry. When it was sent to the 1951 World Youth Peace Festival in Berlin as one of Japan’s representative works, A-bomb Poetry gained international acclaim. On March 10, 1953, Toge died at the National Hiroshima Sanatorium. He was 36 years old. This poem is from Hiroshima-Nagasaki: A Pictorial Record of the Atomic Destruction (1978).
HOW COULD I EVER FORGET THAT FLASH OF LIGHT
How could I ever forget that flash of light!
In a moment, thirty thousand people ceased to be,
The cries of fifty thousand killed
At the bottom of crushing darkness;
Through yellow smoke whirling into light,
Buildings split, bridges collapsed,
Crowded trams burnt as they rolled about
Hiroshima, all full of boundless heaps of embers.
Soon after, skin dangling like rags;
With hands on breasts;
Treading upon the broken brains;
Wearing shreds of burn cloth round their loins;
There came numberless lines of the naked,
Bodies on the parade ground, scattered like
jumbled stone images of Jizo;
Crowds in piles by the river banks,
loaded upon rafts fastened to the shore,
Turned by and by into corpses
under the scorching sun;
in the midst of flame
tossing against the evening sky,
Round about the street where mother and
brother were trapped alive under the fallen house
The fire-flood shifted on.
On beds of filth along the Armory floor,
Heaps, and God knew who they were?
Heaps of schoolgirls lying in refuse
Pot-bellied, one-eyed, with half their skin peeled
The sun shone, and nothing moved
But the buzzing flies in the metal basins
Reeking with stagnant ordure.
How can I forget that stillness
Prevailing over the city of three hundred thousands?
Amidst that calm,
How can I forget the entreaties
Of departed wife and child
Through their orbs of eyes,
Cutting through our minds and souls?
At Hiroshima there’s a museum
and outside that museum there’s a rock,
and on that rock there’s a shadow.
That shadow is all that remains
of the human being who stood there on August 6, 1945
when the nuclear age began.
In the most real sense of the word,
that is the choice before us.
We shall either end war and the nuclear arms race now in this generation,
or we will become Shadows 0n the rock.
Frida Berrigan wrote a moving article a few years ago on the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Here’s an excerpt from her longer essay:
In Hiroshima, Little Boy’s huge fireball and explosion killed 70,000 to 80,000 people instantly. Another 70,000 were seriously injured. As Joseph Siracusa, author of Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction, writes: “In one terrible moment, 60% of Hiroshima… was destroyed. The blast temperature was estimated to reach over a million degrees Celsius, which ignited the surrounding air, forming a fireball some 840 feet in diameter.”
Three days later, Fat Man exploded 1,840 feet above Nagasaki, with the force of 22,000 tons of TNT. According to “Hiroshima and Nagasaki Remembered,” a web resource on the bombings developed for young people and educators, 286,000 people lived in Nagasaki before the bomb was dropped; 74,000 of them were killed instantly and another 75,000 were seriously injured.
In addition to those who died immediately, or soon after the bombings, tens of thousands more would succumb to radiation sickness and other radiation-induced maladies in the months, and then years, that followed.
In an article written while he was teaching math at Tufts University in 1983, Tadatoshi Akiba calculated that, by 1950, another 200,000 people had died as a result of the Hiroshima bomb, and 140,000 more were dead in Nagasaki. Dr. Akiba was later elected mayor of Hiroshima and became an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament.–Frida Berrigan, Tom Dispatches 2009
Officials at the Y-12 nuclear facility show off “state-of-the-art security technology” (NNSA, 2010)
Joe Newman, director of communciations for the Project On Government Oversight, follows up on the most recent Plowshares action of religious civil disobedience held at the Oakridge nuclear facility in Tennessee. The Y-12 facility “enriched” the uranium used in the nuclear attack by the U.S. on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. (Read more about the Transform Now Plowshares.)
As officials at the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility sort through their recent security breakdown, they’ve decided it might be best to move all of their nuclear materials, including highly-enriched uranium, into their on-site vaults.
The Knoxville News Sentinel’s Frank Munger reported that the “security stand-down” is expected to last into next week. The federal contractor that runs the Oakridge, Tenn., facility made the decision with the support of the National Nuclear Security Administration. Munger writes:
According to the federal NNSA, “This is being done to address additional security training and execution deficiencies identified by the contractor after Saturday’s incident. However, all nuclear materials at Y-12 are in safe, secure storage and we remain entirely confident in the security of Y-12’s facilities.”
The Saturday “incident” involved three peace activists, including an 82-year-old nun, Sr. Megan Rice, who cut through three fences surrounding the facility, posted a banner on one of the buildings and poured human blood on the premises, according to the News Sentinel’s orginal story about the break in.The activists were arrested under federal trespassing charges and are expected to appear in court Thursday.
The Project On Government Oversight’s Peter Stockton, an expert in nuclear security, told Munger that the security breach could be a sign of a much bigger problem.
“The DOE’s unprecedented response to last weekend’s break-in, alarming as that incident initially appeared, suggests that it has revealed even more drastic flaws in the security at the Y-12 facility,” Stockton said via email. “At this point we can only guess what those flaws might be.”
The LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.–Isaiah 2:4
“At 11:02 am, two-thirds of Japan’s Catholics were annihilated; … more Japanese Christians were slaughtered than had been martyred in four centuries of brutal persecution.” – The Holy City Nagasaki
Lest We Forget …
That 67 years ago, on August 6th and 9th, there were 150,000 people, mostly non-combatants, killed instantaneously by 2 nuclear weapons which were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Additional thousands died of radiation poisoning in subsequent years.
That today the U.S. has 6,800 nuclear warheads with indescribable power of destruction.
That today’s nuclear bombs could end human life on planet Earth.
That today’s nuclear weapons have no rational use but could be used by ideologues, or the insane.
That today’s nuclear power industry is intimately linked with the nuclear weapons industry.
That today it is a fact that $1 TRILLION will be spent globally on nukes in the next decade.
That today, politicians are cutting budgets for health care, education, renewable energies, and other social needs programs but not for nukes.
So, today, we can do something about it for our families and future generations.
We can sign a petition with Global Zero to call on world leaders to cut nukes, not the things we desperately need.