AMERICANS SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER
TRIAL IN MARYLAND MARCH 20, 2000
Plowshares vs Depleted Uranium
On December 19, 1999, four Americans - Philip Berrigan, Susan Crane, Rev. Steve Kelly, SJ and Elizabeth Walz - disarmed two A-10 Thunderbolt bombers at the Warfield Air National Guard Base in Essex, Maryland.
On January 18, 2000, the four were indicted by a grand jury in Towson, Maryland. They are charged with sabotage (10 years); conspiracy to commit sabotage (10 years); conspiracy to commit malicious destruction (3 years); and trespass (90 days).
Their trial is scheduled to begin in circuit court in Towson, Maryland, on March 20. The court has set aside a week for the proceedings.
The four are on trial for taking action against planes that spew out 3,900 shells per minute, and that released 95 % of the depleted uranium during the recent wars in Iraq and Yugoslavia.
What motivated such courageous
action by the four Plowshares is made clear in Phil Berrigan's powerful
Lest the reader suffer confusion over the title, let it be said - there isn't any trial. No indictment, no trial. Nor is there likely to be one. No trial, despite the unthinkable crime of waging nuclear war for the second time in Iraq, and the third time in Yugoslavia. No trial, despite a staggering total of dead in Iraq - as high as two million since 1991 - the harvest of American sanctions and Depleted Uranium. No trial, despite the deaths of hundreds of American veterans of Desert Storm (over 400) victims of cancer, respiratory, liver, and kidney failure. No trial, despite the chronic illnesses of 110,000 veterans, all of them uninformed about the deadliness of Depleted Uranium. No trial, despite the pitiable appearance of "jellyfish" babies born to Iraqi, British, and American soldiers exposed to Depleted Uranium. No trial, despite the Pentagon's refusal to clean up Depleted Uranium in Kuwait and Iraq, an estimated 300-8700 tons. No trial, despite an American "give away" program of Depleted Uranium to a score of "friendly:" nations - a blank check to build their own nuclear weapons, fight their own nuclear wars, and further contaminate the planet with radioactivity.
No trial by the media, no trial by pulpits, no trial on campuses, no trial by politicians, no trial by public opinion. Veterans' groups and the Peace Movement have raised a little noise over Depleted Uranium, but overall, no trial. And especially, no trial by nonviolent civil resistance.
The volume of silence over these hellish weapons is surreal, numbing, stupefying. How to explain it?
Certainly, in a 55 year love affair with the bomb, Americans have not measured the cost of this idolatry - spiritual numbing, social denial, moral paralysis. Certainly, a $19 trillion price tag since 1940 for past, present, and future wars suggests our addiction to war and bloodshed. ("Your heart is where your treasure is.") Certainly, the War Department has become a past master at suppressing the media - "control the media and win the war" - as far back as the invasion of Grenada. We still bomb Iraq - monasteries, grain fields, little shepherds, and their flocks - but few know about it. The war-makers understand that suppression of key facts, lies, and disinformation leave the public uncertain and confused. Confused especially about what to do.
What to do? There's the rub - something that will witness to Christ's victory over death, and God's sovereignty over life. How about enacting the prophecy of Isaiah (2:4), which states that the weaponless can climb God's mountain and achieve union with God?" How about "loving enemies" as Christ did, even as we realize that enemies must be protected to be loved? How about reminding sick and dying Gulf War veterans, in fact all G.I.s, that the Pentagon judges them expendable? How about allowing action to speak for us, of the absolute necessity of disarmament? How about a public expression of faith and sanity in a society that appears to have lost both?
Such concerns impelled us to cut into Warfield Air National Guard Base in Essex, Maryland, on December 19 in East Baltimore, to disarm two A-109 Warthogs. These "tank busters" give armor and infantry close support, gunships built around a 20 millimeter, seven barrel Gatling gun which spews out 3,900 shells per minute.
Warthogs fired 95% of the Depleted Uranium munitions during our twin wars - in Iraq and Yugoslavia. In a battlefield context, they are arguably the most devastating weapons system yet fashioned.
Even in the company of other terrible engines of war, the Warthog is a monstrosity. Imagine it strafing a village, its Gatling gun armed with Depleted Uranium. It makes a pass and leaves a trench, people dead, buildings splintered, trees and vegetation blasted, the air, soil, and water infected with radio activity. The Warthog is an engine of Hell - it has no right to exist.
Liz Walz (a Catholic Worker from Philadelphia) and I began hammering the nearest Warthog and its Gatling gun, weapons pylons under the wings, undercarriage and fuselage. (Susan Crane and Steve Kelly addressed a further Warthog.) We protect the symbol and its language, guarding against maximum destruction. The hammer is a universal tool and symbol, addressing every adult with the need for disarmament. People made these hellish weapons; people must unmake them.
We pour our blood on the fuselage - Steve Kelly seizes a convenient ladder, mounts a wing and pours blood into one of the jet engines. As members of Christ's Body, our blood seals the new covenant of nonviolence and non killing. We will not kill, so help us God. And we will prevent others from killing, so help us God.
Therein lies the bottom line - resistance to killing by others. Millions of decent people will not kill - few will prevent others from killing - the killers that lurk in governments and military, transnationals and banks - the quiet, well-manicured terrorists whooften kill under the law.
Do we desire a taproot for peace? Then we must stop the killing - killing in war, killing on death row, killing the unborn and elderly. The commandment: "Thou shalt not kill!" is absolutely elementary and pivotal. Until we honor the image of God in the neighbor, until we eliminate our sins of omission (we can protect others but we don't) until we understand that we can't believe or love until we stop the killing, the pursuit of disarmament, justice, and peace is a melodrama of contradiction and futility.
We take no credit for
putting the Depleted Uranium on trial. God's law has already found it guilty.
International law has already found it a war crime. When Americans
find the faith to stop the killing, the prophecy of Isaiah and the Sermon
on the Mount will become the ultimate political statement. We will
then outlaw Depleted Uranium and place it with other nuclear weapons, in
the dust-bin of history.