A Talk by Art Laffin at Midwest Catholic Worker Faith and Resistance Retreat, April 30, 2011, Kansas City

I would like to thank you all for inviting me to come to this Catholic Worker Faith and Resistance Retreat. I am deeply honored to be able to share with you this morning. I bring greetings from all in my community and many friends in our communities in the northeast. I have been to Kansas City several times before. The first time was in support of the Silo Pruning Hooks, which included brothers Carl and Paul Kabat, Helen Woodson and Larry Cloud Morgan(White-feather), who disarmed a Minuteman II missile silo at Whiteman AFB in 1984. On the day before the Silo Pruning Hooks trial was to begin a group of us went to the same silo where they had acted and carried out an exorcism of the silo which was followed by several of us going over the silo fence and praying near the silo. The five of us who were arrested, including the late Larry Rosebaugh, felt that this was the best way we could support our plowshares friends on trial in Kansas City. We were arrested and spent nearly two weeks in the Ray County jail before being tried, convicted and sentenced to time served.

The last time I visited Kansas City was in 2001 when I attended the funeral of the mother of Elmer Maas. Elmer Maas, who died in 2005, was a dear friend to many here in this area and he was a close personal friend. A plowshares activist, a musician and philosophy professor, Elmer was a peacemaker extraordinaire. I would like to call brother Elmer, a Kansas City native, into our presence today along with the entire cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and who are now interceding on our behalf and cheering us on!!!

I live at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, D.C with my wife and son, four other Catholic Workers and five formerly homeless families. Inspired by Jesus, and Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, we practice the works of mercy and peace and embrace the consistent life ethic. In addition to the hospitality we offer, we share food and clothing with our poor neighbors and provide a feast for homeless friends once  a week near the White House. We vigil for peace each Monday at the Pentagon (the vigil is now in its 24th year) and each Friday at the White House. Together with the Jonah House community, we organize three Faith and Resistance retreats a year. So this is my second Faith and Resistance retreat in two weeks.

Nick asked me to come and share with you at this retreat. He then later inquired if I had any ideas for a theme. Mindful that this retreat would occur right after Easter, the Spirit led me to come up with the title: The Hope of Easter and a Disarmed World. The more I’ve prayed and reflected on this theme, there really couldn’t be a better time to address it. This is a subject that we could spend a long time on but for our purposes here today, I would like to focus my talk on four areas.

  • First, I would like offer some reflections on the Resurrection and Gospel nonviolence.
  • Second, I’d like to offer some comments on current nuclear policy, and the human and environmental cost of militarism, war and nuclear weapons.
  • Third, I’d like to share some reflections on economic conversion and how this might relate to the workers involved in the new Kansas City bomb plant.
  • Fourth, I’d like to focus on the imperative we all have to engage in nonviolent resistance to the Nuclear Empire we live in and our hope for a disarmed world.

Part I. Reflections on the Resurrection and Gospel Nonviolence

I would like to begin by addressing the question that is central to Mark’s Gospel: Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Suffering Servant that Isaiah foretold and the long awaited for Messiah. He is the great I AM, the Incarnation of God, the Word made Flesh. He is the Son of God and Savior of the world. Teacher, Healer, Community builder, who lived and ate with sinners and taxcollectors, who broke the laws and customs of his time to establish God’s reign of love and justice,  Jesus was both a victim of torture and capital punishment. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God and he was killed because the powers could not accept it. But as we know this is not the end of the story. God raised Jesus from the dead, thereby overcoming the forces of evil and death.

Let’s now take a closer look at the Resurrection and see how this was Jesus’ ultimate act of resistance to empire. Bill Wylie-Kellermann writes:

“The chief priests and the pharisees asked Pilate’s troops to guard the tomb. Pilate does so and authorizes them to set the seal. The seal over Jesus’ tomb was a legal seal. Cords would be strung across the rock and anchored at each end with clay. To move ths tone would break the seal and indicate tampering. To move the stone and break the seal is a civil crime. The RESURRECTION IS AGAINST THE LAW…When the seal is broken in the resurrection, it stands among the signs that the power of the powers (death in all its forms) has been broken. The dominion of political authority…and imperial authority has been cut to the heart…The imperial powers would like to have us believe that the resurrection never was…”

Despite all that the powers did to cover-up the Resurrection, the risen Jesus has forever triumphed over the powers and principalities of this world.

Let us now turn to the Emmaus story as we find more clarity about the implications of theResurrection for all disciples. Wes Howard Brook, in his watershed new book titled: “Come Out My People–God’s Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond,” writes:  “Before the experience of the risen Jesus, the disciples and –and the city–are in the dark.  Afterwards, (on the road to Emmaus) several of the disciples who Jesus appears to, have their minds opened to understand. The verb “to open” is repeated three times in Luke 24. Ched Myers notes that it implies Jesus opening “faculties of perception that have been shut down by empire.” First, in v. 31, we hear that at the breaking of the bread in Emmaus, the disciples, “eyes were opened” and they recognized him.” That is step one: seeing the risen Jesus in one’s midst. Second, in the next verse, they say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he opening the scriptures to us?” That is step two: experiencing the fire of the Scriptures being “opened” by the Risen One. Finally, step three is the opening of minds to understand the scriptures.”

At the heart of the Emmaus story we see the two religions (we’ve been exploring in this book) in direct confrontation. The Risen Jesus is the judge of which is truly God’s word. The disciples, responding to Jesus, share their experience, based on the religion of empire that hoped for a military victory over the Romans, inspired by the Maccabees’ victory over the Seleucids. But that dream has been dashed: “we had been hoping that he was the one to redeem Israel, they said (Lk. 24:21). Jesus begins the process of turning their scriptural understanding inside out. His three verse introduction says it all: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures.”

“The Risen Jesus provides the only reliable hermeneutical key to Christian interpretation of the bible….Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of God and continues to live in and through the community of his followers. Any attempt to make sense of Jesus and the New Testament apart from a deep abiding trust in the truth of this statement is doomed to fail…The further one walks on the discipleship path into Christ the clearer the Word becomes.”

This clarity of what it means to follow Jesus is powerfully evidenced in the words of martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero when he declared: “Easter is itself now the cry of victory. No one can quench the life that Christ has resurrected. Neither death nor all the banners of death and hatred raised against him and against his church can prevail. He is the victorious one! Just as he will thrive in an unending Easter, so we must accompany him in a Lent and a Holy Week of cross, sacrifice, and martyrdom. As he said, blessed are they who are not scandalized by his cross.”

Through his Cross and Resurrection, Jesus inaugurated a new nonviolent history for humankind. For the first three centuries, Christians followed the example of the nonviolent Jesus, refusing to worship the emperor and refusing military service. Maximillian, who was beheaded in 295 said: “My service is to my God. I cannot be a soldier for this world. I am a Christian.” However, the Christian stance toward nonviolence changed during the time of Constantine. The just-war theory then became the official teaching of the church, and ever since Christian’s having been killing each other and killing other children of God.

The late Jesuit peacemaker, Dick McSorley, writes in his classic book “The New Testament Basis for Peacemaking”: “We cannot seriously imagine Jesus pushing the button to launch a nuclear bomb, or registering for the draft, or wearing a the uniform of any nation-state, or paying taxes for nuclear weapons or working in a plant that manufactures weapons of death.”

Violence, killing and war are incompatible with the commands of Jesus. To kill another human being is to kill what has been made in God’s image — for we humans are all created by the same God. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, not demonize, bomb and kill them! Jesus instructs his followers to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom for all who are oppressed, to practice unconditional love, forgiveness and reconciliation, to put away the sword and to give our lives as He did on the cross, rather than to kill. On the cross, Jesus shows us how to live and die by asking God to forgive those who are murdering him. Jesus said: “I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” (Jn. 10:10) He declares: “Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn. 15:12-13).  Yet our blindness as individuals and as a church to Jesus’ way of nonviolent love has led to the creation of a culture that sanctions violence, killing, and genocide and glorifies war. Through Jesus’ cross and resurrection, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been liberated from our moral blindness. We have been given new eyes of faith to see. We need only to believe.

After the Resurrection the apostles are afraid and not sure of themselves. They are tentative in their faith, not knowing what to expect. These are shortcomings that I, and I’m sure most people, can relate to. But as we see in John’s Gospel, Jesus appears to all the disciples and reassures them that he has indeed Risen. What are Jesus’ first words to his afraid and astonished disciples: “Peace be with you.”  Jesus says this to them twice so as to remove the fears and doubts that are deep within their hearts. The disciples will not be ready though to begin their mission until Pentecost.

Prior to Jesus’ ascension into heaven, Jesus promised to the disciples that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. For some forty days the disciples devoted themselves to prayer and building community. “When the day of Pentecost arrived the apostles were all gathered in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire appeared among them…All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:1-4) Thus the disciples, radically transformed, take to the streets boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus. As the believing community grew, the religious and political powers felt threatened. Hence the persecutions began. Despite the many attempts to crush it, the discipleship community remained faithful and the church flourished.

What would happen if we truly availed ourselves of the transforming power of Easter and Pentecost? What would the church and our world look like if our hearts were burning with the same kind of faith that the apostles experienced on the road to Emmaus, and after Pentecost? The time has come for us as people of faith to open our hearts anew to the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit and the nonviolence of Jesus. It is time to repent of our complicity in the culture of violence, and to renounce our obedience to a war-making empire. Dan Berrigan reminds us that “our plight is very primitive from a Christian point of view. We are back where we started. Thou shalt not kill; we are not allowed to kill. Everything today comes down to that–everything.” Thus, the choice for us today is: Do we chose the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the Gospel of Empire?

Part II.  Reflections on the Bomb, Current US Nuclear Policy and The Nuclear Perils We Face

During this Holy Season when we celebrate the Easter victory of Jesus overcoming the forces of death, a litany of life-threatening problems, caused by our arrogance, greed and disrespect for life, engulf our society and world. The U.S. continues to wage an unrelenting war in Afghanistan now in its tenth year, maintains an illegal military intervention in Iraq for over 20 years resulting in the deaths of over 2 million Iraqis, and has increased it’s military intervention in Pakistan and Yemen–all to control and acquire resources. War, economic exploitation, including massive debts imposed on poor countries by World Bank and the IMF, and global warming claim countless lives daily. And now the world watches a catastrophic nuclear calamity unfolds in Japan. The victims cry out for justice. The earth groans in travail.

We live in what is arguably the most violent empire in history. The US is the #1 nuclear and military superpower and the only country to have used nuclear weapons. The stated Pentagon policy is that we must be prepared to use whatever military means is necessary, including the use of nuclear weapons, to protect our national security interests and to make sure another rival superpower does not emerge to challenge US interests.  To underscore this point, Leon Panetta, the current CIA chief about to be the new Secretary of War said yesterday: “Today, we are a nation at war, and job one will be to ensure that we remain the strongest military power in the world, to protect that security that is so important to this country.”

At the dawn of the nuclear age Albert Einstein stated, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophes.” He also declared: “On the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, on that day the American people assumed responsibility before the eyes of the world for the release of the most revolutionary force since the discovery of fire. Each of us, whether the scientist who made the bomb possible and/or us as citizens of the nations that applied the knowledge, stands accountable for the use we made and make of this tremendous new force. To our generation has come the possibility of making the most fateful decision in recorded history of the human race. I believe that human beings capable of restraint, reason and courage, will choose the path of peace.” (Aug. 6, 1946 1st anniv. of Hiroshima bombing).

The great peacemaking prophet, Phil Berrigan, who spent over 11 years of his life imprisoned for acts of anti-war resistance, writes the following in his autobgraphy: “Sidney Lens once wrote that splitting the atom for war was the greatest single tragedy to befall humankind in its entire history… Lens wrote as he did because he knew–scientists today are verifying what he knew–that even if the bomb were never used again in warfare, we have poisoned the planet in developing and deploying it, perhaps terminally. I repeat, we have perhaps gone into a slow suicide of our species in developing and deploying the bomb. Doctors I know from PSR are now saying what they didn’t dare to say two years ago–that cancer has reached epidemic proportions globally, and that most of it comes from military related toxins….”

The ultimate violence in our time is the existence and intent to use nuclear weapons which can destroy all life on earth. I think Bud Ryan’s movie, The Forgotten Bomb, made this point very powerfully last night. I agree with Dick McSorley that “The taproot of violence in our society today is our intent to use nuclear weapons. Once we have agreed to that, all other evil is minor in comparison. Until we squarely face the questions of our consent to use nuclear weapons, any hope of large scale improvement of public morality is doomed to failure. Fr. McSorley also said that “our intention to use nuclear weapons destroys our souls. Our possession of them is a proximate occasion of sin.”

And yet the US and other nuclear powers fail to take responsibility for this sin.

President Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons is commendable, just like Jimmy Carter’s was when he came into office. However, the reality of present U.S. nuclear policy is to ensure that the United States maintains a sufficient nuclear threat to remain the preeminent military superpower in the world. Although the United States and Russia recently signed a new START Treaty, reducing the limit of nuclear warheads from roughly 10,000 apiece to 1,550 over seven years, there will still be enough firepower on each side to devastate the world many times over. The Obama Administration’s new Nuclear Posture Review asserts that the U.S. defense system requires nuclear weapons as a deterrent to a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies.

The Nuclear Posture Review also states that the United States would not threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states–as long as they are not seen to be developing nuclear weapons. But what if they are? Does this mean we will target them?

The Nuclear Posture Review states: “The U.S. wishes to stress that it would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the U.S. or its allies and partners.” This is not a new position but rather a continuation of a long-held U.S. nuclear posture. Meanwhile, the United States continues to militarize space and spent over $7 billion this year to upgrade existing nuclear weapons in order to provide a “secure and effective nuclear arsenal.” This expenditure is only a small part of the Obama administration and Congress’ plans to spend $65 billion over the next five years to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. The National Nuclear Security Administration has already announced its plan to build a new $6.5 billion bomb plant to produce thermonuclear bomb parts in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. They call it the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) and its main mission will be to perform “life extension upgrades” on US nuclear warheads.  The UPF is being designed as 1/3 of a new US nuclear weapons complex. A facility at Los Alamos, and a new replacement facility at Kansas City will comprise the rest of this nuclear complex. Together, the three facilities will expand US weapon production capacity.

Given this example by the United States, is it any surprise that, in addition to the nine countries that now are known to have nuclear weapons, other countries are also seeking to acquire the bomb, thereby increasing the nuclear danger? It is hypocritical for the United States, the leading nuclear superpower and the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons, to tell Iran, North Korea or any other country that it cannot acquire them. Nuclear weapons are inherently genocidal weapons and any country that possesses them are in violation of God’s law and international law. Let’s be clear; in the words of Fr. McSorley: “It’s a sin to build a nuclear weapon.” Gandhi declared: “Unless now the world adopts nonviolence, it will spell certain suicide for humanity.”

As we ponder the human and environmental cost of militarism and nuclearism let us remember  and pray for all the victims past and present. We remember all victims who have died and continue to suffer from the US use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We remember all victims of nuclear testing who have suffered and died due to the radiation fallout from these tests, including in the South Pacific, US soldiers who were exposed to nuclear tests, and people living downwind from nuclear weapons facilities and the Nevada test site. We remember all victims who have suffered and died from exposure to highly radioactive depleted uranium weapons from Iraq to Libya. We remember all victims of US military intervention–from Vietnam to Central America, Vieques, former Yugoslavia, Columbia, Haiti and elsewhere. We pray for the people of Japan and everyone and everything that will be effected due to radiation exposures from damaged nuclear reactors. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, after all the nuclear tests, after Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukishima, what more evidence is needed to see how nuclear radiation endangers all life and creation. We must recommit ourselves to join with sisters and brothers worldwide to rid the world of nuclear power and all nuclear technology.

Dr. King said: “A nation that year after year spends more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. We are approaching spiritual death as more and more people suffer and die because of greed and militarism.”

  • Money spent on US military budget since early 1940’s now exceeds $25 trillion, including over $7 trillion on nuclear weapons.
  • Money proposed for 2012 military budget is close to $ 1 trillion when you add money for intelligence, national security, and military needs in space.
  • When all is said and done, the cost of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will exceed over $4 trillion. We need to repent for these wars and beg forgiveness from the victims as i did with others from Voices in the Wilderness when we went to Iraq. We need to end all military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen and now Libya,  and make reparations to all the victims.
  • Today, 22,000 children die daily worldwide and 8 million children die each year from malnutrition and preventable diseases. When I was in Mozambique two years ago, I met chronically malnourished children who cry out for food and clean drinking water. The life expectancy in Mozambique is about 40 years of age.
  • Here in the US, over 47 million Americans are without adequate health care. 43 percent of African American kids in DC are living below the poverty line. The VA estimates there are more than 136,000 homeless veterans in America.
  • Just think of how the over $2.2 million spent on each of the 162 tomahawk cruise missiles that were used to attack Libya could be used instead to alleviate poverty?

With respect to the present impact the US Military has on the environment, I would like to share an excerpt from a letter the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance sent to Secretary of War Gates prior to their recent April 8 Pentagon protest:

“As people of conscience, we are very concerned about the devastation that military expenditures are causing to our environment. According to Joseph Nevins, in an article published on June 14, 2010 by CommonDreams.org, GREENWASHING THE PENTAGON, “The U.S. military is the world’s single biggest consumer of fossil fuels, and the single entity most responsible for destabilizing the Earth’s climate.” And the article claims “. . . the Pentagon devours about 330,000 barrels of oil per day (a barrel has 42 gallons), more than the vast majority of the world’s countries.” Go to http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/06/14-1.

Our nation’s lethal addiction to oil, led by the Pentagon’s war machine must end if we are to survive. We must, once and for all, break our consumer addictions and drastically simplify our life-styles. We need to all help and encourage each other to become better stewards of our resources and become active participants in the Green Revolution that Peter Maurin envisioned long ago. Thank God for those Catholic Workers and many others who are taking seriously the urgent need to care for God’s creation and live sustainably.

Part III. I’d now like to offer some reflections on economic conversion and how this relates to the workers involved in the Kansas City Bomb Plant.

Dorothy Day wrote in her book “On Pilgrimage”: “All our talks about peace and the weapons of the spirit are meaningless unless we try in every way to embrace voluntary poverty and not work in any position, any job that contributes to war, not take any job whose pay comes from the fear of war, of the atom bomb.”

And on May 7,1976 the Vatican declared to the UN: “By their cost alone, armaments kill the poor by causing them to starve.”

“The conversion of military manufacturing plants and military markets for civilian purposes is equally possible, if trouble is taken to plan ahead. It is all the more feasible in that it would create jobs by making it possible to undertake the large-scale projects which prove necessary for the protection of the environment and the satisfaction of human needs…Refusal to undertake this conversion is completely incompatible with the spirit of humanity and still more with the spirit of Christianity” because “it is unthinkable that no other work can be found for hundreds of thousands of workers than the production of instruments of death” (Pope Paul VI, speech to Diplomatic Corps, Feb. 10, 1972)

And so what’s do these words of conversion mean for everyone here in Kansas City who will work at the new nuclear plant facility that is set to replace the old Bannister complex. This new plant, located on 186 acres that use to produce soybeans will be responsible for the production and assembly of approximately 85 percent of the non-nuclear components for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

People in Kansas City need to heed Jesus’ command to put away the sword and renounce all violence and killing. They need to heed the words Pope Paul VI and Dorothy Day. They need to heed the words of Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Kansas City- Saint Joseph diocese who called on officials here to “make a decision for all of humanity: that one day this facility may be transformed from a producer of weapons into a producer of goods that benefit all humankind.”  We thank the Bishop for his courageous and hopeful statement. I think we should also encourage Bishop Finn and other religious leaders here in KC to consider following  the example of the late Bishop Matthiesen who told the Catholics in his diocese who worked at the Pantex nuclear weapons plant in Amarillo, TX: “in the name of the God of peace, quit your jobs.” He also said he would try to offer financial assistance to any defense worker that would quit. It would be a beautiful thing if the religious leaders of KC would actually go to the site of the new weapons plant and hold a peace vigil. They could follow the example of Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who, on Holy Saturday spoke outside the gates of Faslane (the port for Bristish Tridents) calling for the uniltateral disarmament of Trident and for an end to the British arms trade. The cardinal joined 200 Christians and other peacemakers gathered at Faslane to say that the possession of nuclear weapons is contrary to the Easter message of peace.

People here in Kansas City also need to follow the example of former defense workers like Bob Aldridge, who worked as an aerospace engineer for 16 years for Lockheed where he worked to design nuclear missiles and then resigned because of conscience reasons. We need whistle-blowers like Mordechai Vanunu, who worked as a low-level technician at the Dimona Nuclear Weapons Facility in Israel and told the world about Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program. Because of his truth-telling and because of his commitment to see a disarmed Middle East and world, Vanunu served an 18 year prison sentence and still remains under severe security restrictions. I would like to share with you a poem that Mordechai wrote in prison titled “I Am Your Spy”:

I am the clerk, the technician, the mechanic, the driver.

They said, Do this, do that, don’t look left or right, don’t read the text. Don’t look at the whole machine. You are only responsible for this one bolt. For this one rubber-stamp. This is your only concern. Don’t bother with what is above you. Don’t try to think for us. Go on, drive. Keep going. On, on.

So they thought, the big ones, the smart ones, the futurologists. There is nothing to fear. Not to worry. Everything’s ticking just fine. Our little clerk is a diligent worker. He’s a simple mechanic. He’s a little man. Little men’s ears don’t hear, their eyes don’t see. We have heads, they don’t. Answer them, said he to himself, said the little man, the man with a head of his own. Who is in charge? Who knows where this train is going? Where is their head? I too have a head. Why do I see the whole engine, Why do I see the precipice– is there a driver on this train? The clerk driver technician mechanic looked up. He stepped back and saw — what a monster.

Can’t believe it. Rubbed his eyes and — yes, it’s there all right. I’m all right. I do see the monster. I’m part of the system. I signed this form. Only now I am reading the rest of it. This bolt is part of a bomb. This bolt is me. How did I fail to see, and how do the others go on fitting bolts. Who else knows? Who has seen? Who has heard? — The emperor really is naked. I see him. Why me? It’s not for me. It’s too big. Rise and cry out. Rise and tell the people. You can. I, the bolt, the technician, mechanic? — Yes, you. You are the secret agent of the people. You are the eyes of the nation. Agent-spy, tell us what you’ve seen. Tell us what the insiders, the clever ones, have hidden from us. Without you, there is only the precipice. Only catastrophe.

I have no choice. I’m a little man, a citizen, one of the people, but I’ll do what I have to. I’ve heard the voice of my conscience and there’s nowhere to hide. The world is small, small for Big Brother. I’m on your mission. I’m doing my duty. Take it from me. Come and see for yourselves. Lighten my burden. Stop the train. Get off the train. The next stop — nuclear disaster. The next book, the next machine. No. There is no such thing.   -1987, Ashkelon Prison

We need to demand that all the money being spent on this new Nuclear Plant to be used instead to eradicate poverty here in Kansas City and create life-affirming jobs, universal health care, quality education, and affordable housing for all.

Part IV.  Nonviolent Resistance to the Nuclear Empire, Living in the Hope of Easter and Creating a Disarmed World

I grew up in Connecticut, the arsenal state of the nation. At one time Connecticut was the #1 state for per capita military spending. Connecticut companies like UTC/Pratt & Whitney built engines for fighter planes. General Dynamics/EB built nuclear submarines. Growing up I had know idea what these weapons could do. And I didn’t really care. Like everyone else I ascribed to the America  axiom of “peace thru strength.” And there was silence from the churches re: the weapons business and our government’s war making. When my faith and conscience were awakened by meeting Vietnam war resisters, World War II CO’s, and peacemakers like Dom Helder Camara from Brazil, the Berrigans, Dorothy Day, and the Hibakusha from Japan, I began to really discover the nonviolence of Jesus. Once I had the eyes of faith to see, I could then understand what the Trident submarine was and what I, as a follower of Jesus, could do about it.

I submit that active nonviolence, most powerfully exemplified by Jesus, is the only way out of our culture of violence and death and our greatest hope to attain a disarmed world.

I have had the privilege of being involved in two plowshares actions directed at the Trident sub. in the words of the Pentagon the Trident has been described as the “ultimate first-strike weapon.”  In the Trident Nein Plowshares action nine of us renamed the USS Florida, “USS Aushwitz”…”Trident A Holocaust-An Oven Without Walls.” I was involved in hammering on sonar equipment in this action. At our trial, when we repeatedly tried to challenge the judge to accept our justification defense, he made this startling statement. You people may be right, we may blow the world up but the law must still be upheld. Friends, what does this mean?: the nuclear winter created by the use of nuclear weapons would mean the end of the world as we know it. Thus the end of the world would be legal! We received a one year prison sentence for this action. After I was completely rehabilitated, by God’s grace, I joined in another action to disarm another Trident.

In the Thames River Plowshares, where seven of us canoed and swam to the Trident, Elmer Maas, Jim Reale and I were able to pour our blood and hammer on the Trident from our canoe before boarding the USS Pennsylvania and proceeded to read the entire 15th chapter of John’s Gospel as sailors used a firehose to make us leave the vessel. When I was on top of this submarine, which would have the firepower to destroy our human family and our sacred earth, I felt in my heart and spirit  that we can really disarm all the weapons of mass destruction in our arsenal. I had the feeling then, and I still have it now, that if we have the faith to believethat a disarmament is possible, and act on that belief with all our lives, than it can really occur. For with God and each other acting in community, all things are possible!  We can roll away the stone of fear, greed, violence, empire and nuclear weapons and beat all the swords of our time into plowshares. We can in the words of Peter Maurin, “build a new society in the shell of the old.”

Christ has Risen!  In the face of all the bad news, we can stake our lives on the Good News,indeed the Great News of Jesus Christ. Jesus has overcome death and the powers of this world and has shown us a new way to live! The Holy Spirit is present, here and now, inspiring individuals and communities of faith to boldly witness to the Gospel in the same way the first Christians did. Wherever violence, injustice, and war occur in our world, there are also people witnessing to the truth of Easter. The Acts of the Apostles continues throughout the world as sisters and brothers are persecuted, imprisoned and killed for witnessing to the truth.

Resisting our Warmaking Empire:

Since the nuclear age began, examples of nonviolent action for disarmament and for the abolition of war abound. There have been countless vigils, marches, fasts and acts of resistance worldwide, including over 90 plowshares-disarmament actions. Continuing in this rich history of nonviolent resistance, there have been many acts of nonviolent resistance that have occurred here in KC to protest the new bomb plant. Could you raise your hand if you have been part of these protests? Could those arrested also raise your hands? Thank you to all who have participated in these lifegiving acts of hope. Over these last several months there have been many other resistance actions. They include:

  • March 19, White House action organized by Veterans for Peace to commemorate the 8th anniv. of the US invasion of Iraq: 113 arrested. 42, including, yours truly, have a July 11 trial date.
  • April 8 Pentagon action organized by National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance: 25 arrested 8 will go to trial on June 3.
  • April 10 White House action organized by SOA Watch: 27 arrested. They have a court date for May 10.

Holy Week actions:

  • In Seattle: 11 people poured symbolic blood on their hands and then marked the federal building and were subsequently arrested.
  • In London: 3 arrested at 10 Downing St. on Good Friday.
  • In Syracuse: 37, including many CW’ers, were arrested on Good Friday at Hancock Air Base protesting the Use of Drones warplanes.
  • 4 arrested at Pentagon during the Good Friday Faith and Resistance Retreat.
  • Eleven women were arrested outside the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant on Good Friday after they chained themselves to the plant’s main gate. Among those arrested included 92-year-old peace activist Frances Crowe.

Friends, what we are doing when we engage in Monday’s nonviolent resistance action at the new Bomb Plant is an act of Divine Obedience. It is our duty as people of faith. We are upholding God’s law and international law. We are in fact, engaging in act of crime prevention! We are acting to prevent  the unspeakable crime of nuclear weapons from ever being built and used.

Remembering Those in Prison

We remember today all imprisoned political prisoners, all who are held in gulags throughout the world. We remember Shaker Amer and the 150 men held at US military prison in Guantanamo and the over 600 prisoners held at Bagram. We also remember prisoners of conscience here in the US including: Bradley Manning – whistleblower and truth revealer of US war crimes, held and injured in solitary confinement. He faces 22 counts and a life sentence. We remember The Disarm Now Plowshares, sentenced on March 28th for their “swords into plowshares” action at Bangor Base for disarmament of the Trident submarines and given prison sentences ranging from 2-15 months. We lift up Fr. Steve Kelly, Susan Crane, Fr. Bill Bichsel, Sr. Anne Montgomery and Lynne Greenwald. We give gratitude to Helen Woodson who is spending her 27th year in prisons for her convictions of the immorality and illegality of nuclear weapons and wars. We lift up Fr. Louie Vitale, Michael David Ormondi, Chris Spicer and Nancy Smith incarcerated for nonviolent civil resistance at the School of Assassins/Whinsec in Georgia. We remember Frank Donnelly and Carl Steward for their war tax resistance and Mark Kenney sentenced to six months for a line crossing at STRTATCOM last Aug 9th. We also remember Leonard Peltier, Mumia Jamal, Rafil Dhafir and Norman Edgar Lawry, Jr. and many other innocent victims in prisons. May their release from captivity come!

Dr. King said we must confront and seek to eradicate the triple evils of poverty, racism and militarism. We must get on right side of world revolutions and be about the work of nonviolent revolution here in the US.  Phil Berrigan once said: “If enough Christians follow the Gospel, they can bring any state to its knees.”

As historic political changes are occurring in North Africa, in the Middle East and elsewhere, we need to heed the words of Dr. King: “These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born…We in the West must support these revolutions…Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

We remember all the victims who have suffered and died in the struggle for justice and democracy. In Tunisia young Mohamed Bouazzi set himself on fire, unable to face the rejection of his license for his vending employment. This death sparked a domino effect of revolutions in surrounding countries to break their shackles of oppression. We hold in prayer the dead and wounded people of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. These nonviolent resisters marched, demonstrated, occupied the streets and squares in order to free themselves from police repression, censorship, unemployment, and violence and were met with violent attacks. We remember all of the people of these nations and repent for U.S. funding of any of the guns, bombs, and materials used to prop up their abusive dictators. May all that has been stolen from these sisters and brothers be restored. May the repression, torture, and killing cease! May a lasting peace based on justice be established.

As we seek to proclaim resurrection hope in our lives and world, Dan Berrigan’s Ethic of Resurrection (From Word Made Fresh) should be seriously considered and adopted by all people of faith and conscience. Dan writes:

*Ideologies of “the nations,” political or economic arrangements however enlightened or”democratic”, can never be equated with the Realm of God.”

*The just war theory is a cruel oxymoron. War, no matter its provocation or justification, is of its essence and nature, supremely unjust….We are done with that theory forever.

*The ethic of Jesus is distrustful of any theory or praxis of social change that does not exact risk and sacrifice.

*There is no cause, however noble, which justifies the taking of a single human life, much less millions.

*The No to state uttered by the unarmed Christ is vindicated in His resurrection.  Of this, the world can never be a witness.

*Witness of the resurrection” was a title of honor, self-conferred by the twelve apostles (see Acts 1:21-22) the apostles were called to take their stand on behalf of life, to the point of undergoing death, as well as death’s analogies–scorn and rejection, floggings and jail. …

*Incomparably the greatest of these (teachers) is Jesus, who for His part took bread, broke it and said, “This is my body, given for you .”Then he took a cup and said, “This is My blood, given for you.” The ethic of the body given, of the blood outpoured! The act led straight to the scaffold and to that “beyond” we name for want f a better word, resurrection. …We have not, in this century or any other, improved on this. More, being equally fearful of living and dying, we have yet to experience resurrection, which i translate, “the hope that hopes on.”

*A blasphemy against this hope is named deterrence, or Trident submarine, or star wars, or preemptive strike, or simply, any nuclear weapon. These are in direct violation of the commandment of Jesus…That is why we speak again and again of 1980 and all the Plowshares actions since, how some of us continue to labor to break the demonic clutch on our souls of the ethic of Mars, of wars and rumors of wars, inevitable wars, just wars, necessary wars, victorious wars, and say our “no” in acts of hope. For us, all these repeated arrests, the interminable jailings, the life of our small communities, the discipline of nonviolence, these have embodied an ethic of Resurrection.”

Concluding Remarks

In Mark’s Gospel we here the words: he has been raised up, he is not here. See the place where they laid him (Mk 16:6) The empty tomb invites us to test our fragile faith. in discovering the empty tomb, we, like the women disciples, become frightened and amazed. To believe that the crucified Nazarene has been raised to life give us resurrected hearts. Our fears and amazement slowly dissipate giving way to the profound realization that Jesus is alive. This new found hope revives our deadened hearts, and our faith is revitalized. We become empowered to journey with Jesus beyond the empty tomb.

Jesus’ journey beyond the tomb takes him back to Galilee, the place where his ministry began. It is there, the place of outcasts and the neglected, to which Jesus returns to continue his mission of servant hood.  Jesus journeys ahead of us to this remote place and invites us to join him there. He promises us that if we embark on this pilgrimage of faith we will see him. This promise gives us new hope. In this nuclear age, we can face the challenges before us and be sustained in times of trial. We can fearlessly risk proclaiming with our lives that the way of the Cross, is the means to true peace and new life. For Jesus, the Lord of life, has gone ahead of us into the Galilees of our world and will be with us through our most perilous moments. The promise of new life awaits us beyond the Cross. The challenge is to accept his invitation to discipleship and to journey with him wherever he calls us.

Jim Douglass writes: “We need to join in a community committed to that nonviolent life-force which is the power of the powerless. We need to test the truth by betting our lives init in the world. If a community can experiment deeply enough in a nonviolent life force the power of the Pentagon will crumble.” Jim also says that what we do when we face the end of the world is to create a new world. And that’s where the CW comes in. With all our struggles andweaknesses, we are trying to create a new society in the shell of the old. I view the CW as a vital renewal movement within the church. Violence and war will end when we recognize that we are all sisters and brothers, that under no circumstance can we kill. Disarmament and the abolition of weapons — from handguns to Drones to nuclear warheads — will occur when we disarm our hearts of fear and violence and refuse to fund and support in any way the making of weapons. If we as individuals and as a church can be filled with the hope of Easter and radically embrace Jesus’ way of nonviolent love, God’s reign of justice, peace and jubilee can and will be established. But it will not come without great sacrifice and a willingness to change our lives and place our complete trust in God.

Wes Howard-Brook declares that “it is not too late to become the Church Jesus died and rose to bring into being. Empire is already fallen and condemned. May we, this day, hear God’s call to “Come out of empire” and to move ever more completely into the abundant life given as gift by the Creator of us all.”

Let us, as Catholic Workers, pray for and encourage each other to persevere, to be faithful to the promises of Christ as we strive together to practice Resurrection and create a disarmed world. For the reign of God is at hand, right here, right now!!!