Opinion

Why we brought hammers to a nuclear fight

Naval Submarine Base, Kings Bay, Georgia. (AP Photo / Oscar Sosa)
Naval Submarine Base, Kings Bay, Georgia. (AP Photo / Oscar Sosa)

On April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s assassination, I joined six other Catholic pacifists in an attempt to symbolically enflesh the prophet Isaiah’s command to “beat swords into plowshares” (Is. 2:4).

After cutting a lock, we entered Naval Station Kings Bay in St. Marys, GA with hammers, baby bottles of blood and crime scene tape to expose the horrific D-5 nuclear weapons aboard the Trident submarines that imperil life as we know it on Planet Earth.

Kings Bay is home port to six Trident submarines. Each Trident can carry 24 D-5 missiles, each of which can carry up to eight 100-kiloton nuclear warheads. Trident is the most insidious and evil weapon of mass destruction ever constructed.

Once inside Kings Bay, in an attempt to smash an idol, I hammered and poured blood on a cement statue of a D-5 at a missile shrine display. The government charged the seven of us with three felonies (depredation of government property, destruction of government property, conspiracy) and misdemeanor trespass.

Three of our group — Fr. Steve Kelly, S.J., Elizabeth McAlister (widow of the late Catholic anti-war prophet, Philip Berrigan), and Catholic Worker Mark Colville, remain incarcerated in the Glynn County Jail in Brunswick, GA. McAlister turned 79 and Kelly turned 70 while incarcerated.

The others, Martha Hennessy (granddaughter of Catholic Worker Movement founder, Dorothy Day), Clare Grady, Carmen Trotta, and I, have been out under a cash bond and on house arrest with a curfew and electronic ankle monitors for more than a year. Kelly, McAlister and Colville refused the bond conditions.

For more than a year the case has been tied up in pretrial motions. We are expecting to go to trial this summer. If convicted, the seven of us will likely go to prison.

Efficacy was not my motivation for joining this group. My faith led me to address the sinfulness of nuclear weapons. We live in a world where nuclear weapons on perpetual hair-trigger alert have become “normal.”

We used high drama as a wake-up call to hopefully get people thinking about the fate of the earth and human survival. Never before has our world been more at risk of the prospect of nuclear war. The Doomsday Clock, maintained by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, stands at two minutes to midnight.

President Donald Trump frequently engages in chest-thumping, and he bragged that he has the “biggest button,” a reference to nuclear weapons. Trump alone, under the vested power of the executive branch, can decide to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances.

Trump backs nuclear weapons expansion, and he has vowed to pull the U.S. out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty that was signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. INF led to nearly 2,700 short- and medium-range missiles being eliminated, and an end to a dangerous standoff between U.S. and Soviet nukes in Europe. In addition, in July, 2017, an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations — but not the United States — voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons — a landmark international agreement that establishes a pathway to nuclear disarmament.

The seven Kings Bay defendants are parents of 20 children. We want to assure a nuclear-free world for the generations to come. Humans must turn away from war-making, and find ways to embrace nonviolent solutions to international conflicts. I don’t relish a prison sentence, but I consider it a small price to pay if we peacemakers can help prevent the use of nuclear weapons.

We should take to heart the warning of Dr. King: “The choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”

(Patrick O’Neill and his wife, Mary Rider, cofounded the Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House in Garner, an intentional community that provides hospitality to women and children in crisis.)

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