A small group of seven Catholics accessed the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in St. Marys, Georgia on April 4th, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. With them they carried an indictment of the United States government and military, specifically the Trident nuclear program. The indictment cited national and international law violations including the U.S Constitution (Article VI, Section 2), the United Nations Charter of 1945 on the threat of use of nuclear weapons, the Nuremberg Principles regarding crimes against peace and humanity, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970 requiring negotiations in good faith to eliminate nuclear weapons. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, decades of violations and the current geopolitical situation now bring us to two minutes before midnight on the doomsday clock. This assessment reflects the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review and its call for the development of smaller, more “usable” nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear threats.
Photo left to right: Mark Colville, New Haven, CT. Catholic Worker, Patrick O'Neil,
Garner N.C. Catholic Worker
Martha Hennessy, Maryhouse N.Y. C. Catholic Worker. Stephen Kelly, SJ,
Oakland, CA. Catholic Worker, Clare Grady, Ithaca, N.Y. Catholic Worker. Elizabeth McAlister, Baltimore, MD. Jonah House. .Carmen Trotta, St. Joseph,
N.Y.C. Catholic Worker
The group also brought with them a copy of Daniel Ellsberg’s book “The Doomsday Machine.” The book meticulously documents a nuclear strategy that reveals, since the 1960’s, the willingness of the U.S. to take billions of lives through a nuclear first strike. Pope Francis recently made it clear deterrence is a false construct, and the manufacture, possession, and threat of use of the nuclear arsenal is immoral.
Our Catholic faith motivates us to take action, in part, from alarming events that haunt us as Disciples of Christ in the 21st century. For example, the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the diplomatically successful Iran Nuclear Deal. National Security Advisor John Bolton is recommending the U.S. withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) treaty. This action would potentially jeopardize the renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (NEW START) in 2021. We remain cognizant of the ramifications of a 38 minute false alarm of incoming missiles in Hawaii a year ago, as well as the recent New Year’s Eve tweet from the U.S Strategic Command Center stating they are ready to drop “something much, much bigger” than the Times Square Ball. The symbolism and intent is quite clear for those who have eyes to see.
Our direct, non-violent, symbolic action of nuclear disarmament at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay may never be allowed fair witness in the federal courts. Criminal charges reduce our action to trespass, conspiracy and destruction of property. The sacramental act of pouring blood and symbolically hammering display missiles has been obstructed and willfully misunderstood in prior Plowshares trials. What is missing is our contention the base is, for all intents and purposes, a shrine of idolatry to our weapons of omnicide. The court’s priority remains to keep the truth hidden of what this Trident arsenal can do to the planet, the human race and God’s creation. We will attempt to present expert testimony that exposes the nuclear weapons for what they are: illegal, immoral and an “offense against humanity and common good.” These are the values reflected in the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, Papal encyclicals and the Second Vatican Council. Our conscience requires us to follow faithfully what we know to be just and right. God imprinted on our hearts our love for Him and our neighbors. If truly walked, the Way of the Cross inevitably leads to unilateral disarmament. Perhaps this is of the true Christian calling, given to us in the Gospel teaching of Jesus.
The Kings Bay Plowshares Catholic social action is a continuation of the rich tradition in the U.S. Catholic Church. The Plowshares movement, begun in 1980 by Philip Berrigan and others, now has a 39 year history. Philip was a World War II veteran and former Josephite priest. Inspiration comes from the readings of Isaiah Chapter 2, verse 4; “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” The Plowshares communities of faith in action spend time together in bible study, sharing life stories, careful discernment, prayer, and reading the signs of the times. It is a process of “self-disarmament.” Preparation for the Kings Bay Plowshares action included a process of confronting personal fears and anger over the injustice and violence of our permanent war economy.
There is hope and cause for celebration in the July 7th, 2017 historic U.N. vote to approve the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The world awaits more signatories, now at 69 countries and 19 state parties, even as nuclear weapons states ignore the new treaty. As Catholics, we are called to retain faith, hope and love, even in the face of a 20-year prison sentence. We pray for those who have come before us in non-violent resistance. This includes Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Ben Salmon, Alfred Delp, Phil and Dan Berrigan, and so many more.
Praise is to God!