Disciples and Dissidents: Prison Writings of the Prince of Peace Plowshares
Steven Baggarly, Philip Berrigan, Mark Coville,. Susan Crane, Steve Kelly, S.J.. Tom Lewis-Borbely. Edited by Fred Wilcox, forward by Howard Zinn. Athol, Massachusetts: Haley's. 2001. 200pp.
Review by Gail Presbey, University of Detroit Mercy
Gail M. Presbey is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Detroit -Mercy and is also a member of Pax Christi - St. Leo s Parish in Detroit.
This book is a wonderful collection of insights. Through multiple voices, it explains what a group of Plowshares activists were doing, and why they were doing it, in the light of political realities as well as in their growing faith. It is a wonderful introduction to those who are perhaps only learning about plowshares actions for the first time. Without being textbook like with a stiff outline, it nevertheless unfolds through the personal accounts of the activists, the motivations for doing a plowshares action, as well as the concrete as to how it is done. But for those readers who are already quite familiar
with history of Plowshares actions, the book is a deep meditation, by those for their action, finding inspiration from bible passages and their communion with each other, to reinforce their convictions and give themselves and the wider movement hope and courage to continue resistance.
Howard Zinn's forward provides the ontext of civil disobedience in the history of the people of the United States. Indeed, when he is allowed by courts, he has often testified as an expert witness at civil disobedience trials to give this message. Plowshares actions, unique in many ways, nevertheless have precursors and are better understood in the long context of citizens speaking out to pressure their government to be responsive to people's needs.
Fred Wilcox's introduction provides the facts of the situation. On Ash Wednesday, February 12, 1997, our six authors entered Bath Iron Works in Maine to disarm an Aegis Destroyer. The State judge would not arrest them, being impressed with their message and their moral courage. So the Federal government had to send over marshalls to arrest them. At their trial, the judge refused to let them explain their motivation for their actions. He also refused to let them mention binding decisions and laws of the World Court, United Nations Charter, Nurenberg Statutes or Geneva Conven-ions. The tension of being thwarted in one's self-expression, not allowed to explain one's actions, is later described by Susan Crane, who wonders why it is considered by the court to be "contemptuous" to refer to sound motivations and international laws.
Wilcox goes on to explain the aftermath of the trial. After serving sentences of up to two years, probation officers insist the activists cannot return to their resistance communities, even though it is their home. Three activists (Berrigan, Crane and Kelly) promptly join a fourth, Liz Walz, in an action called "Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium" in Maryland on December 19, 1999. We therefore begin the readings of the group's following reflections with knowledge of their continuing committment to what they have spoken and written.
These are no idle armchair speculations.
The book is broken up into eight chapters, through which we follow activists as they reflect on the New World Order engulfing the the planet, as they prepare to speak out against the reign of terror, as they are dragged and gagged through the courts, as they; experience prison life and the separation from family that it brings, as they reconcile themselves to the costs of their witness and find further courage, as they reflect on the wider community of which they are a part of even while forcibly separated. The activists take turns in speaking to the issues, often beginning with a reflection from a bible passage.
Susan Crane sets the tone for the level of seriousness in which the group takes its actions by reflecting on the witness of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who when imprisoned in the Nazi death camps, volunteered to take the place of another prisoner being punished, and joined ten men as they were locked in a starvation bunker, where they met their fate praying to God. By reflecting on those whose suffering is more severe, whose separation from family mre permanent, it is easier to bear the difficulties of many months in a U.S. prison. Some of the suffering is not chosen, like the Iraqi women and children killed in the U.S. bombing of the Amariya shelter during the Gulf War. Some of the suffering comes to individuals who dared to speak the truth; Steve Baggarly lists those brave dissidents in Colombia, Tibet, Myanmar, East Timor and Nigeria who serve as role models. Tom Lewis-Borbely's artwork and accompanying text is witness to the personal pain that often
comes during imprisonment, but as he explains, engaging in art helps his spirit to regain strength. Mark Colville reflects on Jesus washing his disciple's feet, an annointing symbolic of preparation for death. Those of us who follow Jesus's message must be prepared to die. In such a context, one cannot shrink from courts and jails. Participating in, and accepting the consequences of, a plowshares action is part of what Colville calls "the cross," which he defines as "the suffering we take on in birthing the kindom of God in the world."
But is the situation of our world severe enough to call forth such lengths of sacrifice? It is. Baggarly who, in his contributions, presents staggering statistics on the evils of our society. Whil the Bible says, "Lend, expecting nothing back," our investment system creates huge maldistributions of wealth. Our patriarchal system promotes war and threatens with nuclear weapons, as women are raped at the rate of one per minute in the United States. Since 1945, the U.S. has spent $14 trillion on wars: it has accumulated 12,000 nuclear warheads, and in just one year, spends $627 billion on wars past, present and future, a sum larger than all other countries' military budgets put together. Cases of nuclear accidents and false alarms show the precariousness of the situation.
Crane reflects on those vaporized in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, finding parallels in this callous perpetration of suffering and death with the crucifixion of Christ. Philip Berrigan adds that those who think they havei escaped the predicted doomsday don't realize that we are all "downwinders," that the weapons have been poisoning our atmosphere, that there are constant casualties even if the weapons do not explode. He shares the story of being at the bedside of a friend dying of cancer, from having been present at government tests of nuclear bombs.
Berrigan insists that the resistance community should not be tempted to quit in the face of the government and World Bank/ IMF's seeming never-ending power. He cites personal betrayals, as in the case of Boyd Douglas being pressured by the FBI to betray the movement. He also shares how a supporter found FBI files documenting the hired hands paid to harass the Jonah House community through theft of cars aad threat of bodily harm to their members. Not intimidated, he explains how participating in civil resistance liberates him from complicity in government actions. The actions also attempt to subvert a criminal state. Such actions are done in a spirit of loving our enemies. As Colville notes, we are all called, like Peter, to follow Jesus, and also, like Peter, none of us is totally prepared. Yet we must act anyway.
Berrigan reflects on how in his own life, his military service left him "intellectually and spiritually impaired." It took years before he could realize the grave error of militariasm. He notes that in contemporary U.S. society, people are numbed by television. and preoccupied by trivial pursuits, games, daydreams, self-pity, brooding. boredom and guilt. The financial system, operating like a gambling casino, takes all their attention. It is in this context that Plowshares activists hope to gain the attention of a detracted and apathetic public. It is a tall order.
This highly religious community, however, finds little support from the institutional church in its work of raising awareness. Berrigan complains of a legalistic church that has parishoners afraid of missing mass on Sunday or eating meat on Friday, but neglects to speak out against the slaughter and starvation of humanity happening every day. Colville explains that the tax-exempt status of churches buys their silence on important political issues. The United States then ends up with a "nuclear religion," where weapons are trusted rather than God, and churches cooperate with this religion by their silence. Steve Kelly, S.J. charges that most Christians are still in the "locked room" in which the disciples hid before Pentecost, denyin gtheir complicity in theft from the world's poor.
Berrigan insists that the resistance community should not be tempted to quit in the face of the government and World Bank/ IMF's seeming never-ending power. He cites personal betrayals, as in the case of Boyd Douglas being pressured by the FBI to betray the movement He also shares how a supporter found FBI files documenting the hired hands paid to harass the Jonah House community through theft of cars aad threat of bodily harm K> their anabcrs. Not intimidated, he ci|iaan how participating in civil resistance liberates him from complicity in government actions. The actions also attempt to subvert a criminal state. Such actions are done in a spirit of loving our enemies. As Colville notes, we are all called, like Peter, to follow Jesus, and also, like Peter, none of us is totally prepared. Yet we must act anyway.
Berrigan reflects on how in his own life, his military service left him "intellectually and spiritually impaired." It took vearc
: worlds poor.
The solution to this apathy and complicity is nonviolence, community and resistance. Crane draws upon the story of Jesus feeding the multitude, as she notes, totally outside the commodity society, without waiting for political leaders to find a solution. Colville, reflecting on Jesus's question, "Who are my mother and brothers?," encourages us to transcend the insular "nuclear family." The book's artwork by Liz McAlistair pictorially represents that community, showing us its faces, and showing the activists in solidarity with their banner denouncing the warship and fences that separate us from each other. The contribution by Mary Donnelly describing the work of the Maine Plowshares support group gives concrete examples of how all of us can be involved in the plowshares community of resistance. We can all be part of this community of reflection and action.
■ Disciples and Dissidents: Prison Writings of the Prince of Peace Plowshares is available from The Catholic Worker Bookstore, PO Box 3087, Washington DC 20010. 1-800-43-PEACE or bookstore® catholicworker .com . $17.95phis $3.00 shipping. Gail M. Presbey is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Detroit -Mercy and is also a member of Pax Christi - St. Leo s Parish in Detroit.