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12 October 2003

Sacred Earth & Space Plowshares II

Whose side is God on? George W. Bush, a born-again Christian, felt assured that the Almighty was on his side at the beginning of 2002 when he demanded the destruction of all weapons of mass destruction. But then things got complicated: on Sunday, October 6, 2002, operating under the umbrella of Sacred Earth & Space Plowshares II, a national movement for nuclear disarmament, three Dominican nuns, Carol Gilbert (54), Jackie Hudson (67), und Ardeth Platte (66), wearing white mop-up suits emblazoned with the words Disarmament Specialists and Citizens Weapons Inspection Team, broke into a N-8 missile silo in northern Colorado to paint a cross on the structure using their own blood (“because it identifies the effects of war and portrays the essential element of life.”), and to hammer at the silo and the tracks that carry the lid of the silo to its firing position. They concluded their action with a liturgy. When Air Force personnel arrived in humvees to arrest the nuns at gunpoint, Sister Gilbert tried to uncomplicate matters by explaining that they were simply following the call of President George W. Bush to destroy all weapons of mass-destruction.

The rocket silo in northeastern Weld County houses 49 rockets, which the defense department recently outfitted with new W-87 nuclear warheads – each with twenty-five times the explosive force of the Hiroshima bomb. The sisters believe nuclear weapons are the “taproot” of social and economic injustice because the billions of dollars spent on them could go to programs for the poor and needy.

“We act in the many names of God the Compassionate, ar-Rahim: our Life, our Peace, our Healer, to transform swords into plowshares…”

In their action statement they affirm: “We, women religious, come to Colorado to unmask the false religion and worship of national security so evident at Buckley AFB, in Aurora, the Missile Silos, and in Colorado Springs: Schreiver AFB (the Space Warfare Center), the Air Force Space Command Center at Peterson AFB, Cheyenne Mountain (NORAD) and the Air Force Academy. We reject the mission of these along with the US Space Command and Stratcom in Omaha, Nebraska…We act in the many names of God the Compassionate, ar-Rahim: our Life, our Peace, our Healer, to transform swords into plowshares, our violence and greed into care for the whole community of earth and sky, not as masters but as servants and friends.”

During the nuns’ trial, which began this year on March 31 and ended on April 7th, U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn barred the jury from hearing international law and Nuremberg defenses. Blackburn also granted an in limine motion by the prosecutor, prohibiting the sisters from speaking about the moral and legal justification for their actions. The nuns were found guilty and faced sentences of up to 30 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines. On July 24th, Blackburn sentenced Ardeth Platte to 41 months in prison; Carol Gilbert to 33 months; and Jackie Marie Hudson to 30 months. He waived all fines but ordered that the nuns reimburse the government what it reportedly spent to fix a fence the nuns damaged – $3,080.04. Blackburn labeled the Dominican Sisters, “dangerously irresponsible.”

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration had embarked on a quest for a new generation of nuclear bombs that are smaller and less powerful – nuclear bombs that the Pentagon might actually use in “conflicts.” Also presently in the pipeline is the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a weapon that would be used to destroy deeply buried targets such as weapons stockpiles or military command bunkers. George W. Bush is quite assuredly tilting the world towards a new nuclear arms race. Who is dangerously irresponsible?

And on whose side is God? A few activists standing outside the Denver courtroom where the nuns were sentenced report that they heard a sonorous whistle coming from the heavens above to the tune of, “If I had a Hammer.”

–Craig Reishus