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If I Had a Hammer...

Ploughshares is a group of courageous people who break the law in America to demonstrate the evil of nuclear arms. They are, more often than not, put into prison and fined for these 'crimes'. They will continue until such time as the insanity of nuclear armament is stopped, until the swords are beaten into plowshares.

By Chris Sorochin  
  On August 7 of last year, Rick Sieber, his son Erin, Michele Naar-Obed, and Amy Moose entered the naval shipyard in Newport News, Virginia, disguised as workers and proceeded to symbolically disarm the USS Greenville, first-strike nuclear submarine, by hammering on its missile launch tubes. They poured baby bottles of their own blood on the hatches and spread out pictures of atomic bombing victims, mostly children, from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then, instead of escaping, they alerted shipyard personnel. The Greenville has 12 missile tubes designed for Tomahawk cruise missiles. If nuclear-tipped, each is the equivalent, conservatively estimated, of 11 Hiroshima-type bombs. Simultaneously, on the West Coast Fr. Steve Kelly and Susan Crane carried out a similar action on Trident missile components at the Lockheed Martin plant in Sunnyvale, California.

Both groups are members of the Plowshares movement. The name comes from the biblical prophecy of Isaiah, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares...neither shall they learn war any more," meaning to transform a way of life based on war and competition into one of peace, growth and cooperation. There have been 53 Plowshares actions since 1980, when the post-Vietnam military buildup began in earnest. The activists risk (and usually get) imprisonment to bear witness to the need for a halt to the insane proliferation of weapons that continues despite its inhumanity, danger and wastefulness.

Plowshares activists are usually charged with trespass and destruction of property. The new wrinkle in this case is that they're being tried for sabotage a much more serious offence, carrying penalties of 6-45 years. "Sabotage" is from the French word "sabot," which refers to a wooden shoe. In former times, when French factory workers were dissatisfied, they simply tossed their wooden shoes into the machinery and brought everything to a crashing halt. The US sabotage laws were originally passed to prevent such actions by labour strikers during wartime. After World War II, as the United States moved into an era of permanent militarisation and undeclared wars, moves have been made to extend them to peace time as well.

The trial is set for March 19. Pretrial motions have been held in limine, meaning that the defendants are forbidden to speak on certain subjects in the courtroom. Among topics banned from a US court of law we find foreign policy, international law, morality, and God.
Article 6 of the United States Constitution makes international law US law. The Nuremburg Charter, signed on, ironically, on August 8, 1945 (the next day they bombed Nagasaki), forbids the targeting of civilians, crimes against humanity, weapons of mass destruction and crimes against peace, humankind, and civilisation. Beginning during World War II, a major component of US military policy has been "strategic bombing," i.e. bombing civilians. The pretrial judge has banned spectators from the court in the fear that, as happened at a previous trial, supporters will start declaiming the Nuremburg principles aloud. In such trials, jurors are often told to disregard any moralistic reasons given by defendants.

The Newport News shipyard was formerly a mainly commercial yard, but has been progressively converted to military use. The bishop of Newport reports that there is quite a bit of unease (unexpressed publicly) about this conversion to a death-based economy. Federal prosecutors are charging that Naar-Obed and the Siebers have endangered the US population by attacking its system of "defence." Amy Moose earlier plea-bargained, but is currently being offered immunity to testify against the others.
According to Rick Sieber, another reason these actions, though wholly symbolic, upset the power structure so much is that they demonstrate just how insecure this whole deadly network is: If groups of pacifists can penetrate plant security employing amateurish methods they posed as employees by making badges saying "Disarmer" with bar-codes clipped from candy wrappers what could real, professional, violent terrorists do if they had a mind to? Not to forget the lengthy history of nuclear accidents, largely hidden from the public.

When I posed to Erin Sieber the question of whether he might not be more effective working for peace outside of prison, he replied that, if by that I meant getting as many people as possible to oppose nuclear weapons out of self-interest, it would dilute the message. Plowshares wants to emphasise the evil of demonising the people the weapons are to be used on. Michele Naar-Obed has a baby and said the pictures of children burned and scarred by the atomic bombings made her realise that if it would be an unbearable thing for someone to do that to her child, it would be terrible to do to anyone's children.

Christian peace activists seek to instill empathy for those we're propagandised to call "the enemy" as our brothers and sisters. Plowshares are more concerned with having a profound effect on a small number of people than a negligible effect on the population at large.

The activists expect to be convicted, as the court system is merely an extension of the power controlling the state, and incarcerated in minimum-security federal institutions. I doubt that this will be the last disarmament action since our leaders seem to show no sign of reversing the arms buildup.

I asked Michele how those who wish to contribute to the effort, without becoming guests of the state, can. She said the best way to start is to add your voice to those already raised.

In the same basic region Fr. Roy Bourgeois will be leading a ten-day fast and vigil on the steps of the Capitol. The purpose is to close the School of Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. The school trains military officers from Latin America and the Caribbean in the finer points of killing and torture, to be used against their own people. The alumni list is a murderer's row of atrocity committers and human rights violators, including Haiti's thugocracy and the leaders of the notorious El Mozote massacre in El Salvador. Lend your support, even if it's just a letter to Congress. You can contact SOA Watch at (706) 682-5369. Or write them PO Box 3330, Columbus GA 31903.

Declaration of Intent

WHEREAS Newport News Shipyard is engaged in criminal activity and, in this activity, oversteps the boundaries of conscience and human decency

TO WIT, the construction of submarines designed to carry missiles that, if used in a nuclear strike scenario, would cause the deaths of millions and even hundreds of millions of victims.

WE WISH TO MAKE KNOWN our specific intent and purpose in entering into this shipyard,


1. TO ENACT THE BIBLICAL PROPHECY of Isaiah that in the last days the people of the nations of the earth shall beat their swords into plowshares.

2. TO FULFIL OUR NUREMBERG OBLIGATION as individuals, that is to take reasonable actions to seek to prevent the continued commissions of the afore stated crimes.

3. TO EXERCISE OUR PUBLIC DUTY to prevent a catastrophe and to intervene on behalf of the innocent victims of the prepared holocaust.


5. To WARN all NNS executives and employees that they are subject to criminal liability under the rulings of the Nuremberg Tribunal.

6. TO ACT IN OBEDIENCE to God's Law not to kill, and to pray that all nuclear weapons may be disarmed as these weapons have been disarmed.

7. TO QUICKEN THE CONSCIENCE of all who seek peace in today's world that they may discontinue wherever possible the support for and complicity in the preparation for war by refusing to pay taxes for war and refusing employment for the manufacturing of weapons.

8. TO CALL for the people of the international peace movement to claim the responsibility to DISARM NOW: to beat swords into plowshares.

9. TO APPEAL TO THE JUDICIARY AND ALL OFFICERS OF THE COURTS to enforce international law faithfully

10. TO ACT ON BEHALF OF THE PEOPLE OF THE THIRD WORLD who will most likely become the first victims of nuclear war. This ultimate victimisation of the poor of the world can only compound the infamy that has characterised the long and tragic exploitation of weaker nations by the stronger and expose a national policy whose goal is not defence but dominance and control of the resources of the third world.

11. TO DISCLAIM THE RIGHT of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction to exist and denounce the deterence strategy as a means of legitimising the possession of these weapons.

12. TO ADDRESS THROUGH NON-VIOLENT DIRECT ACTION the existence itself of these weapons. It is our intent to initiate and participate in those processes of direct disarmament that will witness to the only option that we now have in the face of the nearly certain peril of nuclear annihilation and, by example, establish a course that will illumine a path of hope in the dark journey of our time.

WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, HAVE CONSPIRED TO DISARM a part of the nuclear arsenal system at Newport News shipyard and call all people of peace to enact such acts of disarmament whenever possible, without inflicting harm on another person. We do this for ourselves, on behalf of our families, and for all of the world's people, especially the children.

On Trial

Patrick O'Neill

When she imposed the maximum sentence a year in jail plus $2,500 in fines for each defendant it was obvious that district Judge Joan T. Morris had made up her mind long before the trial began.

Amy Moose, Michele Naar-Obed, Rick Sieber, and his son, Erin, received these harsh sentences on September 19th, following a bench trial on a charge of trespass. The four still face felony charges of destruction of government property.

As is common in Plowshares trials, the Jubilee Plowshares East found themselves facing a judge and prosecutor working in tandem to exclude as much of the truth as possible. The so-called 'criminal elements' were the only things 'relevant', Morris told the defendants repeatedly, as she upheld virtually every prosecution objection Apparently anxious to pass sentence, Judge Morris limited closing arguments to five minutes. "I'm not going to allow you to use this courtroom as a platform to espouse your political beliefs".

Chris Sorochin is from Port Jefferson in New York, USA.
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