The Kings Bay Plowshares, left to right: Clare Grady, Elizabeth McAlister, Patrick O’Neill, Carmen Trotta, Fr. Steve Kelly, Martha Hennessy, and Mark Colville.
Seven Plowshares activists snuck into the Kings Bay Trident Submarine Base in Georgia on April 4th, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Once inside, they put up banners and poured blood on the base, and have been charged with four federal felonies each. In a statement announcing their daring action, the seven anti-nuclear activists said that “The ultimate logic of Trident is Omnicide.”
The reference is to the US Navy’s unimaginably destructive Trident submarines, each of which can carry up to 192 separately targeted nuclear warheads — that is, up to eight nuclear warheads on each of 24 missiles. Each warhead, at 475 kilotons, is 31 times the explosive force of the Hiroshima bomb. As 140,000 people at Hiroshima were killed by that 15-kiloton US atomic bomb, the incineration factor of today’s Trident submarines is potentially “omnicidal.
Each warhead can theoretically destroy 4,340,000 people (31 times the 140,000 killed at Hiroshima). Each missile with its eight warheads can potentially destroy 34,720,000 people (8 times 4,340,000). With 24 missiles on a sub, one Trident can possibly destroy 833 million people, give or take (24 times 34,720,000).
Not satisfied with threatening over 833 million people in 192 different places, the US government has 14 Trident submarines. Fourteen times 833 million is around 11.6 billion people that can be incinerated by the Navy. With only 7.6 billion people on Earth, it’s no exaggeration to call the Trident system “omnicidal.”
Navy slang for these submersible incinerators is “boomer” and “platform,” words that tactfully avoid any thoughts of burning wounds or cities consumed by firestorms. The protesters point out that between the Tridents’ threat of omnicidal atomic violence on one hand, and their waste of resources, the ballistic missile submarine fleet is easy to demonize. Each missile costs $37 million; each sub costs $2.8 billion without the missiles. Enter the radical religious disarmament activists, quoting the radical pacifist Dr. King who devoted his life to confronting what he condemned as “the triple evils of militarism, racism and materialism.” It was Dr. King that said, “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide,” a phrase that the “Kings Bay Plowshares” reworked to address the Tridents.
Risking Years in Prison for Calling a Spade a Spade
Risking many years in prison for their symbolic act, as did Dr. King and the Civil Rights radicals of the ‘50s and the ‘60s, the seven carried with them onto the base a written “citizen’s indictment” of the nuclear weapons system. The indictment accuses the US government of violating international treaties that prohibit planning and preparing mass destruction (the Hague Regulations, the Nuremberg Charter, the United Nations Charter). Being Roman Catholic laypeople, and one Jesuit Priest, the seven activists brought life-long religious commitment to the protest, and quoted scripture from the prophet Isaiah whose vision was to “beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks,” and to “study war no more.” Most of the seven hail from Catholic Worker shelters in major cities where they’ve worked for decades serving the homeless.
As with 100 previous “Plowshares” actions that have targeted nuclear weapons systems in the US and elsewhere, the seven carried baby bottles of their own blood. The group split up once inside the base, strung up large banners and poured out the blood at three separate places. The use of blood in the Plowshares protests has been explained as a way to “name” nuclear weapons with a shocking but universally understood symbol. The Nuclear Resister reported that the seven hoped to call attention to the ways in which nuclear weapons kill every day, even without being used, by stealing and then wasting desperately needed resources from the homeless, hungry, sick and destitute.
Initially charged in Georgia state court, the US Attorney in Georgia has now leveled felony charges of conspiracy, destruction of property on a Naval station, depredation of government property and trespass. Four of the seven remain in county jail in Brunswick, Georgia, and three have been released with ankle bracelets and restrictive bond conditions pending trial. Patrick O’Neill, 61, from the Garner North Carolina Catholic Worker, told me over the phone June 14 that because of poor nutrition at the Glynn County Detention Center, he’d lost 15 pounds in the few weeks between April 4 and his conditional release May 24.
The other activists are Elizabeth McAlister, 78, of Jonah House, Baltimore; Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ, 69, of Oakland, Calif.; Martha Hennessy, 62, and Carmen Trotta, 55, both of the New York City Catholic Worker; Clare Grady, 59, of the Ithaca Catholic Worker; and Mark Colville, 55, of the New Haven, Conn. Catholic Worker.
On the phone, O’Neill tried to make light of his jail experience, saying that maybe the peace movement could promote disarmament actions by calling them “weigh loss” programs. Unfortunately, the weapons themselves exact the worst sort of punishment, as the philosopher said, killing without being used by forcing people to starve.
You can keep updated on the Kings Bay Plowhares activists at: <king baplowshares7.org> — John LaForge