By John LaForge
Carl Kabat, the jovial peace activist, teacher, translator, Catholic Priest, and relentless practitioner of radical nonviolent action against nuclear weapons, died August 4 in San Antonio at the age of 88.
A member of the order Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Fr. Carl was a long-time friend of our Nukewatch clan and of the greater nuclear abolition movement. Carl’s example of non-cooperation with wrongdoing, and his straightforward, no-frills denunciation of nuclear war planning, particularly the fiction that hydrogen bombs are lawful, has always been a stinging reminder of our focus and mission. “Everything Hitler did was legal,” Carl said to a college history class in 1978, reminding the students that slavery, Jim Crow, child labor, poison gas, torture, and firing squads were all legalized once, the way thermonuclear weapons are today.
I met Carl before he joined the monumental Plowshares Eight action of 1980, which clanged over the anti-nuclear movement like a bell. With crystalline symbolic use of hammers and blood against WMD — the former to “turn swords into plowshares,” and the latter to “name” the Bomb for killing even before war by stealing food from the hungry — the gob smacking protest has inspired over 100 similar actions, Carl acting in six more himself.
An inveterate smoker who liked corny, politically incorrect jokes, if warned about his smoking habit, he’d say, “These are my prayer sticks.” And Carl was pensive about his five years (1968-1973) as a missionary priest in Brazil and the Philippines. After the Oblates ordered him home out of concern for his safety, his haunting experience of poverty and hunger, juxtaposed to the US war in Vietnam and gargantuan military budgets, seared his consciousness. He once told me, “I saw people starve to death in my own parish.”
In a statement for the 1984 “Silo Pruning Hooks” action, Carl and his cohorts wrote: After the fact, we questioned why people of conscience allowed the slave ships and the auction blocks to remain in their midst. After the fact, we insisted that the German people should have cut the fences and torn down the gas chambers and crematoria. … but there will be no after when the missiles have done their demonic work.
Fr. Carl told St. Louis Magazine in 2010, “Justice is serious,” a fact he knew from experience, having endured over 17 years in jail and prison for nonviolent actions. (The New York Times, Washington Post, and National Catholic Reporter have detailed obituaries.)