taking the words of Jesus seriously

Each Monday morning, members and friends of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker (DDCW) hold a peace vigil outside the Pentagon’s southeast entrance where hundreds of civilians and military personnel stream by us on their way into the building.

Since this weekly vigil began in 1987, our purpose has been to invite the estimated 23,000 workers employed at this center of warmaking to uphold God’s command “thou shalt not kill,” to choose God’s way of nonviolence, to revere all life and creation, and to abolish war, torture, and all weapons of war. We also ask them to work toward eradicating systemic violence and oppression and to transform the Pentagon into a center that serves life, not death. The other day, a three-star general walked by our vigil and acknowledged my greeting. I could not help but wonder what that general would be involved with on that particular day.

Here’s what painfully clear: The bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have turned the Doomsday Clock to two minutes before midnight, due to the twin dangers of climate change and nuclear war. The U.S. war machine is in high gear, and its nuclear forces are on hair trigger alert.

The U.S. continues to destabilize and, most recently, President Trump threatened to wage war against Iran. A new Space Force has been created to control and dominate space. U.S. and NATO Missile Defense systems ring Russia and China, increasing already heightened tensions. The upgrade and development of new nuclear weapons proceed as part of a several decade $1 trillion program. This includes the W76-2 Trident nuclear warhead, which is designed to carry a relatively small destructive payload of five kilotons, far less than the 100 kiloton thermonuclear warheads with which Trident missiles are currently armed. This reduction fulfills the Trump administration’s quest for nuclear-war-fighting “flexibility.”

The U.S. withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal and the INF Treaty with Russia, ordered by an unpredictable president, has further exacerbated the nuclear peril. Additionally, the U.S. remains the world’s preeminent arms dealer. Killer drones continue to be deployed wherever the U.S. sees fit to terrorize and assassinate so-called enemy combatants.

The U.S. also continues to support the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the Saudi war against Yemen, all of which have claimed untold lives. U.S. military intervention continues in Iraq, and Afghanistan and it now seeks to overthrow the present Venezuelan government. These criminal interventions have caused the death, suffering, and trauma of millions. And the U.S. maintains more than 800 military bases worldwide which serve as outposts to enforce and protect U.S. corporate and strategic interests and to threaten and contain rival adversaries, especially Russia and China. The U.S. will spend over $225 million this year alone on AFRICOM to carry out its military operations in Africa.

The Trump Administration’s proposed 2020 budget request for the military and national security is a staggering $750 billion. To put this in perspective, the U.S. spends more on its military budget than China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and Germany combined.

How can such massive expenditures be justified at a time when so many nationally and globally suffer and die due to unmet critical human needs? The Poor Peoples’ Campaign estimates that there are some 140 million people in the U.S. who are poor and low income, over 300,000 of whom live in Washington, D.C. During our weekly “Feast for the Street” not far from the White House, we, at the DDCW, share a meal each Thursday with some of the nearly 7,000 who are homeless in the nation’s capital.

These exorbitant military outlays, while vital social programs continue to be cut and underfunded, constitute a direct theft from the poor. In the face of such an affront to God and the poor, where is the public outcry? Dr. King declared in his April 4, 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Dr. King further asserted that “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.” We need to exorcise and resist that obsession with death which possesses our nation and accept Dr. King’s prescription for revolutionary change!

Numerous people of faith and conscience continue laboring to bring about this revolutionary change and social transformation. One such group is the Kings Bay Plowshares.

On April 4, 2018, to mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, seven peacemakers — Elizabeth McAlister, Fr. Steve Kelly SJ, Carmen Trotta, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy, (Dorothy Day’s granddaughter), Mark Colville, and Patrick O’Neill — were inspired by their faith to engage in a plowshares action at the Kings Bay Naval Base in St. Mary, GA. The base is the Navy’s Atlantic Ocean port for six Trident submarines which have the capacity to cause the devastation of 3,600 Hiroshima-scale attacks.

Carrying hammers and small baby bottles containing their own blood, they sought to symbolically disarm weapons of mass destruction. In their action statement the Kings Bay Plowshares declared:

“We come in peace on this sorrowful anniversary of the martyrdom of a great prophet, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty years ago today, April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as a reaction to his efforts to address ‘the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.’ We come to Kings Bay to answer the call of the prophet Isaiah (2:4) to ‘beat swords into plowshares’ by disarming the world’s deadliest nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine…”

The peacemakers went to three sites on the base: the administration building, the D5 Missile monument installation, and the nuclear weapons storage bunkers. They used crime scene tape, hammers, and hung banners. They also brought an indictment charging the U.S. government for crimes against peace. They are charged with conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval installation, depredation of government property and trespass – charges carrying up to 25 years in federal prison. Liz McAlister and Fr. Steve Kelly have been jailed for over one year now. Mark Colville has also been jailed most of the last year while the other four are out on bail.

On August 7th, the seven will appear before U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Wood in Brunswick, GA to offer oral arguments regarding why they should be allowed to use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in their defense. In April, a U.S. Magistrate denied defense motions to dismiss the charges based on the evidence presented concerning RFRA. Following this hearing a trial date will be set.

On Labor Day, 1989, I participated in the Thames River Plowshares action directed at the 10th Trident submarine. As I was on top of this weapon of mass murder which can end life on our planet, praying and reading from scripture before being arrested and jailed, I experienced a miraculous transformation. My conviction then, as it is now, is that if we have the faith and will to believe that disarmament and a nonviolent world is possible, and act on that belief, transformation can occur.

The Pentagon and the military-industrial complex can be transformed into life-giving enterprises. The nuclear nations, led by the U.S., can join with the 23 nations that have already ratified the UN Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons. All weapons of war, and war itself can be forever abolished!

Rev. Dr. King said: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. We still have a choice today, nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”

The reign of God is at hand! Inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit during this holy season of Pentecost, now is the time to make God’s reign of love, justice, and peace a reality. For “with God all things are possible!” (Matthew 19:2).

About The Author


Art Laffin is a member of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, D.C., where he lives with his wife and son. For nearly four decades, Art has been an organizer, writer and speaker in the faith-based nonviolent movement for peace, social justice, and eradicating poverty and war. He has participated in numerous actions for abolishing nuclear weapons, killer drones and all weapons, ending U.S. warmaking in Iraq and Afghanistan, prohibiting torture and racial violence, and upholding human rights for the homeless, immigrants, the poor and prisoners. He has been imprisoned for his involvement in the Trident Nein and Thames River plowshares actions, as well as for other nonviolent protests, including ending U.S. military intervention in Central America. He has also traveled to war zones in Northern Ireland, Central America, Palestine and Iraq to stand with people who are nonviolently resisting war and occupation. Since his brother's murder in 1999, he has been actively involved in campaigning against the death penalty with the Journey of Hope. He is co-author of "The Risk of the Cross" and co-editor of "Swords Into Plowshares." He has also published articles in the National Catholic Reporter, Maryknoll Magazine, Sojourners, The Catholic Worker, The Hartford Courant, Tikkun Magazine and Pax Christi USA.

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