Peace on Trial

This July in Dublin, five peace activists were put on trial for disarming a U.S. warplane parked on the tarmac of Ireland’s Shannon airport.

In February, 2003, with the U.S. completing its build-up for “Shock and Awe”, these five activists broke into an airport hangar which the U.S. was using as a “pit stop” for planes en route to the war zone. They had dubbed themselves the “Pitstop Ploughshares” and, following the biblical injunction to hammer their weapons into plowshares, they took a hammer to the nosecone of a C48 U.S. Navy supply plane and disabled it. You’ll find full details at www.peaceontrial.com.

At that time, the world was witnessing the largest movement ever in history formed to call for the end of a war before the war had started. The “Ploughshares” had heard me speak in Kildare, Ireland, five days before they disarmed the plane. They’ve called on me as a defense witness during each of their trials, claiming that evidence I presented motivated them to take responsibility for stopping U.S. use of Shannon airport for refueling “pit stops.”

Ireland is a neutral country. Under international law and in accord with its own constitution, it would seem unlikely that Ireland could participate in U.S. war plans. But, by January 2003, 36,000 U.S. troops had passed through Shannon airport, en route to the Gulf area. The plane which the Pitstop Ploughshares disarmed was a U.S. Navy C48 supply plane, designated to give logistical support to the U.S. Navy’s 6th fleet in the Mediterranean.

The five defendants were represented by three of the most talented barristers in Ireland. The final summations of each defense counsel urged jurors not only to ask whether the defendants were right to take action, but also ask why it is that the rest of us haven’t acted. Mr. Nix, praised by the prosecutor as “the last of the great orators,” noted that the prosecutor had characterized the action of the defendants “political” as if that were a bad thing. “I’ll tell you of someone who made a great political speech,” said Mr. Nix, “the greatest political speech of all time and that’s Jesus Christ.” He went on to quote the Sermon on the Mount to the jury. I could hear the pencils stop scratching, see the jaws drop all around the courtroom. It was an awe-inspiring moment. The shock was yet to come.

Mr. Nix told us he had recently been in a park where he’d listened to children laugh and shout as they happily chased ducks and each other around on the green grass. He thought a sound of universal happiness must be the sound of children playing.

But now his tone darkened. “Now Lebanon is burning,” he thundered. “Today, children swimming in a pool were bombed. A swimming pool is now filled with burning children. This is war.”

From the The Guardian that morning (7/18/06, p.4):

“Whatever the Israelis’ intended target, the bomb fell on a small water canal next to the Qasmia refugee camp [near Tyre, in southern Lebanon], home to about 500 Palestinians. Its victims were 11 children taking an afternoon swim in the canal. The first blast left a crater nearly four metres deep, burying many of the swimmers deep under the orange earth. Seven of the children were injured, three critically. Three others have not been found.

‘The scene was littered with small plastic sandals, several caked in blood.” Ismael, the father of one of the children, sat on the edge of the crater, his head in his hands weeping. “Children! Children!” he roared through his tears, “Children here! My son here.” He stood and looked down into the crater: “Is Hizbullah here? Only children here,” he said.'”

When he had finished his talk, Mr. Nix asked the jurors and all of us present: “What would rise you to action?

And that’s a question we all need to think about. As I write, the jury in Ireland is still deliberating. Five brave men and women in Dublin tonight wait to learn their futures. Thousands more in Lebanon and Iraq and in so many other places look towards theirs with utter dread and uncertainty – many will not have futures. The peace movement is on trial in Dublin, where a media blackout has eclipsed nearly all reporting of the trial. But it’s on trial everywhere, every time one of us makes our decision either to get more involved, or perhaps to sit back and watch a little. We are left with their bravery, with the suffering of so many, and with Mr. Nix’s final accusation: “What will rise us to action?” We are all of us on trial tonight.

What’s the verdict?

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org ) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)

Leave a comment