Editorial: War and Peace; The Pit Stop Ploughshares

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 38, Spring 2006

It’s a stunningly beautiful spring Canterbury day. The air is crisp. The light brilliant. The season is breaking into song. One might be tempted to think that all was well with the world. But one of the things about being a person with a heart for justice is that the problems of the world are forever present. The heart of the crucified Christ is bleeding again in so many places. Wars against brothers and sisters in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine by other brothers and sisters in Israel and the US are my business and the business of all of us. Jesus teaches that when the least of our brothers and sisters is in need, then it is our responsibility to do something to alleviate that need.

And they are in trouble now – big trouble. Our political allies the US and Israel have been bombing the smithereens out of them. All in the name of peace, can you believe? This is real evil masquerading as peace. We were always taught that the devil was the father of all lies. These wars are a BIG LIE, in spades. It is so frustrating when the power of evil is so strong and the means to oppose is so limited.

But this didn’t stop the Pitstop Ploughshares. This group of five peacemakers also saw how huge and bloody the issues were. They met. They prayed. They planned. They researched. Then they focused on a point of mutual contact – Shannon Airport – and creatively confronted the principalities and powers who were waging war with the complicity of the Irish government. In recent years, Shannon Airport has been turned into a US military base. More than 300 000 military personnel have passed through it on R and R missions this past 12 months alone. And more than 2000 have returned, sadly, in body bags – before being transported back to their grieving families and townships in the US.

But this didn’t stop the Pitstop Ploughshares. This group of five peacemakers also saw how huge and bloody the issues were. They met. They prayed. They planned. They researched. Then they focused on a point of mutual contact – Shannon Airport – and creatively confronted the principalities and powers who were waging war with the complicity of the Irish government.

It must be said that the Irish people have generally opposed their government’s support for the war. More than 100 000 people marched through the streets of Dublin in protest at the beginning of the war. And despite diminishing numbers, the protests had been maintained over the intervening years.

The Ploughshares five broke into an aircraft hangar at Shannon in February 2003 and ‘disarmed’ a naval supply plane by beating on it with hammers and pouring their own blood over it. They did this to enflesh the vision of the prophet Isaiah from the scriptures. ‘You shall beat your swords into ploughshares, your spears into pruning hooks and there shall be no more training for war.’ (Is 2/6) They then knelt down and prayed. Shortly afterwards, they were arrested. The five were each charged with two counts of criminal damage, convictions for which carried maximum imprisonment terms of ten years. Interestingly, within a month of the action three of the four companies contracted to ferry US troops and weapons had left Ireland.

After spending six weeks in prison, they were granted bail with very strict daily reporting clauses, which remained in force for two years. The effect of this was that it was almost impossible to travel more than a few miles because each had to report to the police every evening. Ciaron O’Reilly lives in Brisbane, Karen Fallon comes from Scotland, Nuin Dunlop from California, while both Damien Moran and Deirdre Clancy came from towns outside Dublin. Their first trial was aborted after six days as the judge agreed that his behaviour was somewhat biased and he disqualified himself. Their second trial was aborted after eleven days after the judge admitted that he was a personal friend of President George W. Bush and had been to his inauguration as governor of Texas and been invited to the White House inauguration!

Finally the third trial got under way in late July. The presiding judge allowed the defendants to present to the jury the morality underpinning their protest. The prosecutor acknowledged the courage, faith and commitment of the accused – but called for convictions for breaking the law. The defence lawyers argued that their clients had no option but to confront the state and break the law because of the way the Irish state had sold out its own Constitution on the issue of neutrality and was in effect an active partner in the war on Iraqis. Given the E15 million (NZ$30 million) the Irish government receives each year in rental for Shannon Airport, the term ‘sold out’ appears to reflect the situation accurately.

After three and one half hours of deliberation, which included a night in a hotel, the jury found all accused not guilty as charged. In effect, they found the Irish government guilty of being complicit in the war, albeit a more silent partner.

The relief and joy within the wider peace community was heartfelt and prolonged. It is hard to win such cases against the power and resources of the state. It is interesting to reflect how the earlier juries might have reacted, given the judges at both trials refused to allow expert witnesses to testify as to the morality of the war or its effects. In a strange way, maybe those delays from the aborted trials may have been the providential tool whereby a not guilty verdict was eventually delivered. The public mood against the war is undoubtedly a lot more hostile now than two years ago. God does work in wonderful ways. It is indeed a miracle that the acquittal verdicts were reached. Whether the jury’s night in a hotel helped too will forever remain a mystery. The fact is they gave their verdict 30 minutes after returning to court the next morning! Providence is indeed wonderful! The word from usually reliable Dublin sources is that, after the verdict, the American ambassador called on the Irish government to do a ‘please explain’!

This verdict will give new heart to the amazingly committed peace movement spread around the world who refuse to accepts lies and abuse of power by their political and military leaders and who put their bodies on the line in order that justice may prevail. (See CG37 for a list of some peace actions in the US in recent months). It is also a huge fillip to the tens of thousands of committed Christians who see Christ being crucified again in the destruction of cities and towns across the war zones.

Since such victories are few and far between, it is truly a moment to savour.

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