FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Doing Time for Peace

by DAVID SWANSON

Hundreds of Americans, young and old, are regularly going to prison, sometimes for months or years or decades, for nonviolently resisting U.S. militarism.

They block ports, ships, submarines, trains full of weapons, trucks full of weapons, and gates to military bases.  They take hammers to weapons of mass destruction, cause millions of dollars worth of damage, hang up banners, and wait to be arrested.  They cause weapons systems to be canceled, facilities to be closed, and Pentagon policies to be changed.  They educate and inspire greater resistance.

The people who do this take great risks.  U.S. courts are extremely unpredictable, and the same action can easily result in no jail time or years behind bars.  Many of these people have families, and the separation is usually painful.  But many say they could not do this without their families or without their close-knit communities of like-thinking resisters.  A support network of several people is generally needed for each resister.

More often than not, a great sacrifice is made with no apparent success in terms of governmental behavior, either immediately or even after a lengthy passage of time.

Police are becoming more violent.  Sentences are growing longer, and prisons are becoming more awful.

Increasingly, the corporate media ignores such actions, dramatically reducing the educational and inspirational benefits.  When Steve Downs was arrested for wearing a “give peace a chance” t-shirt in a shopping mall, a reporter called up a local peace group and tried to get them to admit they’d prompted Downs’ action.  When they said they’d never heard of him, the reporter replied, “Oh, then it’s a legitimate story!”  “In other words,” says Downs, “if a group protests in support of their constitutional rights, it’s not a legitimate story.  If one hapless individual blunders into an arrest, then it is!”

And yet, people who devote themselves to nonviolently resisting war can know that they are part of a movement that does result in improved policies.  And they can know that if more people joined them their chances of success would increase without limit.  That is to say, if enough people joined in, complete success would be guaranteed.  That is to say, peace on earth.

Rosalie Riegle has just published a wonderful collection called “Doing Time for Peace: Resistance, Family, and Community,” in which she transcribes her interviews of 68 peace resisters, friends, and family members — selected from 173 whom Riegle interviewed between 2004 and 2007.  The book is not in the least polemical, more sociological.  The speakers struggle with their memories and goals, and with questions about whether what they do is worth it.

The question of whether a sacrifice has been worth the effort often remains an open question for a very long time.  This book collects heroic, inspiring, and eye-opening actions and presents them with undeniable honesty and humility.  Imagine if millions of people were to read this book.  Suddenly countless actions done quietly or with little notice would be having a whole new kind of impact, and actions engaged in decades back would be revived — perhaps in a more illuminating manner than before, as a result of the insights gained by the participants.

One resister quoted in “Doing Time for Peace,” Kathleen Rumpf, recalled an action she was part of in 1983:

“[W]e went [into the hangar] and saw the B-52 and began hammering.  My little hammer would ping and then almost fly in my face without even leaving a mark.  I painted on the plane: ‘This is our cry, this is our prayer of peace in the world.’  And the symbols we brought with us — the pictures of the children, the indictment that we put on the plane, the blood we poured . . . . I hung paper peace cranes on the different engines.  (The FBI kept calling the cranes ‘paper airplanes’ like they called blood ‘red substance.’)

“We had decided we’d do twenty minutes of hammering and putting our stuff around, no more.  In reality, we were there for about two and a half hours.  We didn’t want to do more destruction, and we kept wondering what to do next.  We phoned the press from their top security lines.  We sang and prayed out on the tarmac.  We went back in to go to the bathroom.  We went up into a B-52 and looked around.  Now, we were charged with sabotage.  Had we been about that, we certainly would have had time to do it.  Anyway, finally we were able to wave somebody down to arrest us.  They were going to take us to the Burger King and drop us off, like they usually do for protests at Griffiss.  I said, ‘Well, gee!  You might want to check Hangar 101 before you release us.’

“So they go to the hangar and then they get on the walkie-talkies, and then we had about sixteen or eighteen guys with forty-inch necks, marching double time with M-16 rifles.  They made us kneel in the sand, holding rifles on us.

“Then sitting on that bus . . . for eight, nine hours . . . with my hands behind my back and hearing this constant ‘Shut up! Shut up!’ We’d say, ‘Well, we didn’t join the military, you did.'”

The heroes — and I use the term intentionally — in this book include atheists and members of various religions, but they are disproportionately Catholic and part of the Catholic Worker movement.  This raises all sorts of questions for an atheist like myself who believes both that the world would be better off without religion and that the world would be better off if more people behaved as do these religiously motivated Catholics.

The primary problem with activists is their insistence on knowing that success is likely before they act.  This results in a tremendous amount of inaction.  So, when these religious activists say they do not care about success, or they are acting in order to suffer, or they are seeking personal transformation, I’m not eager to reject their position.  I believe we are facing a crisis of militarism and environmental destruction that threatens human survival.  I believe we have a moral duty to act, regardless of the chances of success.  These peace resisters speak of opposing militarism in appropriately moral terms, I think.  But I believe our duty is to act in the manner most likely to succeed, as far as we can identify it.  Sometimes I think that is this sort of nonviolent resistance, but not always.

The resisters do not agree on everything.  Some go limp when arrested.  Some plead guilty.  Some request the harshest sentence.  Some view their defense in court and their attempt to achieve acquittal to be a central part of the action.

And some have moved toward a type of action unlikely to result in prison time, namely travel to nations threatened by or under attack by the U.S. government or its allies.  Sending peace teams into zones threatened with war or facing ongoing war and occupation can involve great risk and sacrifice.  It can employ the hands-on, face-to-face interactions that peace resisters value.  Friendships and alliances can be built across borders that help to educate the people of both nations and influence their governments.  And all without the months behind bars.

Peace resisters are my kind of Catholics.  Compare them to the Pope, a former Nazi-youth whose Christmas message this week was, first, hatred for gay people, and, second, interaction between the world’s religions — not disarmament, not a cease-fire.  Outgrowing the need for religion, and in the process losing a cause of deadly division, wasn’t mentioned, of course.  But the resisters in Riegle’s collection often include their disbelief in death as part of what motivates them, what takes away their fear.  And why would I want to take that away from them?

Albert Camus, generally identified as an atheist, is a frequent source of inspiration for religious resisters.  Camus was very much a mournful ex-theist ever in the process of very-regretfully losing his religion and proclaiming the world absurd without it.  These resisters manage to erase that absurdity.  They eliminate their worries over risks of horrible fates, through their willingness to put everything on the line.  Perhaps to some extent they believe they’re fully insured.  They clearly feel a sense of freedom when they set all worry behind them and declare their willingness to accept any suffering whatsoever in order to promote peace and resist war making.

More of us, all of us, should be moving in that direction.

David Swanson is author of War is a Lie. He lives in Virginia.

David Swanson wants you to declare peace at http://WorldBeyondWar.org  His new book isWar No More: The Case for Abolition.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail