Nonviolent Civil Disobedience on Three Fronts: Nuclear War, Abortion & Refugees

December 1988By Michael Gallagher, Juli Loesch & Gregory McNamee

Michael Gallagher is an author, film critic, and translator, whose articles have appeared in Newsday and elsewhere. He received a National Book Award nomination for his transla­tion of Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow. Juli Loesch, of Washington, D.C., is a prolife/antinuclear-weapons activist and leader of the Seamless Garment Network. Gregory McNamee, a writer and translator, lives in Tucson. His work has appeared in The American Scholar, North Da­kota Quarterly, and elsewhere.

Long-Haul Radical: An Interview with Philip Berrigan

At about 3:30 on Easter Sunday afternoon in Norfolk, Virginia, World War II veteran Philip Berrigan, Medical Missionary Sister Margaret McKenna, Greg Boertje, and Andrew Lawrence slipped away from a tour group on the Battleship Iowa and made their way undetected to an upper deck, gain­ing access to two of the launchers for the 35 Toma­hawk missiles with which the Iowa is armed, giving it enough nuclear destructive power to obliterate hundreds of Hiroshimas. Before being apprehend­ed, the four poured their own blood on the launch­ers, pounded them with hammers, and unfurled two banners that read: “Seek the Disarmed Christ” and “Tomahawks into Plowshares.” Thus, after 14 months of planning and spiritual preparation, they enacted the 25th Plowshares Disarmament Action, the series of nonviolent direct interventions taking their inspiration from Isaiah 2:4 that began Sep­tember 9, 1980, when Daniel and Philip Berrigan and six companions entered a General Electric plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

I asked Berrigan if he was ever afraid when he took part in a Plowshares action.

“You’re always afraid,” he said. “But you’ve gone into this business of fear, mostly from the biblical standpoint, thoroughly enough to know that that fear is really an evidence of disbelief struggling with belief. Fear has to be controlled. You go up against a hellish monster like the Iowa — all that power, those guns, that armor plate — and you think: ‘What am I doing here? How did I ever get into this bind?’ I was first involved serious­ly in 1967, and now here I am 21 years later, and I’m still asking the same questions. But you know that they’re false questions, and you know that, with the help of others and the help of grace, you have to learn to control your fear and your uncer­tainty.”

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