On August 6, 1945 the United States dropped an atomic
bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later, the US dropped
another atomic bomb on Nagasaki. These nuclear
weapons killed over 100,000 people, almost all
civilians, and injured many tens of thousands more.
Fr. Carl Kabat, 72, Greg Boertje-Obed, 51, and Michael
Walli, 57, sit in jail in North Dakota awaiting a
federal criminal trial because of weapons of mass
destruction and because of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I
visited them last week.
Their crime? They tried to disarm one of the 1700+
nuclear weapons in North Dakota. On June 26, 2006,
they went to the silo of a Minuteman III first-strike
nucclear missile and wrote on it "If you want peace,
work for justice." Then they hammered on its lock and
poured some of their own blood over it. They waited
to be arrested and have been in jail ever since. If
convicted, they face imprisonment of up to ten years
for criminal damage to federal property.
The Minuteman III is a first-strike intercontinental
nuclear missile with a range of over 6000 miles and
carries 27 times the destructive power of the bomb
dropped on Hiroshima. There are over one hundred
fifty Minuteman III missiles planted in the grounds in
silos in just the northern part of North Dakota.
Fr. Kabat has been a Catholic priest for over forty
years. Greg Boertje-Obed was a First Lieutenant in the
US Army. Mike Walli served two tours in Vietnam. All
three men were born in small towns or rural areas of
the Midwest. Walli and Boertje-Obed are members of
the Loaves and Fishes Catholic Worker community in
Duluth, Minnesota. Together they are called the
"Weapons of Mass Destruction Here Plowshares." The
Plowshares movement seeks to follow the instructions
of Isaiah (2:4) and Micah (4:3) to "beat your swords
At the time of their arrest, the three specifically
linked their actions to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "Two
of the most terrible war crimes occurred on August 6th
and 9th, 1945. On August 6th, 1945, the United States
dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima,
Japan, killing more than 100,000 people (including
U.S. prisoners of war). Three days later the U.S.
dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, Japan,
killing more than 50,000 people. Use of these weapons
of mass destruction on civilian populations were
abominable crimes against humanity."
They went on to say "U.S. leaders speak about the
dangers of other nations acquiring nuclear weapons,
but they fail to act in accordance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which commits the U.S. to take steps to disarm its
weapons of mass destruction. We act in order to bring attention to people's responsibility for disarming weapons of state terrorism.
We can begin the process of exposing U.S. weapons of mass destruction, naming them as abominations that cause desolation, and
transforming them to objects that promote life."
Mike Walli enlisted in the army as a young man. With
the experience of two tours in Vietnam, he said "This
is not about our national defense. The hundreds of
Minuteman III nuclear weapons are offensive weapons of
mass destruction. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached
that the United States is the chief purveyor of
violence in the world. We must become a
people-oriented society rather than a thing-oriented
society. We must kick the war economy habit."
Greg Boertje-Obed, who, after his time as an officer
in the military, married and is the father of an
eleven year old daughter, told me "There is a sense of righteousness and harmony that comes from being in jail on August 6. When I
was in the military, I was trained to fight and "win" a nuclear war. It became clear that all the preparations for a nuclear war
were wrong. In contrast Jesus taught "Love your enemies.don't fear those who can kill the body. those who live by the sword will
die by the sword." Now is the time to turn away from the ways of violence.
Treat others the way we want to be treated. Now is
the time to take steps to help the starving, ill,
orphaned, weak, war-oppressed, and down-trodden all
over the world. It is time to turn away from the bomb
and the possibility of ending all life on our planet
and to end the nuclear nightmare.
Fr. Carl Kabat spent several years in the Philippines
and Brazil. "August 6th and August 9th are
appropriate times to be in jail," he reflected. "We
are here to witness against the insanity of nuclear
weapons. When these bombs were dropped on the
Japanese I was too young to realize what had happened.
Those bombings were war crimes that we, even today,
do not acknowledge. The indiscriminate killing of
children, women, old people and everyone else
certainly cannot be accepted under any just theory of
war. Perhaps the fact that we are in jail can help us
as a nation remember the criminality of those days in
the past. None of us can make up for the killings in
the past, but there is a possibility that our being in
jail during this time might help stop such insanity
from being repeated in the future."
North Dakota is home to more nuclear weapons than any
other of the 50 states. The Bureau of Atomic
Scientists estimated that the state contained more
than 1700 nuclear warheads, not counting the ones
planted in concrete silos in the ground.
A friendly cab driver in Bismarck told me "If North
Dakota seceded from the Union, we would be the world's
third most-powerful nuclear state."
The Weapons of Mass Destruction Here Plowshares hope
their actions will invite the people of North Dakota,
and the rest of the US, to do something about our
nation's nuclear weapons of mass destruction in light
of many issues of justice, including the deaths of
tens of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and
Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and professor
of law at Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bill is a
legal advisor with the Weapons of Mass Destruction
Email Bill at Quigley@loyno.edu You can write Fr. Carl Kabat, Greg Boertje-Obed, or
Mike Walli c/o Southwest Multi-County Correctional
Center, 66 Museum Drive, Dickinson, ND 58601.
To find out more about the Weapons of Mass
Destruction, go to
http://www.jonahhouse.org. You can contact their community c/o Loaves and Fishes
Catholic Worker Community at 218.728.0629.