Beating bombers into ploughshares

Issue 

Bomber Grounded, Runway Closed
By Ciaron O'Reilly
Rose Hill Books, $18
Reviewed by Lynda Hansen

On January 1, 1991, Moana Cole, Susan Frankel, Ciaron O'Reilly and William M. Streit took hammers and disarmed a B-52 bomber and temporarily closed the runway at Griffiss Air Force Base in New York state.

The activists quoted from the scriptures to arresting soldiers: that nations could come together to beat swords into ploughshares rather than prepare for war.

This book chronicles the ANZUS Ploughshares direct disarmament action, intended as part of international resistance to the Gulf War. It also explains the religious philosophy of the Catholic Worker tradition and its community-based existence to serve the poor.

Catholic Worker runs soup kitchens in Los Angeles to serve 1500 people a day. The community is involved in a form of non-violent direct action.

In letters written from Montgomery County Jail, O'Reilly reflects on cell life: the setting of humiliation and vengeance, and unexpected human beauty and warmth. O'Reilly says that jail is about institutional dehumanisation and has little to do with justice or reconciliation and nothing to do with the causes of crime.

There are lighter moments as well, such as the debate between a Syrian and an Afghani on which way is Mecca: east or west? O'Reilly interjects trying to put the Galileo position — that the world is round and Mecca is to be found in both directions..

The book also details the trial. The main focus for the activists was to put the war and weapons system on trial and to develop their own terms of reference in their personal testimonies.

Expert testimony came from Ramsey Clarke, former US attorney general, who visited Hussein in Iraq in November 1990 and spoke with US government officials in an effort to remove the threat of war. Clarke testified that he viewed weapons of the US government as an imminent threat to the lives of people in Iraq — a legal justification for the emergency actions of the Ploughshares activists.

This was followed by testimonies from the four defendants. The prosecutor varied his approach to discredit the activists. The prosecution attempted to condemn O'Reilly by digging up Australian Security Intelligence Organisation files and Interpol reports claiming that O'Reilly was a habitual criminal.

In cross-examination, the prosector asked Moana Cole: what if she awoke to find four people with hammers beating up the Catholic Worker soup van? The activists' defence concluded with a question: "Moana, describe the destructive payload of a Catholic Worker soup van".

Bomber Grounded, Runway Closed is a hardy critique of the US defence and judicial systems, an engaging read, full of facts, humour and reflection. It can be bought by writing to Ciaron O'Reilly, 38 Elbury St, Mitchelton Qld 4055, for $20.00 including postage.

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