Don’t fracture the peace.
I repeat: Do not fracture the peace — even though the silence of that peace masks the violence of war.
Do not fracture the peace of a peaceful Sunday — even though during that peace thousands of U.S. service members and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are being killed.
Do not fracture the peace — even though the resurrection being celebrated on Easter Sunday is the resurrection of the one who in the Christian faith is the ultimate fracturer of the peace, a peace that masks overwhelming violence.
Don’t fracture the peace.
The Holy Name 6 became fracturers of the peace on Easter Sunday at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. Interrupting the homily of Cardinal George and dramatizing the blood being spilt in Iraq, they poured staged blood upon themselves with spatters damaging the carpet (and, quite unintentionally and inadvertently, the clothing of nearby parishioners.) The six now face up to 5 years in prison on a felony charge of property damage.
Their action invites us into deeper consideration and contemplation of what our response ought to be to challenge and end the war in and occupation of Iraq. It is a challenge and invitation to all of us — and to each of us — to deepen and intensify our nonviolent resistance to the Iraq - Afghanistan war, for their action was deeply rooted in nonviolence.
The Holy Name 6 are enduring great criticism for their action. Property was damaged. People were disturbed. Sensibilities were challenged. And those engaged in the action are all so young.
This all takes me back to 1985, as I prepared for and acted to dismantle Project ELF, then a key component of the U.S. nuclear weapons offensive first strike war strategy (ELF, closed in 2004, would transmit the message to U.S. nuclear missile submarines to initiate a nuclear world war). Both before and after this Plowshares - Disarmament action, I grappled with criticisms similar to those faced by the Holy Name 6 — property damage. Property is considered sacred in our country. Property becomes valued more than human lives. Nuclear weapons and weapons of war are considered to be property to be protected infinitely more so than human lives. Carpeting becomes more valued than human lives.
Is it truly so outrageous that a carpet is damaged while attempting to end a war that has already resulted in the deaths of over 4000 U.S. military personnel and well over 500,000 — and perhaps over 1 million Iraqis (a number which will likely never be known)? Is this minimal property damage so outrageous as to warrant felony charges and up to five years in prison?
The Archdiocese asserts that it will cost over $3000 to replace a damaged carpet. By way of comparison, the U.S. Navy claimed that in damaging Project ELF I caused about $4700 in damages with a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison. Also by way of comparison, after pouring my own blood inside of a pornography store in Minnesota (to dramatize the violence against women and children) the maximum penalty I faced was 6 months in jail.
Do we as a country and as a people truly value the fabric of a carpet more than we value the lives of Iraqis? The U.S. military blows up a home and we call it “collateral damage”, and go on with our lives. A piece of fabric is damaged and the full power of the state is called upon to squelch the dissenters.
Don’t disturb people’s sensibilities. Act within the normative discourse of the day. Don’t step outside the acceptable confines of dissent or public action.
In preparing to disarm Project ELF, I encountered the question: would an act of disarmament — of nonviolent damage of the Navy’s nuclear first strike component — step outside of the normative discourse of dissent and thereby alienate people and hamper efforts to prevent Project ELF from becoming fully operative?
It’s a practical question that should be considered in preparing to act. Yet in times of great crisis, it becomes incumbent upon us to engage in actions that pose the risk of fracturing alliances as well as that pose the risk of alienation. Now is such a time of crisis, with a majority of U.S. citizens opposing the war in Iraq, but with a majority also seemingly unwilling to engage in even the least risky of legal (let alone extralegal) actions to bring about the war’s end. We are left with a normative political discourse that would leave current levels of troops in Iraq indefinitely (should John McCain become President) or establish a floor of 40,000 to 60,000 troops in Iraq for the next five to 10 years (should Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton become President).
And aren’t the Holy Name 6 (being 18 to 25 years old) just all too young to be engaging in this form of action? They really ought to grow up a little bit, gain the wisdom of years and then think about what they have and haven’t done.