The Trial of Depleted Uranium
By Phil Berrigan, member, Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium.
Lest the reader suffer confusion over the title, let it be said - there isn't any trial. No indictment, no trial. Nor is there likely to be one. No trial, despite the unthinkable crime of waging nuclear war for the second time in Iraq, and the third time in Yugoslavia. No trial, despite the staggering death toll in Iraq - as high as two million since 1991 - the harvest of American sanctions and Depleted Uranium (DU). No trial, despite the deaths of over 400 American veterans of Desert Storm - victims of cancer, respiratory, liver and kidney failure. No trial, despite the chronic illnesses of 110,000 veterans, all of them uninformed about the deadliness of DU. No trial, despite the pitiable appearance of "jellyfish" babies born to Iraqi, British and American soldiers exposed to DU. No trial, despite the Pentagon's refusal to clean up DU in Kuwait and Iraq. No trial, despite an American "give away" program of DU to a score of "friendly:" nations - a blank check to build their own nuclear weapons, fight their own nuclear wars, and further contaminate the planet with radioactivity.
No trial by the media, no trial by pulpits, no trial on campuses, no trial by politicians, no trial by public opinion. Veterans' groups and the peace movement have raised a little noise over DU, but overall, no trial. And especially, no trial by nonviolent civil resistance.
The volume of silence over these hellish weapons is surreal, numbing, stupefying. How to explain it?
In a 55 year love affair with the bomb, Americans have not measured the cost of this idolatry - spiritual numbing, social denial, moral paralysis. A $19 trillion price tag since 1940 for past, present, and future wars suggests our addiction to war and bloodshed. ("Your heart is where your treasure is.") The War Department is a master at suppressing the media - "control the media and win the war."
We still bomb Iraq - monasteries, grain fields, little shepherds, and their flocks - but few know about it. The war-makers understand that suppression of key facts, lies and disinformation leave the public uncertain and confused. Confused especially about what to do.
What to do? There's the rub - something that will witness to Christ's victory over death, and God's sovereignty over life. How about enacting the prophecy of Isaiah ("They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.") How about "loving enemies" as Christ did, even as we realize that enemies must be protected to be loved? How about reminding sick and dying Gulf War veterans that the Pentagon judges them expendable? How about allowing action to speak for us, of the absolute necessity of disarmament? How about a public expression of faith and sanity in a society that appears to have lost both?
Disarming the A-10s
Such concerns impelled us to disarm the A-10 Warthogs. Even in the company of other terrible engines of war, the Warthog is a monstrosity. Imagine it strafing a village with DU. People are dead, buildings splintered, trees and vegetation blasted, the air, soil and water infected with radioactivity. The Warthog is an engine of Hell - it has no right to exist.
Liz Walz, a Catholic Worker from Philadelphia, and I hammered on the Warthogs gatling gun, the weapons pylons under its wings, its undercarriage and fuselage. Susan Crane and Steve Kelly addressed another Warthog. The hammer is a universal tool and symbol, addressing every adult with the need for disarmament. People made these hellish weapons; people must unmake them.
We poured our blood on the fuselage. Steve Kelly seized a ladder, mounted a wing and poured blood into a jet engine. As members of Christ's Body, our blood seals the new covenant of nonviolence and non-killing. We will not kill, so help us God. And we will prevent others from killing, so help us God.
Therein lies the bottom line - resistance to killing by others. Millions of decent people will not kill, but few will prevent others from killing. The killers lurk in governments and the military, transnationals and banks - they are quiet, well-manicured terrorists who often kill under the law.
If we desire peace we must stop the killing in war, the killing on death row, killing of the unborn and elderly. The commandment: "Thou shalt not kill!" is absolutely elementary and pivotal. Until we honor the image of God in the neighbor, until we eliminate our sins of omission (we can protect others but we don't), until we understand that we can't believe or love until we stop the killing, the pursuit of disarmament, justice and peace is a melodrama of contradiction and futility.
We take no credit for putting the DU on trial. God's law has already found it guilty. International law has already found it a war crime. When Americans find the faith to stop the killing, the prophecy of Isaiah and the Sermon on the Mount will become the ultimate political statements. We will then outlaw DU and place it with other nuclear weapons, in the dustbin of history.