While I was doing my fun little play about Father Carl Kabat’s Good Friday 1994 action yesterday (Saturday August 8) at Tompkins Square Park, the real Carl Kabat was getting himself arrested. Jane Stoever, a member of Peaceworks Kansas City writing for the Nuclear Resister newsletter, relates the story:
On August 9, at about 7 a.m., Fr. Carl Kabat splashed red paint on a National Security Campus sign at the new Kansas City nuclear weapons plant.
“The deed is done,” Kabat told lawyer Henry Stoever in a call at 7:19 a.m. “I came to the back gate—there was a car (a guard’s car) at the main gate. Two guards are coming.” Kabat said something about splashing paint on a sign and then hung up, reported Stoever. “He sounded happy,” added Stoever.
Friends said Kabat, 81, had taken with him a briefcase of baby bottles filled with red paint and planned to “slosh” the paint on a sign at the National Security Campus, home to the new plant in Kansas City, Missouri for making and procuring non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons.
On July 4, 2014, Kabat had “sloshed” red paint from baby bottles on the huge sign at the main entrance to the National Security Campus. His action this August 9, marking the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, follows his civil resistance work since the first Plowshares action in 1980 against nuclear weapons. It also follows Kabat’s actions in July in the past four years on the property of the new plant. The facility, which the federal government identifies as costing $900 million a year to operate, makes or orders 85 percent of the non-nuclear parts for the WMDs, including fuses, wires, radar, security devices, containers for tritium, and the bomb trigger mechanisms.
To give you some idea of Kabat’s actions over the past few years (he shows no sign of slowing down), consider this exchange between Father Carl and a Judge back in April. The question was over the sentence Kabat would have to serve for his July 4, 2014 action, where he sprayed red paint (representing blood) over a sign at the same building. Federal Magistrate Judge Robert E. Larsen was at a quandary of exactly what sort of sentence he should give Father Carl, a man with hundreds of similar convictions and long stays at prison as a result. Judge Larsen asked Carl “what do you recommend? You have a long list of offenses”.
Carl responded “Non-violently shoot me. I work for the reign of the Holy One on this Planet”.
I could leave this story here, leaving you all feeling better about the world. But there’s another point I’d like to make. When I interviewed Kabat on my radio show a couple years ago, he was adamant that the thing that would make a difference to him was not jail support or amnesty from arrest. Instead, he wants us all to take action against the machines of death. And this was the message from the Transform Now Plowshares, the disarmers whose members included 82 year-old Sister Megan Rice. What we owe these activists is our own engagement. Sure, they don’t want to be in prison. But they undertook their actions knowing that they would be arrested. And their goal isn’t getting out of jail without difficulty–their goal was/is an end to nuclear arms on earth. We owe them our time in protest and resistance.
Which brings me to yesterday’s performance in the park. I don’t have anything but praise for the War Resisters League, a group whose members have frequently been the only voices of reason in our hyper-bellicose country. But this year was the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an action which was arguably a war crime. Yes, war crime–the ICJ and other international bodies have decided that there is no morally acceptable way to use nuclear weapons offensively, since such weapons cannot discriminate between combatant and noncombatant, and continue to poison the earth and the creatures on it for years after their use. But the turnout for the event in NYC (over an afternoon) wasn’t more than a few dozen. As I’ve noted before, the Anti-War Left has been missing in action for nearly a decade. Where are the protesters who would mark such events? We’re having a lingering debate about whether Iran should be prohibited from any possession of nuclear weapons, even as the US maintains some 1,800+ warheads in our strategic arsenal. And our president is rattling swords over Ukraine, a country that Russia would go to war over to keep it from being folded into NATO. Obama has also committed to a $1 Trillion nuclear weapons modernization program. There’s no lack of reasons for people to demand the end of these weapons.
And yes–there’s a whole set of other issues demanding our attention. But over the past few weeks, as the performance today approached, I started to think about the way my fellow Boomers are dealing with a laundry list of nigh-insoluble problems–everything from global warming to police shootings to massive income inequality to the probability of extinction within a few decades. And then I remembered the way that nuclear weapons and MAD (mutual assured destruction) was on the minds of Cold War Americans for the two formative decades of the kids of the baby Boom. The construction and deployment of the weapons poisoned the earth and water (google Hanford, Washington). And it also poisoned our minds, making us think that our extermination was around the corner. Seventy years after we let the nuclear genie out of the bottle, it’s time to put it back. Either that, or figure out how to shoot people nonviolently.