On Ash Wednesday, Feb. 12, Bath resident Bruce Gagnon began a hunger strike as part of an effort to stop $60 million in state funds being shoveled to “defense” contractor General Dynamics (owner of Bath Iron Works). In a country addicted to serial war-making at the expense of its citizenry, Gagnon was likely to be hungry for some time. But the resistance of which he is a part may briefly uncover a few dirty little secrets – again. If anyone is interested.

Twenty-one years ago, on Ash Wednesday 1997, six members of the group Prince of Peace Plowshares made a somewhat less sedate statement. They entered BIW property, boarded the Aegis destroyer USS The Sullivans and “enacted disarmament,” symbolically beating the death-dealing “sword” into – if not a plowshare – at least something less lethal. They used household hammers and sprayed their own blood, as metaphor, on the missile hatches and control gizmos in the vessel’s bridge.

After the group’s arraignment in West Bath, local network affiliate anchor Dan Harris asked Phil Berrigan, “Why did you do it?” Berrigan responded matter-of-factly, “That ship had no right to exist.” Further, he said, it represented “a theft from the poor.”

Though now long forgotten, similar sentiments were officially expressed by President Dwight Eisenhower – 1953 was a simpler time, perhaps: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies … a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” After listing various societal infrastructure needs that could otherwise be funded, spurning appropriations for such murder weapons, he announced, “This is not a way of life at all … it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Sixty-five years after Eisenhower’s “Cross of Iron” speech, and 21 years after the Plowshares’ action, we’re still hangin’… haughty, bloody-minded and lethally inclined.

Richard Rhames


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