Nuclear Arms Resistance
"Beat swords into plowshares" - Isaiah 2:4
In September 1980, Daniel and Philip Berrigan and six other peace activists infiltrated the General Electric Nuclear Missile Facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Inspired by the biblical verse Isaiah 2:4, “beat swords into Plowshares,” the group became known as the Plowshares 8.
To “beat swords into plowshares” means to take weapons of destruction and turn them into something for a useful, nonviolent purpose. The peacemakers poured blood over blueprints and hammered the nosecones that guide nuclear warheads. This was the first of many Plowshares actions.
The Plowshares Movement
The anti-nuclear Plowshares movement opposes the development and stockpile of nuclear weapons. In symbolic disarmament actions, peacemakers will often spill containers of their own blood or use hammers to damage parts of the facilities or weapons themselves.
Although Plowshares peacemakers are committed to nonviolence, engaging in this kind of resistance puts activists at great risk. To access these weapons, activists must infiltrate military bases or government facilities.
As a result, Plowshares actions often result in arrests, charges of destruction of federal property, and even imprisonment.
The decisions to participate in Plowshares protests were not made lightly. In his autobiography, Dan Berrigan explained:
“Everyone stood to lose—nearly everything except our lives. The biggest loss, the one that loomed most fearsomely, was the prospect of years in prison, consequent family ruptures. And other losses: our good name and, as we saw it, our good work in the world.”
White House and Pentagon Protests
Plowshares activists also engaged in other forms of anti-nuclear protest. These efforts include protests at the Pentagon and White House.
Like his brothers Daniel and Philip, Jerry actively engaged in anti-war and anti-nuclear efforts throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Despite the risks of arrest and detention, he joined a prayer vigil outside of the White House and spilled vials of his own blood on the floor of the Pentagon.
This section features images from a fraction of the dozens of Plowshares actions that have occurred throughout the United States and around the world since the first Plowshares action in Kings of Prussia, Pennsylvania on September 9, 1980.
Kings Bay Plowshares 7
On April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 infiltrated the United States naval base at Kings Bay, Georgia. This group of seven peacemakers included Carmen Trotto, Patrick O’Neill, Elizabeth McAlister, Steve Kelly SJ, Martha Hennesy, Clare Grady, and Mark Colville. Like Dr. King, they opposed “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.”
The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 argued that building and stockpiling nuclear weapons at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base constituted a war crime. The group indicted the United States government for violating international treaty law under the Constitution, the United Nations Charter, the Nuremberg Principles, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty through its sponsorship of the Trident nuclear program.
Split into three groups, the activists set out to symbolically disarm the world’s largest nuclear submarine port. They marked Trident nuclear missiles and submarines at the base with their own blood to make the weapons’ criminal and violent nature visible. Each of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 was arrested and charged with breaking and entering and destruction of federal property. For this action, they faced up to 25 years in prison.