Compressing the Gap Between Nuclear and Conventional Weapons

by Philip Berrigan

January 22, 2001


Ed. Note: In March 2000, the Rev. Philip Berrigan was trialed and sentenced to 30 months in prison for malicious destruction of property and conspiracy. What destruction of property? What conspiracy? He explained in this piece that he wrote just before the beginning of his trial. For the record, note that what he "destroyed" belonged as much to him as to you and me, as we, the tax payers, own these killing machines and we are responsible for their use and the consequences of their use.



The 20th century has been dubbed "the bloodiest of centuries," with over 200 million dead from war. How many more are crippled physically, psychologically, spiritually by war? Four hundred million? How many more victimized and destroyed by the spirit of war--genocides, tortures, disappearances, gulags, pogroms, economic sanctions? Incalculable! How many are alive today who have not been scarred in some way by war? The harvest of death and destruction from war is appalling, stupefying.

The 20th century's wars reveal a dramatic shift from the number of soldiers killed in war to a huge increase in the number of civilians killed in war; as well as the introduction of nuclear weapons, more efficient weaponry and the development of entire economies--such as that of the United States--based on war. Unless these trends are checked and reversed, the bloody 20th century will become a template for the 21st.

What does the general silence over war from pulpits, Congress, the media, campuses and business communities indicate except a sullen insistence on the right to kill one another? As I have asked these questions during the past year, I watched as the United States used "depleted uranium" with its special bomber, the "A-10 Warthog," not only in Iraq but on Yugoslavia.

As my friends brought back reports of fatalities from the scourge of economic sanctions on Iraq, they also spoke of witnessing hideously deformed "jellyfish babies," Iraqi children reminiscent of children born out of our nuclear testing in the South Pacific. These cruelly deformed children are the children of fathers who were exposed to depleted uranium during the Gulf War and recent bombings.

Just before the war ended in Yugoslavia, NATO admitted firing depleted uranium again, using the A-10 Warthog in the Balkans. "My God," I thought, "the nuclear alchemists have succeeded in doing something that they've tried to do for decades, compress the gap between nuclear and conventional weapons." It hit me with crushing force that our warriors were fighting with nuclear weapons again. Whatever faint illusion I had about American goodwill toward disarmament fled abruptly.

I found my anti-war friends, staunchly biblical and committed to nonviolence, slow to comprehend the ominous nature of depleted uranium. This mystified me. Was this another instance of the Bomb covering its tracks, creating a demonic aura around itself that befuddled and obscured sensitive consciences? Whatever the case, it helped to explain the virtual absence of resistance to our nuclear warring in Iraq and Yugoslavia.

A depleted uranium shell, fired from an A-10, strikes a tank or personnel carrier, quickly penetrates the armor and burns the crew alive. Meanwhile, its impact aerosolizes radioactive heavy-metal particles, scattering them up to 25 miles, to be breathed or ingested. These dustlike particles are not only carcinogenic, they are genetically destructive. Hence, the chronically ill or deformed children of Desert Storm veterans.

Susan Crane, Liz Walz, Steve Kelly and I decided to engage in a Plowshares action aimed at depleted uranium. We chose December 19, the last Sunday of Advent, an appropriate time to enact the conversion and atonement needed to welcome Jesus into this deranged world. We saw our act as public worship and reparation for our sins and those of our country.

At 4 a.m., we cut the chain locking an antiquated gate (the "security" around our nation's weaponry is often a joke) at the Warfield Air National Guard Base in Essex, MD, and discovered two rows of A-10 Warthogs parked on the tarmac, some 100 yards from the gate.

We picked two Warthogs and hammered on them to remind Americans that these perverted aircraft fired 95 percent of all depleted uranium munitions during the Iraqi and Yugoslavian wars, and that they must be disarmed. The World Court maintains that use of the A-10 and its depleted uranium is illegal. We maintain that they have no right to exist.

Liz Walz and I hammered first on the Gatling gun protruding like a shark's snout from the nose of the A-10. Then, we struck the bomb and missile pylons beneath the wings, and then the undercarriage. Finally, we poured our blood on to the fuselage. Susan and Steve did similar disarmament on the other Warthog.

Our disarmament of the A-10 and depleted uranium munitions was certainly symbolic, but no less real. We kept our action symbolic by refusing to do the maximum damage possible, to show the universal need and possibility of disarmament. We represented everyone in disarming these deadly planes. In turn, everyone has a responsibility to disarm nuclear weapons and all weapons of war.

Philip Berrigan can be reached at #995-923, Baltimore County Detention Center, 44 Kenilworth Drive, Towson MD 21204


Philip Berrigan, a Catholic pacifist, is a member of Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium. He was condemned to 30 months in prison in March 2000 for disarming two A-10 Thunderbolt planes.

Published under the provision of U.S. Code, Title 17, section 107.


Related links

Apocalypse Now by Aleksandra Priestfield

Depleted Uranium: The Balkans Syndrome by Gilles d'Aymery

Depleted Uranium and Depleted Public Opinion by Gilles d'Aymery

Compressing the Gap Between Nuclear and Conventional Weapons by Philip Berrigan

Millennial Message by David Krieger

Short Excerpts of "I Had Seen Castles" by Cynthia Rylant



Resources on the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath


Articles Published on Swans Regarding the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath


Published January 22, 2001
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