Franz Jagerstatter Plowshares – Australia direct disarmament action

Peace activist Bryan Law being taken away in a police car from Rockhampton Airport after he damaged an Australian helicopter. Photo by Chris Ison


For over two months Bryan Law has been telling the authorities and everyone else he was going to disarm a military helicopter during the Talisman/Sabre U.S./Australian military exercises, as an act of  nonviolent resistance to the Afghan war.

Friends and foes alike barely believed it possible. But in broad daylight at 9 a.m. on July 21, Graeme Dunstan helped Law cut the lock on a perimeter fence at Rockhampton Airport and Law, despite very  poor health from diabetes,  rode his tricycle onto the tarmac and  hammered on the helicopter with a garden mattock.

A miracle? One can only think so.

Bryan’s action follows in the tradition of the Ploughshares Movement,  the nonviolent disarmament of weapons of war. Inspiration is found in the Bible scriptures of Isaiah (2:4) and Micah (4:3) where the prophets tell of a time when swords will be beaten into ploughshares, and Nations will no longer prepare for war.

Both men were arrested and held overnight on 4 and 5 different  offenses respectively, before release on bond the next day.  Law was  taken immediately to the hospital to treat his diabetes. Bryan is relatively well and pleased that he was able to carry out a strong act of disarmament that signals his abhorrence for Australia’s  ongoing involvement in overseas wars.

“I can sleep with myself and with my conscience during this abominable war. The Tiger helicopter is a malicious weapon – the same  sort of attack helicopter as the Apache gunship the US’ers use. The  main cause of civilian deaths is when helicopters misfire on civilians when searching out ‘insurgents’ in operations – this is why  I chose this helicopter.”

Bryan Law after damaging Australian Attack helicopter. Photo by Chris Ison/The Morning Bulletin

The Tiger helicopter is worth $40 million: only 2/3 what Australian taxpayers spend EACH DAY on military equipment, operations and personnel.

Bryan had previously said that he would target a U.S. helicopter, but the U.S. has hidden their machinery away from the public eye during this TS11 – even Samuel Hill Airbase has not been used for aircraft. This seems to be a direct response to the threat of protest intervention.

A mattock was chosen to evoke the imagery of Isaiah – that we should turn swords into ploughshares. The mattock is a garden tool that is usually used to prepare the soil for planting and new growth.

Graeme has been charged as an associate in the act and therefore with the same offenses. Above all, both hope that others will find inspiration in their actions and seek their own ways of directly resisting this permanent state of war that Australia finds itself in.

Both are seasoned nonviolent and community activists. Graeme is a military veteran having trained at Duntroon. He has been leading the Peace Convergence by sewing colourful flags, building lanterns and banners as a back drop for all nonviolent actions and protests that have been held.

From Bryan Law’s blog –

Why Ploughshares in Rockhampton?

Here’s some information and thinking about where I’m up to in what I call “resistance to Talisman Sabre”.  For me, Talisman Sabre is a tactical opportunity to pursue the path against war and for peace.

In December 2005 I met with Jessica Morrison, Adele Goldie and Sean O’Reilly as part of a citizen’s inspection of Pine Gap.  Jim Dowling, Donna Mulhearn, Terry Spackman were there too, but Jessica, Adele, and Sean had all been at that year’s Peace Convergence.  Jessica and Adele had been arrested, and the Pine Gap bus took in their trial in Rockhampton on its way from Brisbane to Alice Springs.

So the events of Peace Convergence were discussed a lot as we made the long trip to Pine Gap.  We all think about how to contribute to the peace movement, and how to create synergies that amplify our power – even while we are few and widely dispersed.  In fact, because we are few and widely dispersed, we HAVE TO amplify our power and create synergies.

The Pine Gap 4 stood trial in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory in June 2007.  Jessica, June, Sean, and Adele were there (Adele as a defendant).  We were part of a 30 strong community of Christian, Gandhian and Secular peace activists supporting each other through a process of trial, activism, love, and empowerment.

The trial was a peak experience for all of us.  We achieved a lot. I’d been expecting to go to prison for around a year afterwards, so I hadn’t made any plans to go to the 07 Peace Convergence.  Neither had Adele.  But June and Jessica had.  Among the trial community they told us of their plans to trespass into the Training Area, and attempting to disrupt the military by their undetected presence.

As it turned out, Judge Sally Thomas refused to imprison us, even though the prosecution argued for a custodial sentence “with actual time served”.  We’d made a lot of friends in that Courtroom over 12 days.  So I was literally free to go to Peace Convergence 07 to see for myself how it was happening.

It was colourful and grand.  There were some problems managing conflict.  You can read my assessment of TS07 here.  Adele was there too, and we limited ourselves to support roles.  So that afterwards we could go back to “normal” life for a while.  As it turned out the Crown appealed our sentence (they really wanted us to do time).  So we all went to Darwin in February 08, and ended up making a little legal history as our Counsel the Hon Ron Merkel won us an acquittal on the first ever use of the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952.  (In January 2009 the Australian Parliament amended the legislation to deny future activists the legal opportunities we disclosed).

Although I had a heart attack and bypass surgery in 2008, I made a commitment to create Martin Luther King Jr House at Yeppoon in June 2009, trying to learn from 07 and improve the trespass strategy. With mixed results.  We majorly improved the effectiveness of trespass actions, but had problems managing conflict.  You can read my assessment of it here.

You can find a lot of activist’s stories and media coverage here.

I’ve also enjoyed a busy activist life in Cairns for 18 years now, and in Brisbane for 16 years before that.  My understanding has evolved for all of that time, and I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m ready to carry forward into a ploughshares action.  I think it will be effective, and you can read the first public declaration of that intention (published in December 2010) here.

So here we are in 2011, and my intentions are to once again put theory into action and see if I can’t improve the organisation of nonviolent action at the 09 Peace Convergence.  I’ve contributed three months of my life, first to do advance work in Rockhampton (networking and public relations), then to support and carry out NVDA.

If I’m successful, I’ll spend a few years in prison, which is in effect a life sentence.  My convictions and faith make that OK for me.  I feel like I’m doing the right thing.

I also feel like I’m making a contribution to the peace movement, and to the Peace Convergence.  I’m finding a very positive reception in Rockhampton, with lots of recognition and interest.  By the time TS11 starts we’ll have a public awareness where many people in Rockhampton and district will have a range of views and options available to them that haven’t been available before.

I really wish that people critical of what I and Graeme are doing were here to see the reality on the ground in Rockhampton.  Meanwhile read the blogs. and

Those who are interested enough to read the assessments, and the published material will quickly realise that I’m working consistently, in an accessible manner, to develop and assist in building an effective peace movement.

I welcome informed and constructive criticism.