A 40th anniversary Plowshares Eight reflection from Dean Hammer

Dean Hammer

Filled with Gratitude for the Plowshares Conspiracy of Hope

by Dean Hammer

“It will take a long time before we really understand what we did at GE King of Prussia.” Phil Berrigan shared this reflection with me during a jail yard walk shortly after the Plowshares 8 action. This is one of the many gems from this treasured teacher and friend. When we did the Plowshares 8 action, we had no idea that over a hundred plowshares actions in the U.S., Europe, and Australia would follow ours. Indeed, this is amazing grace.

I share the following reflections with deep thanks for Phil’s leadership with Liz McAlister, the Atlantic Life Community, and the global network that evolved the past forty years. This resistance community provided immeasurable passion and skill to create, sustain, and expand the Plowshares movement. The gracious, wise, and stalwart spirits of Daniel Berrigan, Anne Montgomery, and Elmer Maas continue to inspire us in their heavenly witness — I feel buoyed by their vital presence in my life. The persistent lived commitment to peace and justice by Molly Rush, John Schuchardt, and Carl Kabat is a great blessing, bearing light in dark times.

As I ponder the meaning of the Plowshares in the context of the COVID Pandemic and the rising outcry for racial and economic justice, Martin Luther King’s teaching on the triplet evils (militarism, racism, and economic oppression) keeps coming to mind. The Plowshares witness especially challenges the militarism dimension: 1) renouncing our allegiance to the justification of mass killing with nuclear weapons; 2) taking responsibility for the threat of omnicide by disarming nuclear weapons as an act of service; and 3) exposing the complicity of the judicial system that protects the production, deployment, and intent to use nuclear weapons. The eight of us entered a conspiracy of hope — claiming with our lives: “The world is made safer and more just every time a nuclear weapon is disarmed. We cannot coexist with nuclear weapons.”

I have been hearing the echoes of Phil’s voice: “truth converges,” a central Gandhian principle. Derek Chauvin’s knee on the neck of George Floyd is now a horrific image of systematic violence and racism. This is also iconic for the Superpowers Syndrome (Lifton, 2003) and the terror of nuclear annihilation. The human family cannot breathe with nuclear weapons on our neck, and we scream out for relief. Nuclear war will be the final pandemic. There will not be any social distancing in the event of nuclear winter.

The Plowshares 8 witness remains a beacon of hope in a world defiled by nuclear weapons. The forty years of Plowshares actions serve as a countervailing force to the psychological and spiritual entrapment created by nuclear weapons. The very existence of WMD’s (weapons of mass destruction) wounds the collective imagination and renders a radical futurelessness [highlighted by Lifton in Indefensible Weapons]. This collective trauma deprives the present of its full meaning and joy. The succession of disarmament actions challenges the social madness of nuclear weapons and helps to heal the moral imagination. Yes, these monstrous objects can be disarmed one hammer blow at a time.  

The pending sentencing for the Kings Bay Plowshares and Steve Kelly’s continued jail witness since April 5, 2018 create a gravity point for the writing of this reflection. I give deep thanks for the ways the Plowshares communities of the past forty years have poured out their lives on our behalf and for keeping the light of this conspiracy of hope burning brightly.

[Dean Hammer lives in Vermont where he works as a peace and justice activist and a psychotherapist. He can be contacted at: dhammer.psyd@gmail.com.]