Two years ago this week, an 84-year-old nun, a carpenter and a Vietnam veteran committed an act of civil disobedience so jarring that history may one day judge it as the most compellingly influential since Rosa Parks.
"We engaged in direct action by cutting through four fences at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the U.S. continues to overhaul and upgrade thermonuclear warheads," Sister Megan Rice wrote.
The Y-12 Complex is one of the most secure places in America. (In certain parts of the complex, guards have shoot-to-kill orders). So to consider that Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli were able to use common bolt cutters to cut through fences and enter the area where the bomb-grade uranium is stored, all while pouring out baby bottles of blood, unrolling yellow 'Crime Scene' tape and spray-painting what one person called "Biblical graffiti" -- The Fruit of Justice is Peace -- before then symbolically hammering on the facility walls, singing "This Little Light of Mine" and taking communion before the guards rushed in is, well, nothing short of miraculous.
(Yes, they offered to break bread with the guards.)
And with all miracles, God is present.
And when God is present, so is love.
And love is exactly the reason the three Christian activists -- known as the Ploughshares Three -- did what they did.
Because they love humanity and believe nuclear weapons are the single greatest threat to our shared existence on this planet.
Because they love America, and believe that the billions spent each year to maintain our nuclear weaponry is an act of theft that diverts money to systems that promote death and not life.
Because they love all nations, and believe all humans have a right to live without fear of nuclear annihilation, for the kingdom of God is never ushered in through violence.
"I know that Jesus Christ and the Blessed Mother do not have an arsenal of any kind," Walli once said.
The three were arrested, tried, found guilty and, in February, sentenced to jail: Rice to three years, Walli and Boertje-Obed to five.
To mark the two-year anniversary of their action -- and with the 69th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings this month -- Rice released a jailhouse letter (read it with the online version of this column).
"Our 'crime' was to draw attention to the criminality of the 70-year-old nuclear industry itself and to the unconscionable fact that the United States spends more on nuclear weapons than on education, health, transportation, and disaster relief combined," she wrote.
The Obama administration has created a 10-year plan that would spend $355 billion to maintain and modernize our nuclear weapons.
"From 2021 to 2023, nuclear costs would average about $29 billion annually, roughly 60 percent higher than the $18 billion requested for 2014," the Congressional Budget Office reported.
In 2011, the U.S. and Russia signed a landmark treaty calling for stockpile reductions by 2018. Yet new legislation -- introduced by Tennessee's U.S. Sen. Bob Corker -- could suspend such disarmaments.
Named the "Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014," Corker's bill would, among other things, prohibit the president from reducing any nuclear weapons delivery systems as long as Russian troops are "threatening the territorial integrity or sovereignty of Ukraine or another European or Eurasian state."
Such vague and indeterminate language would suspend the treaty indefinitely.
Yet in ways that are difficult to acknowledge or track by the mainstream press, the anti-nuclear movement continues to grow.
Earlier this spring, the Marshall Islands -- where the U.S. conducted dozens of nuclear tests -- filed a lawsuit against the U.S. and eight other countries for violating international law.
"The Marshall Islands claims the nine countries are modernizing their nuclear arsenals instead of negotiating disarmament, and it estimates that they will spend $1 trillion on those arsenals over the next decade," The Associated Press reported. (The suit was filed in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.)
Dan Zak, whose brilliant Washington Post piece on that night in Oak Ridge was some of the best journalism of 2013, will publish a book about this. Pulitzer Prize finalist Eric Schlosser attempted to visit Boertje-Obed in jail, but was denied, according to Boertje-Obed.
"Due to not having a prior relationship," Boertje-Obed wrote.
What fallacy. When dealing with the Bomb, we are not strangers. No one is safe from nuclear weapons.
"Only complete nuclear disarmament can save humanity," Rice wrote.
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...