By Stephen McKeown and Coleen Rowley
On July 28th 2012, Michael Wali, Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed entered the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee in the pre-dawn hours by cutting a fence. They hoisted banners, spray painted messages, and poured their blood on the nation’s only storage facility for weapons grade highly enriched uranium. They were arrested and immediately charged with misdemeanor trespass. Several dayslater, charges were raised to felony level, so the trio is now facing up to a $600,000 fine and 16 years in prison.
The plant was shut down for security reasons. In Congress, the uproar focused on “how could this have happened?” The “Plowshares” action, rightly named after the Biblical injunction from the prophets Micah and Isaiah to beat swords into ploughshares, comes among similar acts of conscience that always leave authorities wondering how could this have happened? How is it that what they’ve come to see as their ultimate protection and salvation is so easily penetrated? The prosecutor went on and on how horrible this was: “They schemed and planned and coordinated this event. They snuck into the facility under the veil of night. These people are a catalyst for violence- they will offend again.”
However, according to treaties, the “supreme law of the land” according to the Constitution and other international and domestic law, it is the weapons makers and weapons users who should be prosecuted. And many put on trial for Plowshare actions have tried to explain just that. But one would think that the treaty documents are in an alien language, given how most judges strike them from being taken into consideration. Why should the judges really care if it seems that most of the populace doesn’t?
Yet this mainstream apathy was not always the norm. A recently published book by David Swanson “When The World Outlawed War” describes a whole different mindset, one that really existedonly a few generations ago and would turn such prosecutive accusations upon the weapons plants and other makers of war, asking them “how could this have happened?” Imagine this: an 85 to 1 vote was taken in the U.S. Senate which stated that war was to be abolished as an act of state policy; the one dissenting Senator claiming that the treaty law wasn’t strong enough! Imagine again that a Republican U.S. President couldn’t wait to sign it, and imagine again that this treaty was ratified into law. Finally imagine that the law is still on the books. This is not a figment of anyone’s imagination. It is the TRUTH! It’s called the Kellogg-Briand Pact, an international treaty first signed by the United States, France and thirteen other countries on August 27,1928. It was later signed by an additional forty seven countries—almost all of the established nations in the worldat the time—and subsequently declared in force by Herbert Hoover on July 24, 1929. When David Swanson spoke in July at MayDay Books, Minneapolis and at the “Peacestock” gathering in Hager City, WI, he reminded us of the importanceof the world having outlawed war. One of the things that he strongly believes would be helpful in reminding people (including government officials) of this actual historical truth and law would be to declare a national holiday on August 27th. (Photo below is of David Swanson standing outside the Kellogg House during his July visit to Minnesota.)
Given that the co-author of this unique treaty renouncing war was then acting Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg, from Minnesota, who also won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role getting the treaty enacted, it only seems fitting that our Twin Cities VFP chapter take a role in this project. Thus we decided to begin a petition drive to declare a national holiday on August 27 to honor the Kellogg-Briand Pact.
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(Frank Billings Kellogg, 45th United States Secretary of State)
Pursuant to this cause, on August 27, 2012, the 84th anniversary of the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, our small group of Twin Cities Vets for Peace members stood at the doorstep of Frank B. Kellogg’s Historical Landmark House. We first had met with current residents Mike and Liz Gibba, who became the first signers on VFP’s Petition for a Kellogg-Briand Pact National Holiday. (By happy coincidence, Mike Gibba has been a VFP member of the Santa Barbara, CA chapter, prior to moving to St. Paul.)
(Residents of the Kellogg House, Liz and Mike Gibba, become first signatures on the petition to declare a national holiday to honor the Kellogg-Briand Pact.)
Copies of When the World Outlawed War and the Kellogg-Briand Pact document were left with the home’s residents to be placed into the Kellogg House’s library as well as provided to its current owner. VFP members hold copies of the Kellogg-Briand “General Pact for the Renunciation of War”document that contains Kellogg’s own handwritten note: “I will not be satisfied until every home, school, office, factory, church and public building has a framed copy. Your desire expressed will be LAW and GOSPEL to millions. Speak out. Hold not your peace.”
Afterwards, 11 bells were rung using recently and dearly departed VFP member Daniel Fearn’s bell in a short Armistice Day ceremony in the garden behind the Kellogg House. Those who commemorated the 84th anniversary of the signing of the famous international renunciation of war embodied in the Kellogg Briand Pact were inspired to begin collecting signatures on the petition, which we hope will ultimately go national and be used to request Congress to declare August 27 a federal holiday. The Gibbas invited Veterans for Peace members back next year to mark the 85th anniversary of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, at which time we hope to have gathered tens of thousands of signatures.