Yearly Archives: 2007

Caught in the Crossfire of Collateral Damage

Catholic Peace Action

February 2007

Dear Friend,

Apologies for not corresponding sooner, but we hope you will have a more than vague memory of the now traditional Ash Wednesday repentance and resistance demonstrations at the Ministry of Defence.

Ash Wednesday this year is 21 February 2007.

Along with Pax Christi, we invite you to join us at the Ministry of Defence in London to say NO, through prayer and symbolic actions of repentance, to nuclear war preparations and the replacement of Trident.  We will meet at 3.00pm in Embankment Gardens (nearest tube Embankment Station).

If you wish to take part in nonviolent direct action on the day, or indeed any other day during Lent, and so risk arrest, prior preparation is required so please contact us or Pax Christi (020 8203 4884;info@paxchristi.org.uk;www.paxchristi.org.uk).

Yours in the peace, and peacemaking-spirit, of Christ

Catholic Peace Action
Dan and Carmel Martin, and Pat Gaffney

“Unconscionable”

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales (as distinct from individual Bishops) have finally issued a statement that gives me hope and encouragement for our peace work.  From their statement of Nov. 21, 2006 this gem of a sentence appears:

“Our judgment is that, by decommissioning its nuclear weapons, the UK now has a unique opportunity to offer the international community an approach to security and legitimate self-defense without the unconscionable threat of nuclear destruction.”

When I look for the meaning of the word ‘unconscionable’ at dictionary.com I find these results:

“Not guided by conscience; unscrupulous; not in accordance with what is just or reasonable: unconscionable behaviour; excessive; extortionate: an unconscionable profit.

“Not restrained by conscience; unscrupulous: unconscionable behaviour; Beyond prudence or reason; excessive: unconscionable spending.

“lacking a conscience; “a conscienceless villain”; “brash, unprincipled, and conscienceless”; “an unconscionable liar”

“Greatly exceeding bounds of reason or moderation; unreasonably unfair to one party, marked by oppression, or otherwise unacceptably offensive to public policy…”

What all the Bishops of this country now find ‘unconscionable’, the people of the church and this country must now make politically unacceptable and indeed impossible. 

Dan Martin

For the Record  —  Lent 2006

Sister Susan Clarkson, Lent 2006

From Ash Wednesday, 1 March to Wednesday of Holy Week, 12 April, the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, Central London, was the scene of many acts of resistance against nuclear war preparations of this Government.

During the six week period of Lent, the Building was marked with blessed charcoal on eight occasions.  The Markers, who risked arrest for each act of resistance, were Sr. Susan Clarkson, Fr Martin Newell and Dan Martin.  Friends saying prayers, holding banners and handing-out leaflets, supported them.

The repentance and resistance season for Christians began early in the morning.  The three, along with a few friends began with prayer and a blessing of the charcoal and ash   The blessing of the ash and charcoal was done by Fr John Concanon.  At the front entrance of the MoD, the three Markers wrote or attempted to write ‘Repent’ and ‘God says: No to new nuclear weapons’, ‘No to Trident’.  The police confiscated the charcoal and escorted them to the bottom of the stairs, where the group handed out leaflets to workers and passers-by and held a banner.  No arrests were made.

The largest of the Lent 2006 gatherings occurred later in the day on Ash Wednesday.  About 60-70 supporters gathered for a liturgy and supportive presence to marking that occurred earlier and was to take place again as an intrinsic part of the prayers for peace and communal repentance.

The process of marking our own foreheads with the ashes of repentance occurred on both occasions.  The participants acknowledge their own sin and complicity with the evil of nuclear weapons.  And, as in the morning, we then brought that same blessed ash and charcoal to the MoD to encourage repentance of and resistance to the nuclear weapon war preparations of this country.

This process, going on its 24th year, reflects the personal and social components of sin and echoes the Pope’s message of Ash Wednesday:

‘”Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). It is an invitation to make firm and confident adherence to the Gospel the foundation of personal and communal renewal.’

In the presence of the prayerful supporters and during the liturgy, the MoD was marked again with the words ‘Repent’.  No arrests were made; the prayers continued; the work for peace encouraged. 

During the Lenten witness the response from the staff was more extreme than usual.  Supporters came from London, Oxford and Kent. 

STAFF

The reactions seemed were more extreme than in the past – both in support and in disagreement.

One called what we did ‘terrorism’.  This word was preceded by a few choice adjectives.

Another man in a naval uniform walked out the building and away from us then turned around.  He came up to Angela and Dan who were holding a banner and said: ‘I have something to say, I have something to say: I am a Christian and what you are doing is a disgrace to Christianity.’

Dan Martin, Lent 2006  

Another young man stopped before going into the building: ‘I agree with you that nuclear weapons are wrong but Jesus would not and did not break the law.’  Carmel replied: ‘You need to re-read your Bible.’

Many were genuinely friendly and apparently supportive and glad of our presence.

Security Personnel

The response from the security personnel was mostly calm and sometimes even friendly.  During the early morning of Ash Wednesday the cold was obvious to all of us.  One police officer offered to get Dan some gloves while he handed out leaflets.  Later in the day, Dan marked the building again and the same officer said in a disappointed manner, ‘And I was going to let you borrow some gloves this morning.’  Dan asked him to not take it personally.  A few during Lent recognised that while they had a job to do so too did we. 

Officer: ‘You have committed criminal damage.’  Dan: ‘Prove it.’  Officer: ‘It is all on CCTV, but we are constrained from proceeding to prosecution.’

By the third day of our witness we were threatened with arrest should be continue our witness.  The same threats were repeated on other days.

On another day, and for the first time, two officers came into the park where we gather for prayer and preparations before walking to the MoD.  They said if we proceeded to do our usual work we would be arrested and a civil prosecution taken out on us by the owners of the Building.  The MoD police would not do it but the owners of the building would proceed with a civil prosecution.  This curious and confused message did not put us off, since we had been prepared all along for the possibility arrest and the opportunity to make our defence in the court. 

On another occasion a senior officer ordered us to move our protest and presence a meter and a half further away from the MOD, so we would be standing on the public footpath.  ‘We respect your right to protest but you must do so off the MoD property.  You need to move further away from the steps and on the other side of the line that separates the public footpath and the MoD.’  He tried to call us together, interrupting our leafleting in order to speak to us.  Sr. Susan stayed standing at the bottom of the steps, continued to hand out leaflets, and said ‘I can hear you just fine where I am.’  Dan agreed and added ‘I am not moving off MoD property.’  What followed was a 45 minute discussion as to the significance of the line in the pavement, our position, and the morality or otherwise of nuclear weapons, as well as continued leafleting.

Twice the markers and once a supporter were subject to a formal Stop and Search.  Both Martin and Dan refused to give them their name and other personal details.  This lack of information might frustrate civil prosecutions.

On another occasion we changed out usual time of marking because the police figured out our Friday pattern.  Getting there at 7 a.m. was a shock to them.  One PC said: ‘It looks like you discovered your alarm clock.’  And as Susan, Dan and Angela were being shouted at by one security man, Martin, unnoticed, continued to write whole sentences.  One in big letters read: ‘Thus says the Lord: disarm your hearts and your nuclear weapons too!’

On the final day, the final approach from the senior officer was a question and warning: ‘Who is in charge?’  And ‘you must ask for permission to demonstrate otherwise you will be liable for arrest.’  Dan’s response: ‘We have been protesting here for 25 years and have never asked permission.’

The nuclear war preparations of this Government are likely to continue.  People of faith will continue to respond to this immoral and illegal situation. 

Caught in the Crossfire of Collateral Damage

By Ray Towey

Sometimes one particular patient can cause you to pause and reflect and Martha Okello,(not her real name but the photo is of herself and her mother with permission) a 10 year old girl and patient on the Intensive Care Unit, ICU, for 2 months is one patient whose story I would like to share. She was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army a few months ago, a rebel group that has been fighting the government troops in Northern Uganda for 20 years and when the government troops caught up with the rebels she was shot in the leg in the crossfire. The wound was bad but not so severe that she needed intensive care but one week later she developed a condition known as tetanus caused by a wound infection.

Many thousands of people and many of them babies die from tetanus in Africa each year and it is a very distressing condition and often a very painful death. The body is thrown into very strong spasms which look like epilepsy and without treatment and even with the limited treatment in Africa most will die from failure to breathe.

So I first came across Martha when she was admitted with tetanus in the ICU earlier this year. Our first line drugs were not working so we decided after much thought to use a treatment which is more expensive and more challenging to all the staff because it meant she would need to have a tracheostomy, a surgical opening in her neck, and would need to be placed on a ventilator for 3 weeks which is a big commitment of care from our nurses and clinicians.

Even with this care we could not guarantee a cure but it was her only hope and we embarked upon it. As you can see from her photo taken just a few weeks ago she survived and although her leg is still in the process of healing she should leave hospital well. Martha has a very wonderful smile as you can see in the photo and she often came to visit us in the ICU after she was discharged back to the ward and all the staff were delighted in her visits and in her obvious gratitude. So what have we learnt from Martha and what do I reflect upon?

In a medical context with the help of your donations we have found that for the bigger children tetanus can be successfully treated with both first line drugs such as magnesium and also with a tracheostomy and ventilation. Tetanus is a major killer in Africa but at least for the bigger children in our setting there is some hope. Our current priority is to buy another ventilator and continue to obtain more tracheostomy tubes from the donations we have.

In 20 years of practice in UK I cannot recall ever seeing a single patient with tetanus because with a few cheap injections almost the whole population is immunised against this condition. In Africa the extreme poverty of the medical infrastructure of basic healthcare means that many thousands are just not immunised adequately and in an area with 20 years of insecurity and with thousands of children being abducted to be sex slaves or child soldiers the weak infrastructure collapses completely. 

She is a victim of war in many ways. She was shot in the crossfire and that was a direct result but she was not immune from the complications of such wounds and that makes her a double effect casualty of war. She is the human face of the so called collateral damage of war and it is all preventable. The evidence is clear that when war comes malnutrition and diseases increase. When human beings choose the violent solution the children die. The LRA rebels believe the ten commandment of the Judeo-Christian faith should be the basis of a new government. As usual all protagonists in war claim to have God on their side. This seems to be true in Europe as in Africa and the Middle East. It is not a God I can recognise as to me the God who loves the poor does not inflict collateral damage on children.

Even in parts of Africa where there is no violent conflict tetanus remains a major cause of death. The healthcare infrastructure is very fragile as there are just too little funds available. If a small fraction of the money spent on war was directed to healthcare we would see a major change. Every global preventable disease is the collateral damage of our global wrong choices. It could be so different if we made a better choice for life. The sad truth is that most children like Martha just don’t survive but we thank God for the part we and our donors have made in her recovery and pray for a change of heart in those who justify war and its inevitable collateral damage and waste of resources.

Dr Ray Towey, rmtowey@tiscali.co.uk, was a long-time member of CPA. This article was published in his August 2006 Newsletter as a medical missionary in Uganda with the Volunteer Missionary Movement.  His support website is www.africanmission.org.uk.