The Oak Ridge Three were finally sentenced to prison yesterday.
I’ve long covered this case of the peace activists who in July 2012 broke into part of the Oak Ridge nuclear facility in an incident reminiscent of the “Plowshares” protests made famous by Dan and Phil Berrigan and their colleagues. Yesterday Sister Megan Rice, a quite vigorous elderly nun, was sentenced to nearly three years in the pen and her two comrades—Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli—nearly twice that.
No need to point out the sentences handed down to criminals ranging from mass murdering soldiers in Iraq to Wall Street crooks.
Last year, my friend William O’Rourke sent me a piece he’d just written very much related to this case, and I posted it here at The Nation. It seems appropriate to re-post it today.
O’Rourke is one of the most cogent writers on the history of Catholic anti-war and anti-nuclear activism. I’ve known him since the 1970s, when he wrote book reviews for me at Crawdaddy. He is best known for his acclaimed book, The Harrisburg 7 and the New Catholic Left from 1972, but he has also written numerous other non-fiction books and novels (full bio here).
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by William O’Rourke
Last year, in April, there was a weekend event in Harrisburg, PA, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the trial of the Harrisburg 7, which had ended in 1972, with a hung jury on the major counts—conspiring to kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up heating tunnels in Washington, DC—and convictions on minor contraband counts, smuggling letters in and out of a Federal prison in Lewisburg, PA.
The Harrisburg trial became the capstone of a number of anti-war trials that had begun in the 1960s, some involving the Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip, most notably the case of the Catonsville 9; these trials had marked the new Catholic Left’s ascendancy in the public eye as symbols of “nonviolent” resistance to the Vietnam war. Though the government “lost” the Harrisburg 7 trial, its fomenters, J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI, won what they were after: to besmirch the reputations of the Berrigans and the larger Catholic Left resistance movement and to knock them from the high moral pillar they occupied.
A reissue of my 1972 book, The Harrisburg 7 and the New Catholic Left, had appeared a month before, so I gave the keynote address following a panel on the case, held at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg. One of the original defendants, the former nun Elizabeth McAlister and spouse, now widow, of Philip Berrigan, had been on the panel and was in attendance. It was a large crowd of some 200 filling the bookstore, the size of a warehouse, where we all convened, the average age 60 plus. (A podcast of the event can be found here: http://famousreadingcafe.podomatic.com/). I began my remarks saying that when I had written the new Afterword for the Harrisburg book I had never imagined that I would be reading parts of it aloud to Elizabeth McAlister.