Speakers denounce land mine production

Tom Lopez

Land mines kill unexpectedly and indiscriminately, and longtime activists Phillip Berrigan and his wife Liz McAlister said they won’t rest until land mines are literally off the face of the earth.
The movement to ban the explosives was the subject of speeches that Berrigan and McAlister delivered at Willey Hall last night. They are planning to protest Alliant Techsystems, the nation’s largest producer of land mines, at the headquarters in Hopkins, Minn., today.
“The use of land mines is murder of the most shamefully cowardly sort,” said Berrigan. “Those who use them needn’t face their victims, needn’t witness the blood and death.”
Berrigan estimates that there are 110 million mines buried around the world. He advocates a U.S. ban on production of the weapons.
The demonstration outside Alliant Techsystems, which takes place at 6:30 a.m., will be an exercise in civil disobedience, one of the events’ coordinators, Marv Davidov, said.
“The CEO of Alliant is making $3 million a year off of murder,” he said. “It’s immoral and irresponsible. It’s obscene.” Davidov added that 70 percent of the victims of land mines are children and poor people of third-world nations.
Davidov, who describes his political ideology as a cross between socialism and non-violent anarchism, is critical of President Clinton’s passive stance on the issue. “Forty-five countries have signed a ban,” he said. “The U.S. is lagging behind.”
Before becoming an activist, Berrigan was a combat pilot in World War II.
Berrigan became a pacifist, he said, after the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Kennedy said afterward that if we had gotten into a fight with (Soviet Premier Nikita) Khrushchev, 18 million people would have died,” he said. “One person dead is too much. Someone had to raise his voice in the name of sanity and faith and justice. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
As a result of such incidents, Berrigan and McAlister have a deep mistrust of the government, if not outright contempt.
In fact, Berrigan believes that the government’s sins do not end with the production of land mines and nuclear weapons. “The government fears the peace movement,” he said. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out for peace and they had him killed. Anyone who knows anything about it knows that James Earl Ray did not kill him. It was a conspiracy, just as it was with John F. Kennedy.”
Neither Berrigan nor his older brother Daniel, a Jesuit priest who spoke on campus last Wednesday, are strangers to controversy. In fact, the two men have dedicated their lives to conscientious objection, having been political dissidents for over three decades.
In 1967 the Berrigans and six others stole draft files from the draft office in Cantonville, Md., and burned them in the parking lot, using napalm they had made at home. The two brothers ended up serving time in a federal prison for the crime.
Since then, Berrigan has been arrested more than 100 times. In 1980, when Berrigan and seven others entered the General Electric Plant in King of Prussia, Pa. They broke into a crate full of MX warhead parts and dented them with hammers, then poured their own blood on them. Then they waited for the arrest. Eight years later, General Electric ended up dropping the charges, in part because of public pressure.
Davidov recounts one event in particular, when McAlister and seven others broke into Griffiss Air Force Base in Utica, N.Y., in 1983. McAlister found an unguarded hangar, climbed on top of a B-52 bomber, and destroyed the engine with a hammer. Then they waited at the scene of the crime, “to take responsibility for what they had done.”
While serving time, McAlister was interviewed by “60 Minutes.” The interviewer asked her how she could go to prison when she had three children at home.
“I did it for the children,” she said. “For all the children.”
Before speaking at the University, Berrigan lamented what is happening to the younger generation. “They’re not taught anything on campuses about the real world. No one is telling them the truth. I don’t blame the students; I blame my own generation, the teachers and the administrators who are betraying them.”
But Berrigan also had words of advice for students who have lapsed into apathy. “I would tell them, look around you. Do your homework, find out what the world is about. Look at the good that people have done. Don’t knuckle down. I’ve spent over seven years in prison and I’m not done yet.”