- Left to right: Sisters Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson
On Sept. 9, five nuns between the ages of 52 and 73 blazed onto Peterson Air Force Base with the fierce concern of elders who burn with the ancient zeal to teach and caution. In this case, their village is global and reaches to the stars.
"We reject the U.S. Space Command Vision for 2020 to dominate space for military operations and to exploit space for U.S. interests and investments. Our security is neither in wealth nor war," said the Sisters.
But Major Perry Nouis, Deputy Director of the U.S. Space Command Public Affairs Office doesn't condone the Sisters' actions. "Our elected leaders have determined what needs protecting -- our way of life, our culture, the economy," he said. "Until that changes, we've been given our mission. Space is integral to how the U.S. operates."
Major Nouis argues that those who want national policies changed should direct their protest at the decision-makers above the Air Force.
The Sisters had a different idea.
Mugshots and master plans (for space)
"We rose early the morning of Sept. 9," recalls Sister Ardeth Platte, 64, a slight woman whose peppery eyes flash as she speaks. "We prepared baby bottles filled with our own blood and wrote our statement of belief in the sacredness of the land, sky and each other.
"After proceeding around the Peterson air show display, looking at all the instruments of death, we came to the F18 Hornet. After reading its resum of bombings in Operation Storm, we felt it needed to be disarmed directly."
Two sisters -- Ardeth and Jackie Hudson -- hammered and tossed blood on the Navy jet; in another area, Sisters Carol Gilbert, Ann Montgomery and Elizabeth Walters did the same to the Milstar Satellite Receiver, a communications transmitter designed to withstand nuclear war.
These members of Plowshares, a religious and pacifist group, had conceived the symbolic disarmament nine months earlier. After making a novena, the Sisters deliberated carefully on the symbols and location of their protest before choosing Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs, the "nerve center" of military space operations.
The date of the air show -- Sept. 9 -- mysteriously coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Plowshares first action at General Electric and followed the anniversary of religious vows for three of the nuns by a day.
Their singular purpose was to "unmask" the U.S. Space Command Vision for 2020: a document that describes our government's goal to "evolve ... a separate and equal medium of warfare" from the heavens while exercising "the ability to deny others the use of space, if required."
Major Nouis concurs that economics is the engine driving the train of space expansion. "Commercial use of space is growing by 20 percent each year."
The Sisters, who don't believe that might is necessarily right, and argue against the economic disparity represented by the United States' disproportional wealth, were prepared to desecrate what they see as the "empty idols" of war at Peterson and suffer the consequences.
Sister Jackie recounts, "We often quote Acts in which Paul says, 'Friends, what do you think you are doing? We are only human beings and mortal like you. We have come with good news, to make you turn from these empty idols. . .' The first words of the men who stopped us were, 'Ladies, what are you doing?' We laid our hammer down and immediately began to pray under the banner 'Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares.' "
Arrested on felony charges, they were taken to jail where they were "blessed by women" who offered their meager supply of socks and blankets. As the damages were minimal -- less than $500 -- the felony charges were dropped, although a misdemeanor investigation continues.
What had the Sisters achieved? The genie of information was out of the bottle. The Gazette ran the Sisters' mugshots on the front page. The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News picked up the story; it was a matter of time for CNN to follow.
"It's just beginning," said Sister Ardeth, who participated in the sit-ins and marches against the Vietnam War in the 1960s. "It (civil disobedience) begins with prayer and continues through action, jail, our witness in the courts and education."
The Sisters make it clear they harbor no ill will toward the 3,600 who make their living at the Space Command, or anyone else in the Armed Forces. "Living and working near Air Force bases around the country, we've learned a large number of enlisted men and women don't really believe in what they're forced to do. We've comforted young people upset about the mothers and children they saw killed during Desert Storm. Many in the armed forces are on food stamps, themselves."
But the sympathy doesn't officially flow both ways.
"We live in a wonderful country that provides our citizens with a variety of means to express their opinions or disagreement with U.S. government policy. Unfortunately, none of those means include damaging or destroying taxpayer property," said Major Nouis.
But Sister Ardeth reaffirms their purpose. "If we were living in sharp awareness during the time of Hitler, would we not cut off the gas supply from the chambers and deconstruct the killing machines of the day?"
But in kindergarten we were told to share
The Vision for 2020 brochure has an interesting graphic: a crystal ball is filled with a tank, jet and battleship. Outside the ball, satellites crisscross space. The future -- as depicted here -- appears to be war conducted from space.
But we won't ever be the aggressor, the brochure says, we only protect our interests, explaining by way of analogy: "During the westward expansion of the U.S., military outposts and the Calvary emerged to protect our wagons, settlements and railroads."
Bill Sulzman, director of the local Citizens For Peace In Space, is an ex-priest who's devoted the last 13 years of his life to these issues.
"By defining 95 percent of the earth's inhabitants as our enemies or potential enemies we trap ourselves in a national paranoia," said Sulzman, costing undisclosed billions hidden in "black budgets."
The Outer Space Treaty of 1967, signed by the United States and 90 other countries, promises a use of space for "common interests" and "peaceful purposes." But when the United Nations General Assembly recently voted to define and clarify the treaty's terms, the United States abstained.
"The Defense Department seems to be stuck on the idea that the United States only constitutes 5 percent of the world so that it endlessly needs more of everything the world has for itself -- more resources, more strength," said Salzman.
But what if an evil mastermind did try to take over space? "We are vulnerable to aggression to the degree we refuse to work cooperatively with others," Salzman continues. "We need to use our power to change hearts and minds -- not threaten."
Faith-filled people, he believes, must now bring their religious perspective to "world domination policy."
What would Jesus do? Clashing clergy
Religious people typically have questioned past egregious, but accepted, national policies, like the slaughter of Native Americans and legal slavery. The issue now before religious Americans, says Sister Ardeth, is "to change our path from one of putting trust in weapons to one of putting trust in God, our only true security."
An official at Peterson Public Affairs denied a request to interview the Chaplain there, insisting that the action at Peterson was not "a religious issue." Five days later, an official of the U.S. Space Command said that the chaplain was in Greenland.
Bishop Hanifen also did not return messages, although his executive assistant, Sister Peggy Maloney R.S.M., stated, "The Catholic Church does not take the position that Catholics must be pacifist. However, for those whom God has called to act and teach others to be pacifists, it is a matter of conscience." Ostensibly speaking for the Bishop, she issued a statement to local parishes on Sept. 18 that just falls short of outright support:
"Actions ... carried out in disobedience to a civil law ... emerge from the conscience of an individual after prayer and discernment. (They have) long been used as a part of our American tradition (e.g. Boston Tea Party, Civil Rights Movement, Operation Rescue, etc) ... The recent action taken recently by 5 Roman Catholic sisters was based on the verse in Isaiah 2:4 'He will settle disputes among great nations. They will hammer their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives. Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again.'"
Not every Christian view is as equivocal. New Life Church Pastor Ted Haggard said, "I thought (the nun's) actions were criminal and that they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Religion should play a major role with the military but this isn't the way to do it. These issues have to be debated and settled in a public forum."
Haggard supports the mission of the Space Command. "If we don't control space, someone else will. I'd hate for it to be a tyrant or a dictator. It takes strength to protect the freedom of all. ... We are blessed that the greatest superpower in the world is good."
Asked whether he believed that God intended for all humans to equally share in the potential profit of space -- not just Americans -- Pastor Haggard pointed out that "no one is equal" and listed varying physical and social disadvantages experienced by some.
Sister Carol Gilbert says clergy who support military force often point to the battles in the Old Testament for rationale. She embraces the Gospel message of the "nonviolent Jesus" but also admires the story of the midwife who saved Moses from those following the Pharaoh's orders as an example of holy disobedience.
Many Americans privately question their government -- which includes the military -- but few give personal energy and time to active protest, and even fewer risk loss of personal reputation, health and freedom by committing acts for which they may be imprisoned.
So why these Sisters?
"It's on the shield of our religious order of St. Dominic. 'Veritas,' " said Sister Carol. "Speak truth to power."
International Day of Protests and Action Against Star Wars
A legal gathering to protest U.S. space domination to be held outside the main gates to Peterson Air Force base. Sisters Jackie Hudson and Anne Montgomery will speak; First Strike Theater will perform.
Saturday, Oct. 7; 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
For more information, call 389-9274.