There are many words that come to mind to describe Sister Anne Montgomery, and her work but "malicious" is certainly not one of them. Sister Anne, an 85-year-old Roman Catholic nun from the Society of the Sacred Heart who once taught students in Spanish Harlem and high school dropouts in Albany, also spent years working for Christian Peacemakers, an ecumenical anti-war group. She has put her life on the line in some of the world's most war-torn regions, including the Balkans in the 1990's, the Middle East, and more recently in Iraq. Her life has been devoted to working for peace and on nuclear disarmament.
It's not work for the fainthearted. This diminutive woman, who is still razor sharp in her thinking, and who barely weighs 90 pounds soaking wet, has spent more than three years in prison because of her non- violent protests against nuclear weapons. Her first federal incarceration came more than 30 years ago when she, along with Fathers Daniel and Philip Berrigan and five others, trespassed onto a GE missile manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania. The group, known as the Plowshares 8, hammered on the missile nosecones of Mark 12A warheads with carpenter hammers to symbolically disarm them. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark defended the group, whose sentences were eventually overturned.
Fast forward to 2012, and Sister Anne's moral commitment to raising awareness on the global threat posed by nuclear weapons has not waned. In fact, it has intensified. Just last year she was thrown in prison once again, this time for trespassing along with four others, onto the Kitsap-Bangor U.S. Navy nuclear submarine base near Seattle. The base is homeport for eight of the nation's 14 Trident nuclear submarines and reportedly has one of the largest stockpiles of nuclear warheads in the country. The five successfully cut through three chain link fences and penetrated a "shoot to kill" zone where nuclear weapons are said to be stored in concrete bunkers.
Sister Anne and her co-defendants, whom prosecutors called the Bangor 5, say they broke into the base as a symbolic wakeup call to the world which, they believe, is sleepwalking toward nuclear annihilation with the United States leading the way. The Bangor 5, who are all over the age of 60, say that as the United States continues to upgrade and modernize its nuclear weaponry, spending $60 billion a year on its arsenal, more than any other country in the world, it's sending a message to other nations that the mark of a powerful nation is a nuclear one, thereby contributing to proliferation, global insecurity, and an eventual holocaust.
"People are not going to disarm unless we make a move and do it responsibly, you know, step by step. We don't need these weapons, says Sister Anne. "They're not helping us. They're endangering us," she adds.
Though some might dismiss the elderly nun's words as the musings of a radical outlaw, last week some of her views gained traction from a surprise and formidable source, retired General James Cartwright, the former Vice Chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff who also used to oversee the entire American nuclear arsenal. General Cartwright called for an 80 percent reduction in that arsenal a cutback that would still insure American national security, while also going a long way in reducing the worldwide nuclear arms threat. General Cartwright said the warhead reduction was necessary to gain credibility with smaller nuclear armed states, like India and Pakistan, and potentially emerging ones, like Iran and North Korea, that the United States is serious about nuclear disarmament. The United States has urged those nations to limit their weapons programs and nuclear ambitions. But those entreaties have fallen on deaf ears, according to General Cartwright, because the United States is accused of hypocrisy for urging restraint while continuing to maintain its own huge nuclear arsenal. As nuclear weapons spread to nations that do not have a sophisticated technological security apparatus for protecting them, the likelihood of the weapons falling into the hands of terrorists goes up, said the general.
General Cartwright's proposals are contained in a new report issued by Global Zero, a nuclear policy organization, which seeks to secure and eliminate all nuclear weapons. Some 300 international military, diplomatic, and nuclear experts have signed onto the Global Zero campaign. The Global Zero report also says recommendations to reduce America's nuclear arsenal make sense in view of the current fiscal crisis, and as the Pentagon is poised to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a new generation of nuclear weapon delivery systems.
The news should be heartening to Sister Anne and legions of other nuclear disarmament activists who have paid a heavy personal price for taking action to raise awareness on the nuclear weapons threat. Recently, Sister Anne and the other Bangor 5 appealed their conviction for "willfully and maliciously" destroying federal property by cutting through the fences on the Kitsap-Bangor naval base. The five defended their actions by claiming they were upholding international humanitarian law which deems nuclear weapons illegal. A few weeks ago, the Ninth Circuit for the Court of Appeals affirmed their conviction. (Sister Anne Montgomery and her co-defendants tell their story exclusively in the documentary Bangor 5 which is currently in production.)