Hammer of Justice: Molly Rush and the Plowshares Eight

Liane Ellison Norman, PPI Books, Pittsburgh, 1989, US$24.95 hardback, US$12.95 paper. Order from PPI Books, 1139 Wightman St., Pittsburgh, PA 15217, USA, adding US$2.50 for shipping and handling.

A review published in Nonviolence Today, number 17, October/November 1990, pp. 20-21
Pdf of review

 

Early in the morning of 9 September 1980, eight peace activists walked into a building owned by the company General Electric in a town, in the US state of Pennsylvania, curiously named King of Prussia. They went past guards and entered a room where they used hammers to pound parts of nuclear warheads being manufactured by General Electric. The eight also poured their own blood, from little plastic bottles, all over the workshop.

This group became known as the Plowshares Eight: they took direct action to turn nuclear weapons into something less dangerous. This act of civil disobedience was, for the eight, an outgrowth of their religious beliefs and moral commitment. It was a personal testament against the blind workings of the military machine.

Liane Norman's book about the Plowshares Eight tells several stories. One is of the action of the eight and the government's lengthy legal battle against them. The government, of course, could not tolerate direct action against nuclear weapons. The prosecution attempted to rule out of order any discussion of the motivations of the eight, namely the threat posed by nuclear weapons to the peoples of the world, and the urgent necessity to act against the impending crime of nuclear war.

A second story grows out of the location of the action in the state of Pennsylvania, a state founded by William Penn and the Quakers. Penn himself was a noted civil disobedient. In a famous court case in London in 1670, the jury was imprisoned because it repeatedly returned a verdict of not guilty in Penn's trial. A successful appeal against the imprisonment led to the important legal precedent that juries could not be punished because of their verdict.

A third story woven through the book, the story most fascinating to me, is about Molly Rush, one of the Plowshares Eight. Several of the others in the eight were more well-known - especially Philip and Daniel Berrigan - and had institutional links to the church. Molly was much more the 'ordinary' person. In her mid-40s at the time of the action, a wife and mother living in Pittsburgh, she was perceived as part of the community. In actuality, she was far from ordinary even before joining the Plowshares action, being a well-known local peace activist.

There is much in Hammer of Justice about Molly - her parents and her upbringing, her own family and her increasing participation to peace activism, and the development of her belief in the moral necessity of direct action.

Perhaps even more intriguing than Molly's own beliefs and actions is the reaction of her immediate family. When they found out in general terms about her plans for major civil disobedience, there was intense pressure on her to withdraw. Her husband became frantic in his attempts to stop Molly. But then, after the action on 9 September 1980 and the resulting publicity and courtroom drama, the attitudes of Molly's family began to change. There was much more understanding, acceptance and support. The story of this transformation is a highlight of the book.

Not every peace activist wants to perform civil disobedience that could lead to years in prison. There are sensible, pragmatic considerations to be taken into account. (Molly was often told she could be more effective on the 'outside'.) The best course of action for one person is not necessarily best for another.

Liane Norman does not tell the story with any implication that others should do the same as Molly. That is for readers to decide for themselves. Rather, the book is more in the nature of an 'appreciation' of Molly and her action. Molly is a remarkable person, but at the same time she is like any of us. That is both humbling and uplifting.

Brian Martin


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