Zacchaeus the Tax Collector

Zacchaeus the Tax Collector . CSM Shared Word by Steve Clemens . Nov. 4, 2007

Luke 19:1-10 (New International Version)
1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.' "
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."
9 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

Actually this text is scheduled in the lectionary as an alternate one because it falls on the Sunday closest to All Saints Day, when we often switch texts to remember the Saints who have gone before and whose spirits are with us now. We often use the “Cloud of Witnesses” text from Hebrews and probably leave ol’ Zacchaeus out of the list of those who’ve gone before – in favor of Abraham and Sarah, Priscilla and Aquilla, Oscar Romero and Tom Fox. So, instead, I want to give Zacchaeus his “15 minutes” of fame this week.

Some of you who are my age or older who were raised in the church might recall the Sunday School ditty about this story. We had the flannel-graph figure of Zacchaeus, placed it up in the tree so he could see Jesus coming in the distance, and then he hops down and takes Jesus to his house.
(song from childhood:)
"Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree,
the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way,
He looked up in that tree.
And He said,
"Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I'm going to your house today."

You might not know it from this cute little Sunday School song that this story should be considered by most of us as one of the infamous “Texts of Terror”. The kind of sick feeling you get in your stomach- kind of what I felt this past June when I got a letter in the mail addressed to Christine and me from the MN Dept. of Revenue informing us that “We have selected your taxpayer account for examination under the authority provided by MN Statute 270C.31. Please provide the following documentation: [and then provided a list of six things we were to send in within the next 30 days relating to our Federal 1040 Forms for 2004, 2005, and 2006. …] Additional information may be requested if necessary.” Signed by Zacchaeus-oops!, I mean by Greg Ozmun, Revenue Tax Specialist.

Is this a “Text of Terror” because of how some of us feel about the IRS? Jesus might have had something to fear about this man since the Gospel stories indicate one of the charges leveled against him at his trial was that “He refuses to pay taxes to the Emperor!” What if Zacchaeus about to “audit” Jesus’ tax return?

Humm, “no where to lay your head, eh?” Better not have taken the mortgage interest deduction.
“Feeding crowds of 5,000? Where’d you get the bling to pay for that?” Did you get a receipt for the 5 loaves and 2 fish?

“Healing. Without a license. Have you paid your dues to the AMA?

“Have you listed the pharmaceutical samples you got as income?

No, the “Text of Terror” comes about when we realize that WE are the focus of this story. WE are the Zacchaeus figure. We’ve heard about this “Jesus” character and we want to see what all the fuss is about but we don’t expect to be singled out for our own audit!

Now, Zacchaeus didn’t become “Chief Tax Collector” for the area without some serious collaboration with the Coalition Provisional Authority - I mean, the hated Roman Occupying Army and maybe the Temple political structure.

But, look at the text again. When Jesus announces that he is coming over to Zach’s house TODAY – and he’s gonna “stay with him”, ol’ Zach knows the jig is up. I’m sure he’s heard about the other previous encounters Jesus has had with “rich folk”. Luke has written several stories about these encounters before we get to the Zacchaeus story in his Gospel. I’m sure word has gotten out what Jesus said to The Rich Young Ruler. “Sell what you have, give it to the poor, and come, follow me!” He also knew that there probably weren’t too many “formerly-rich” folk in Jesus’ entourage that day. Oh, I’m sure that at their annual “Motivational Speakers banquet” a year-or-two ago, there was that talk about the strange behavior of Brother Matthew – and how he went “off the deep end”, quit his IRS job, to follow this mystic teacher and preacher. He quit his job and now just hangs around with this “gang”.

I wonder if it was a long walk from the Sycamore Tree back to Zach’s pad? What was Zach thinking as he ran back to “straighten up the place”? Whatever it was, Luke tells us he didn’t wait for Jesus to clear his throat and give him a hard stare and start confronting him about his vocation and lifestyle. No, Zacchaeus stood up, looked Jesus in the eye and said, “Not only do I have too much, but I need to look at paying reparations for how I got this rich.” Now, tax collectors in those days got their money anyway they could. There were probably a couple of “busted kneecaps” in the area where Zach did his strong-armed collecting.

Zach says, “Here and now I’m giving half of my possessions to the poor.” Zach was ready to follow. He was ready for the invitation to be offered. Chances are, he personally knew “the poor”. But what about we “rich folk”? Do we know the poor? If we were to give half of our possessions to “the poor”, who would we give it to? How insolated or isolated are we from “the poor”? IF I defrauded anyone, … 4 x restitution. Does our lifestyle “defraud” others when close to half the world’s population lives on less than what I spent on a can of Pringles? How “Deserving” are the poor? What if I give them money and they don’t “spend it correctly?

Here is what I’d like each of you to do. On the back of the piece of paper that has today’s text, I want you to write the name of 1 or 2 people or groups that you have a personal relation with who is poor (or works with the poor) that you would give part of your own money to.

Then, I want you to get into small groups of not more than 6 people each, none from the same household together, and share what you’ve written and why with that group. Each group will have $100. to “give away to the poor” BUT you will all have to be in agreement/consensus with how/where it is to go. Each of you could designate part of it to go to 5 separate individuals or, as your group meets, maybe you’ll come to consensus about pooling your money together to give it to one entity to make it go further. Think about what you are going to say to that person or organization when you give them the money. If you can’t come to consensus after 5 minutes, you’ll need to return the money to me.

We won’t take the time to have each group report back to the whole body but after worship, I’d like someone from each group to write down to whom their money is going so all of us can see it.

The amazing thing about this story is that Zacchaeus didn’t say, “Oh crap! Now I’m screwed! What shall I do?”

“Can’t I just avoid Jesus? Why’d he have to pick me out?

No, he joyfully decided to cast his lot with Brother Matthew and other followers and radically change his life.

And Jesus says, Today Salvation has come to this household. The economics of the entire household are connected with what it means for Jesus to be “saved”.

Is it a Text of Terror? Or a Text of Liberation and Salvation? We can choose how to respond to Jesus.
Where the $ went:
Group 1: $60. to Peace House on Franklin Ave. (for homeless)
$40. to Christian Peacemaker Team in Columbia.
Group 2: $100. to El Salvador student scholarship fund (Kaydee Kirk connection)
Group 3: $10. Kinship mentoring program
$10. CPT
$20. local foodshelf
$30. fund for people being deported
$20. Open Arms (meals to those with HIV/Aids)
$10. (uncertain who this went to)
Group 4: $60. Genesis House (for recovering prostitutes in Chicago)
$40. student emergency fund for Anoka Ramsey College. (Erik Weiger recommendation)
Group 5: $100. MN Health Worker Volunteer fund for Ugandans recovering from HIV/Aids to purchase cows and pigs for food and economic recovery. (Johan Cavert recommendation)
Group 6: $20. Oxfam
$20. Homefulness (housing program in St. Paul)
$20. Evan. Lutheran Church in Jordan and Palestine
$20. Twin Cities RISE!
$20. One Acre Foundation (subsistence farming in Africa- recommended by Eric Berger)
Group 7: $20. to Rojas family in Northfield (home destroyed in recent fire)
$20. for 7th grade boy in Northfield
$20. Heartside (shelter? in Grand Rapids, MI)
$20. United for a Fair Economy (Tom Witt recommendation)
$20. Mennonite Central Committee work in Cambodia.

This Is What Democracy Looks Like?

This Is What Democracy Looks Like?
By Steve Clemens. October 27, 2007

The chants rang out: “Who is a terrorist?” with the reply echoing, “Bush is a terrorist!” “This is what democracy looks like” – with the reply “Bush is what hypocrisy looks like!” Bless their hearts; people are angry and fed up with war and occupation. The need to vent their anger at the geo-political realities certainly seems necessary as the war for oil and domination continues in its fifth year - with signs that it might not abate until our military is completely broken or our political “leaders” grow some spine and stand up to the Administration.

I remember hearing Dick Gregory, the great humanitarian, civil rights activist, and comedian say during the protests against the Vietnam War, “If democracy is as good as we claim it is, we won’t have to shove it down others throats with the barrel of a gun. If it is so good, people will steal it!” The notion of going to war to establish “democracy” in the Middle East is preposterous. But chanting epithets on a street corner in south Minneapolis at noon on a sunny October day didn’t make me proud that “this is what democracy looks like” when it is coupled with angry personal taunts at the President or his policies.

Don’t get me wrong – I think those policies are not only misguided, wrong, and ultimately evil – and, yes, invading a nation which posed no threat to us and littering its countryside and cities with cluster bombs, depleted uranium munitions, and more “conventional” bombs dropped from thousands of feet above so the pilot cannot witness the human carnage below is an act of terrorism. But our political task is not to engage in self-righteous bombast but to find ways to invite our fellow country-folk (who voted in large numbers to keep Bush in power in 2004) to re-imagine what it could mean to renounce empire and rejoin the community of nations. Self-righteous anger can only get one so far – and we have an enormous job ahead of us to turn around the ship of state and convert it from a battleship to a hospital ship, cruise liner, or pleasure craft.

Do our signs and banners encourage dialog and conversion or do they serve as a bludgeon against our adversaries? Is our presence on the street corner friendly and inviting to those who might be ready to start on a new journey toward peacemaking?

I envision an open circle, welcoming for others to join in, holding candles lit up instead of cursing the darkness. Talking with each other, confessionally; what is it in my own lifestyle that encourages our political leaders to think that we want to maintain our comforts at the expense of others – thus requiring a military force to prevent others from getting what we have (to paraphrase LBJ before he invaded the Dominican Republic in the mid-60s.) Only when we are vulnerable to each other and open can we allow “the other” (be they our neighbors or even our “enemies”) to engage our common humanity and together seek a way out of our spiral of violence.

I stood silently with my rainbow-colored PEACE flag alongside my friends and fellow activists somewhat embarrassed at the projecting of evil solely on the other – the President and an ineffective Congress. Calling others “evil-doers” and labeling an “axis of evil” hasn’t worked out so well (in the long run) for President Bush. Why should we think it will work any better for us? Competent military leaders know you must “win the hearts and minds” of the nation you occupy to ultimately be successful. Maybe the peace community needs to recognize the same goal applies within our own nation which is presently “occupied” by the military-industrial complex.

Shouting and sloganeering rarely opens my heart to really listen to others. Can we find some other ways to offer our principled opposition to the war while inviting others into our (hopefully, expanding) circles?

14 Arrested at Headquarters of Local Arms Merchant

14 Arrested at Headquarters of Local Arms Merchant
By Steve Clemens. October 3, 2007 (published in

October 2nd has been declared by the United Nations as “International Day of Nonviolence” in honor of the life and witness of Mohandas Gandhi, the leader of the nonviolent movement that ended British colonial rule in India. For a second consecutive year, AlliantACTION has sponsored a march and presence at Alliant Techsystems headquarters in Edina, MN on that date to honor Gandhi’s birthday. The theme chosen this year to celebrate one of history’s greatest nonviolent activists was “Peace Conversion With No Loss of Jobs”.

AlliantACTION has held a weekly vigil in front of Alliant Techsystems (ATK) headquarters for more than ten years on every Wednesday morning. However, to honor Gandhi and to broaden the circle of protestors beyond the normal group of 20-50 activists, the group added to the weekly presence by gathering on Tuesday where close to 100 people marched to the entrance of ATK. In a nearby park the group began with a song and reciting a “Commitment to Nonviolence” pledge. A poem was read to the circle and a brief talk informed those gathered about “Why We Focus on Alliant Techsystems”. Besides objecting to “profiting from war and death” and that “ATK sells its weapons all over the world –in more than 60 countries”, specific mention was made to the “illegal and indiscriminate weapons” designed, manufactured, and sold by ATK. Cluster bombs, anti-personnel landmines, and depleted uranium weapons were included in the list.

After the group had marched down Lincoln Drive to arrive at Alliant’s headquarters driveway, the group again circled to sing, hear quotes from Gandhi, and hear about the history and struggles about “peace conversion” – the “beating of swords into plowshares” where the crowd was encouraged to think of what peaceful and helpful products and services could be performed and sold by companies rather than seeking profits through making weapons. As the group said, “Happy Birthday, Gandhi”, members of the action brought forth dolls, books, a blanket, stuffed animals, toys, and even a huge stuffed “Elmo” Sesame Street character – placing them in a large over-flowing basket. Each person made a statement about their desire for this company to convert from making bombs and bullets and instead make toys, books, wind turbines, or other life-affirming products. As one member placed a stuffed dog in the basket, he said, “Dogs give love unconditionally – that’s what children need –unconditional love, not cluster bombs.” The event organizers announced that all the toys and books collected were to be delivered to the Incarnation House shelter in south Minneapolis later that morning.

After the basket of toys was filled, several members of the group announced their intention to give the balloons they were carrying to ATK security personnel and Edina Police Officers who had placed themselves across the driveway to prevent the activists from attempting to enter the building. The balloons were offered to them “to give to your kids or grandkids in celebration of Gandhi’s birthday”. They read a brief letter addressed to Alliant personnel stating that they were carrying a notebook entitled “Employee Liabilities of Weapon Manufacturers Under International Law” to give to them as well as asking the company to agree to “peace conversion with no loss of jobs”. Both the ATK security and the Edina police refused to accept either the offered balloons or the International Law documents before placing the 14 members of the group that ventured up the driveway under arrest for criminal trespass, a petty misdemeanor in Edina.

A bright, rainbow-colored kite flew over the gathering with the inscription “PU / DU” in reference to the disgust over the sale of depleted uranium (DU) weapons made by the corporation. Members of the circle clapped and thanked those who had been arrested for their nonviolent convictions and then posed for a photo in front of the corporate logo sign by the driveway entrance. One of the closing songs sung by the group before disbanding was set to the tune of “Home on the Range” and written by one of the weekly vigil circle members. It began,

“Oh, Alliant Tech please,
We ask you to cease,
Making products that cause
Death and pain.
May you ever increase
In products of peace
For folks that will
Keep this world sane…”

Why Do We Focus on ATK?

Why Do We Focus on ATK?
By Steve Clemens, Gandhi’s Birthday Action, October 2, 2007

• They make illegal weapons
• They profit from war and death
• They sell their weapons all over the world
• This is their World Headquarters

1. Illegal Weapons:
According to the Laws of War and International Humanitarian, weapons which fail to discriminate between combatants and the civilian population are “indiscriminate” and, therefore illegal to be “manufactured, sold, stockpiled, or used.”
• Anti-personnel landmines – ATK is one of the leading manufacturers of landmines in the U.S. since it’s spin-off from Honeywell and has recently bragged about developing two new versions of “smart” ones called the Spider and the Matrix. Anti-personnel landmines have been declared illegal by Treaties although our country has refused to sign it. Since more than 80 nations world-wide have signed the Treaty, it is in effect.
• Cluster Bombs- ATK is one of only two manufacturers of the CBU-87, an air-dropped cluster munition used in both Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. Military. International Law experts state that a “dud rate” of greater than ½ of 1% would make this weapon “indiscriminate”. The cluster bombs ATK makes have been shown to have a “dud rate” of between a low of 5% and as high as 30% - and, as such, have been specifically mentioned in United Nations Resolutions as illegal because of their indiscriminate nature. Although the term used is “dud”, unexploded cluster bombs litter the landscape and explode for decades to come – often killing children and farmers.
• Depleted Uranium Munitions- The use of waste product from the enrichment of uranium, the hard, dense, yet still radioactive –and a toxic “heavy metal” to boot – depleted uranium bullets and artillery shells have been used in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. Although difficult to prove scientifically, it is widely believed to result in cancers, birth defects, toxic poisonings and other deadly health maladies in both the civilian population and can affect the troops that use these weapons as well. Again, like cluster bombs, depleted uranium weapons are specifically outlawed by a UN Resolution.
• “The Gun that Can Shoot Around Corners”- (XM25 Air-Burst Assault Weapon) – Designed to explode beyond walls or other objects without being able to “see” what is behind them. Is it a combatant – or a child? What will happen when “criminal elements” in our society get a hold of them and use them against the police? By it’s very nature it is indiscriminate.
• Critical Components of Rockets and Missiles Designed to Deliver Nuclear Bombs- The rocket motors for the first-strike Trident Submarine nuclear missiles as well as the land-based Minuteman III nuclear missiles are made by ATK. These are weapons which, if used, can lead to a nuclear holocaust or the end of human life on this planet.

2. Profiting From Death:

Profits have soared since 9/11
ATK is the largest supplier of ammunition to U.S. Military –worth protesting even if it is not illegal.
Convicted of price-fixing by the U.S. Government! (AeroJet and ATK colluded to keep the prices of cluster bombs high by agreeing not to bid against each other.)

3. Selling Weapons All Over the World:

According to their own website, ATK has sales representatives in 60 different countries and sells to BOTH SIDES in some conflicts.

4. World Headquarters Are Here:

Housed in this building are the key decision-makers for this corporation. They bear a particular responsibility for the choices they make regarding what this company makes and sells. They are the ones who can choose Peace Conversion with no loss of jobs.

Please go to for more information on this Merchant of Death and the creative ways we have tried to nonviolently resist it.

Nonviolent Protest Continues Against Alliant Techsystems

Nonviolent Protest Continues Against Alliant Techsystems
By Steve Clemens

August 6th marked the 62nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan. To remember those who died and those who continue to suffer the effects of radioactive poisoning from those two bombs and to remind us about current victims of uranium weapons, the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams organized a peace witness at the headquarters of the largest manufacturer of depleted uranium weapons in the U.S. – Alliant Techsystems (ATK) in Edina. About 40 people, many dressed in black clothing and carrying white roses to represent healing and remembrance for those who have suffered from nuclear weapons and DU participated in singing and calling out victims of depleted uranium weapons made by this company.

Vigilers held signs that read "Hiroshima: Never Again," and passed their white roses to others bearing signs representing victims of DU – Iraqi civilians, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers, children, Afghanis, etc. As the crowd sang out the words, "None can stop the Spirit, burning now inside us. We will shape the future. We will not be silent," eight participants carried their white roses up the driveway towards the front door of ATK, hoping to deliver their message of peace to corporate executives. When stopped by several ATK employees and Edina police, the eight attempted to engage them in dialogue. After police warned the group to leave or they would be arrested, the eight then knelt down in prayer and were arrested. They were Tarek Abuata (Bethesda, MD), Sally Ann Brickner (Green Bay, WI), Kryss Chupp (Chicago, IL), Steve Clemens (Minneapolis, MN), Delycia Fuestel (Lebanon, NH), Cliff Kindy (N. Manchester, IN), Martin Smedjeback (Sundbyberg, Sweden), and Colin Stuart (Ottawa, ON).

One week prior to the August 6th action, nine members of the AlliantAction Vigil Group – each owners of a share of ATK stock were arrested for attempting to attend the Annual ATK Stockholders Meeting for which they had all received invitations! When they tried to enter, they were told that because they had been previously arrested for trespass, they could not enter –even though they carried the invitations with them. Some who left after being challenged, went back up the driveway to be arrested in solidarity with those already under arrest. At least one Vets for Peace Member, Dr. David Harris as well as several associate members were part of the arrest group.

It has been reported in the local Edina Sun-Current that Alliant Techsystems is moving its headquarters next Spring to a site in Eden Prairie. The article states: “A relocation to its own building would give the company an opportunity to fortify its property with such protests in mind.” Principled nonviolence is always a threat to those who wish to hide behind trespass and private property laws to continue their illegal and immoral activities.

Dan Ellsberg is Still Passionate About Justice

Daniel Ellsberg at Augsburg College: Still Passionate for Justice
By Steve Clemens April 17, 2007

He is grayer now and walks slower, but Daniel Ellsberg at 76, still burns with the passion for justice and compassion that drove him to expose The Pentagon Papers more than 35 years ago. That act of defiance and courage helped push an ambivalent public toward a clear rejection of the Vietnam War. Today, Ellsberg wants us to break from our imperial past (and present) to hopefully end another war (Iraq) and prevent another looming one in the planning stages (Iran).

But rather than focusing directly on his own past, Ellsberg spoke about the history of the U.S. policy of genocide. He warned the audience at Augsburg College on a beautiful Spring day that the speech that would follow would not be easy for us to hear. This was not the type of speech for which you tell the speaker afterward that you “enjoyed it”.

Beginning with a definition of terror, he simplified it by stating that it was the deliberate killing of innocents, civilians, noncombatants for political reasons. Making it clear that distinctions as to whether the actor committing acts of terror were individuals or governments ultimately mattered little to the victims of violence, he said he had come to a personal opinion that even those acts committed by “revolutionaries” were not to be condoned, despite the glorification of some of own independence movement which laid the groundwork for other “revolutionaries” to follow. Quoting George W. Bush, he said he agreed with the President that all acts of terror are to be rejected but the rest of his talk exposed the blatant hypocrisy in this regard “by every President” since Harry Truman announced the “successful” use of the atomic bombs in 1945.

Ellsberg laid the groundwork for this charge of terrorism and genocide by reminding the gathering that the earliest followers of Jesus remained pacifist for the first 300 years. After being absorbed by the Roman Empire, and under the teaching of Augustine, and followed a century later by Thomas Aquinas, Christianity adopted a “just war” theory which, while allowing for the killing of combatants in war, still maintained an absolute prohibition on the killing of civilians and limited both the means and methods of warfare for those claiming to follow Jesus.

By the 19th century, as warfare became more murderous with the number and types of weapons, further attempts were made to limit warfare at The Hague and Geneva with Conventions drafted and adopted under their names. Even with the limits imposed, the horrific slaughter of World War I was primarily limited to combatants on both sides, with 60,000 British troops killed in one day! Ellsberg pointed out that toward the end of that war, militarists were exploring how dropping bombs from airplanes or rockets could “help” their side “win” their wars –ostensibly to end the wars faster and thus limit the slaughter.

Even before the U.S. entered WWII, President Franklin Roosevelt sent a message to the leaders of both sides in the European and Asian theaters denouncing the use of bombs in any civilian-populated areas. Ellsberg reminded his audience that even “the day that will live in infamy” (the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor) was not an attack on civilians but rather on a military target and almost all of the 3,000 who were killed were combatants even though war had not been formally declared.

Daniel Ellsberg painfully recited what followed: Hitler’s deliberate bombing of London and Rotterdam, the Allies’ bombing of Hamburg and Dresden, and the war-ending nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S. Air Force. At first, the U.S. policy was to limit its bombing in Europe to daylight “strategic bombing” where deliberate attempts were to specifically target military facilities and assets, using the newly developed Norden bombsight. The British RAF however, used the tactic of night bombing German cities when precision bombing was prevented by the cover of darkness. As awful as this practice was, the U.S. remained complicit with it as we followed the night-time British bombings with “strategic” attacks the next day over the same “targets”.

In 1923, a powerful earthquake in Japan ignited fires which merged with other fires, multiplying the heat and destruction. What the “Masters of War” discovered in the process was the possibility of using bombs to create a “firestorm”: incendiary bombs in the right places and with the right weather conditions would allow the fires to feed off each other and suck all the air out, generating hurricane-force winds, and destroying anything that couldn’t withstand the heat in-excess of 1,200 degrees. Even asphalt burned. People who went into the canals to avoid the intense heat were boiled alive. Those in bomb shelters were asphyxiated before being burned when all the oxygen was sucked into the inferno.

Prior to the apocalyptic destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, British and American bombers were able to create firestorms in both Hamburg and Dresden, killing 40-60,000 civilians in each. Attempts were made to duplicate the firestorms in Berlin and although sections of the city were destroyed, the Allies were unsuccessful in creating a firestorm there. In the Pacific, the campaigns to capture Iwo Jima, Saipan, and Guam were essential for the plans of General Curtis LeMay. He had realized that the wood and paper houses in Japan were perfect targets for this new war-fighting strategy. More than 120,000 were killed in one night when 300 U.S. bombers dropped incendiary bombs on Tokyo and created the world’s third firestorm. Following the destruction of Tokyo, the next 50 largest cities in Japan were all bombed – however, the conditions were never “right” to create another firestorm.

Although the immediate deaths caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not as great as Tokyo, what made those bombs “special” was that it took only one plane and one bomb rather than 300 bombers flying at low altitudes – and a firestorm was guaranteed every time!

After laying out this gruesome history lesson for us, Ellsberg proceeded to bring the realities into the present. He described the task he was given by the Pentagon in 1961 when he was 30 years old: he was told that JFK wanted calculations on the number of fatalities which would occur if we exploded nuclear weapons on the cities of the USSR and China that we had targeted with our atomic and hydrogen bombs in our stockpile. After careful research, he concluded that 600 million people would die within 6 months in such an attack – and then discovered a mathematical error which gave the result of at least 1.2 billion people killed – just as the result of our attack, without figuring in a Russian response. Then he proceeded to say, “At that time, the USSR had only 4 nuclear weapons!” (China had none) and we were making war plans which would kill that many people. “Every President ever since [JFK] has had the same targets [for our nuclear weapons]” and has acquiesced in allowing those plans to remain. That is the reality of terrorism and genocide in U.S. policy today.

Ellsberg pointed out the irony in our firebombing of Hamburg- no Jews were killed because they had all been shipped off to concentration camps in Eastern Europe by then. The Jews killed at Auschwitz were forced into “shower rooms” 2,000 at a time where they inhaled Zyklon B gas which killed most right away. This he contrasted with the horror of being burned alive or boiled to death in the Hamburg firestorm. What took the Nazis many days or months to accomplish, American and British bombers were able to do in one night. He, as a Jew, was not trying to equate one death with the other but rather to remind his audience that we do not possess “the high ground” when it comes to genocide and terror.

Ellsberg described how bombs containing magnesium or white phosphorus can’t be put out by water. They burn right through the skin and sometimes even through bone. The British used magnesium bombs in Hamburg. The U.S. used “willy peter” [white phosphorus] in Vietnam which Ellsberg witnessed as a young Marine. Israel used it in Beirut, the U.S. (again) in Fallujah. Weapons designed to create terror.

When President G.W. Bush says, “All options are on the table”, in reference to a possible military attack on Iran, Ellsberg reminded us that “such a threat to use nuclear weapons against a country that does not have nuclear weapons is a war crime. And, when Hillary [Clinton], [Barach] Obama, and [John] Edwards [and Senator Amy Klobuchar] repeat the same to their AIPAC audiences, they too are committing war crimes.”

Ellsberg’s 75 minute speech was received soberly and quietly by the audience. The applause at the end was out of respect for the courage and determination of the speaker rather than “enjoyment” of the message. Like the cod liver oil I was given as a kid, it was hard to stomach but we needed to experience it. Although many could not remain for the 30 minute question and answer session which followed, the perspectives shared by Ellsberg then were not any lighter. If we go to war with Iran (and Seymour Hersch has revealed many of the plans in progress), or if another 9/11-like attack occurs, Ellsberg predicted the following: an immediate resumption of the draft, all Middle Eastern persons in the US will be herded into internment camps, and it will be the end of democracy as we recognize it today. He called for a new generation of whistle-blowers (and gave his thanks to Colleen Rowley who was in the audience) and left us with the responsibility to join him in resisting the path we are on.

Are We Dismissed Too Easily?

Are We Dismissed Too Easily?
By Steve Clemens. Feb. 1, 2007

On February 1st, a group of peace activists gathered in the undersized Hennepin County Courtroom in Edina, MN to once again face charges of “criminal trespass” for entering the property of Alliant Techsystems, our local war profiteer and notorious manufacturer and seller of indiscriminate and illegal weapons such as cluster bombs, depleted uranium munitions, land mines, as well as rocket motors for delivery of nuclear bombs via missiles. 78 defendants were on the court docket and most had showed up for trial, claiming their innocence even though the Edina City Prosecutor offered a deal of only a $5.00 fine for those choosing to plead guilty. Many defendants were anxious to have the opportunity to speak in court about their convictions which led them to this collective act of resistance to this present war (where some of these weapons have been used) and to corporations profiting from war and offensive weapons which masquerade as “national defense”.

Before the trial began, the Prosecutor requested to meet with a smaller representative group of the defendants. When he inquired as to what we’d like to see happen, Tom Bottolene, a long-time member and often-times spokesperson for AlliantAction, the group coordinating the weekly vigil presence in front of the offices of this war profiteer stated, “We’d like to see these charges dismissed.” Patrick Leach, the Prosecutor for the City of Edina where Alliant Techsystems (ATK) has their world headquarters, readily agreed. He expressed his concern about the cost to the city of having a number of police officers waiting around in court, ready to testify against us rather than out performing their public safety roles.

AlliantAction has faithfully voiced opposition to the weapons made by ATK for more than ten years, with several hundred having been arrested for nonviolent protest over the years. Four times in that 10 year period juries have found defendants “not guilty” of criminal trespass charges after they have carefully listened to testimony about ATK as a war profiteer and maker of illegal, indiscriminate weapons. When defendants have been allowed to submit copies of International Law outlawing indiscriminate weapons to the juries, they have been acquitted. After two consecutive juries returned with “not guilty” verdicts within a week of each other in Dec. 2004, the City Council of Edina passed a new trespass ordinance which removed our right to a jury trial by making the trespass charge a petty misdemeanor. Now we could only receive bench trials before a Judge.

When we had the ability to present our case to a jury, the groups of defendants often cooperated with the prosecutor prior to the trial by stipulating much of the case against us, thus negating the need for police officers coming to court to identify us and give testimony about the “fact” that we were on ATK’s property and refused (nonviolently) to leave until arrested. This allowed us to focus our trials solely on the questions we had about the weapons ATK made and sold and its legality under International Law. As a form of protest to our right to a jury trial being removed by the new Edina City ordinance, our trial group chose not to stipulate the evidence against us, putting the burden back on the state to prove we were guilty of the crime of criminal trespass.

In our conversation with the Prosecutor, we stated that if we were able to testify in front of a jury of our peers, we were likely to resume our previous tactic of cooperating and stipulating to the evidence and thus speed up the process of the trial. To better place this discussion in its rightful context, it must be mentioned that there is at present an active appeal which disputes the legality of the new Edina trespass ordinance and the oral arguments will be heard on Feb. 7 with a decision by the Appeals Court required within 90 days. If the ordinance is overturned because it is more restrictive than the state statute or because it was passed by the City Council in a defective and illegal manner, the trespass charges against us would be thrown out. In light of that context, the Prosecutor stated that he would move to dismiss the charges against us. Tom Bottolene and Char Madigan agreed to plead "guilty" in an attempt to preserve our legal position with the appeal.

Part of the conversation with the Prosecutor also centered on the relationship between the police and the protestors. The representative group of defendants agreed that we wish to continue to make it clear that our protest is against the war profiteer rather than the city or its law enforcement personnel. However, the question that still remains: Who will hold ATK accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity?