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A Review of Harry Browne's Book "Hammered by the Irish"

category national | anti-war / imperialism | opinion/analysis author Sunday October 19, 2008 08:05author by Gary MacLennanauthor address Brisbane, Australia Report this post to the editors

I began these writings on Catholicism in response to Ciaron O’Reilly’s request that I review Harry Browne’s Hammered by the Irish. I have never met Harry but I am a long time friend of Ciaron O’Reilly one of the defendants in the series of trials that followed the Catholic Worker /Ploughshare Activists’ attack on an American War plane that was stationed in a hangar at Shannon Airport in clear violation of Irish neutrality.

I chose to position my review within the context of my thinking on Catholicism, because the defendants themselves are defiantly and embarrassingly religious. As a long term Marxist, I find their insistence on placing their actions within the context of ritual and prayer, to be as Ciaron O’Reilly would put it, “challenging”. It is not that the symbols they evoke are meaningless, rather it is because for me a collapsed Catholic they so evocative of Catholicism. This is the source of my trouble with the Ploughshares movement.

But let us leave all my neurotic prejudices aside, and begin the task of entering the world of Harry Browne’s book. I have chosen that metaphor deliberately as a form of homage to Browne’s ability as a writer. I knew nothing of him or his work up to now, but I realized after reading his prologue that the loss was mine. The prologue sets the scene for the verdict. It is full of significant detail and is indeed creative writing of the first rank. We are there with Browne, more surely than if we were watching a film of the event. When he tells us he cried at the acquittal verdict. I cried too because it was the victory of the decent ordinary people of Ireland over the “experts”, the professionals, the sell out merchants, the cynics, the opportunists, and all those who peddle despair about humanity. It was to borrow Roy Bhaskar’s phrase the very ‘pulse of freedom’.

Perhaps here might be a good place to tackle the “objectivity” issue. Browne’s narrative as , Dan Berrigan points out in his introduction, is not that of the observer. If anything he tends towards the participant end of the continuum and lets it be very clearly known that he was and is on the side of those who hammered the war plane. I have no trouble with that because I interpret objectivity in the Bhaskarian rather than in the Kantian tradition or in the Neo-Nietzschean traditions. Neo- Kantians cannot make up their minds as to where to locate objectivity in the phenomenal or the noumenal realm. So objectivity becomes most often reduced to the impersonal. The neo-Nietzscheans deny the very possibility of objectivity and so everything is reduced to the perspective of the speaker and truth is equated with power. For the Critical Realist the objective manifold exists and indeed guarantees the very possibility of the subjective. Truth is possible and even at its highest level alethia or the reason for things is both the goal of science and all emancipatory movements. By the Critical Realist test, Browne’s books is indeed objective in that it so patiently and faithfully seeks the truth. It endeavors to both bear witness and to uncover the reason for things.

This is especially clear perhaps in Browne’s attempt to create a context for the actions of Ciaron O’ Reilly and the other Ploughshare activists. Thus we are given sympathetic pen portraits of all the five defendants and also an interesting account of contemporary Irish Catholicism. We are also given some account of the Irish Peace movement and why it imploded like all the peace movements that sprung up around the world. Browne as well touches upon why the Ploughshare Activists were and probably always will be on the margins of any peace movement.

From these preliminary chapters we move fairly swiftly to a superb account of the action – the attack on the plane itself. I got caught up in the detail. Again the quality of the writing transports the reader to the scene. We see and rejoice when the plane is smashed. We urge the activists on to more damage, but no these are the most difficult people. They actually stop hammering at the plane to pray and sing. I almost screamed out my frustration. How could they? And above all things they started up the rosary – something which always brings to my mind the phrase – “the whine of Irish Catholicism”. I shuddered in near horror.

From this, to my mind, low point the narrative takes us swiftly to the trials. I have to be honest here and confess that I was most reluctant to read these chapters. There were after all three trials. I have myself been in court too many times to have anything but the greatest contempt for the legal system. I also come from the reductionist tradition of “One solution – Revolution”. So I have no interest in or patience for the fine points of law. I also know from personal experience how deadening and alienating a place the court room can be.

However a strict sense of my duty as a reviewer more or less compelled me to tackle the trial chapters. I am genuinely glad I did so. Browne with a true master’s touch condenses all the boredom into a few paragraphs and instead takes us through a truly tense drama. Will the truth come out? Will justice survive the law? The actual details of the law are made clear even to the likes of me. And the drama is peopled with real flesh and blood characters. Moreover I am truly grateful for the splendid testimony given by Nuin Dunlop (p147). It is even from this distance deeply moving to read her account of the reason why she took part in the attack on the plane. She spoke of responsibility, solidarity, urgency and prayer and though I have often raged against the tradition she represents, I thank her for her words.

I am also grateful for Browne’s account of the great speech by the defense lawyer Brendan Nix (pp163-5). He spoke of our shared humanity. For me it is in the full and true implications of that phrase that the justification for the actions of the Ploughshare activists lie. To paraphrase Brecht –“What is the crime of damaging a warplane compared to the crime of owning one or letting one be stationed in one’s country?”

There is much then to praise in this fine book and it is my pleasure to offer my congratulations to the author and to urge everyone to read it.

author by Ciaron - Catholic Worker/ Ploughsharespublication date Mon Oct 20, 2008 03:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Originally from Omagh and a student activist contemporary of Eamonn McCann, Gary MacLennan has been based in Brisbane Australia for the last 30+ years. Gary was a leading activist in
the mass direct action movement of the late '70's that broke the authoritarian laws restricting free speech and the right to organise in the state of Queensland. He was also a key figure in the mid-80's SEQEB dispute where the same corrupt state government attempted to break trade unionism. Last year, Gary was dismissed from his popularly celebrated 30+ teaching career at QUT for objecting to a PhD film "Laughing at the Disabled".

Gary has previously reviewed Eamonn Crudden's film "Route Irish" http://www.indymedia.ie/article/85706 This review of Harry Browne's "Hammered by the Irish" is also a part of a broader piece where Gary relflects on the church of the peasants, intellectuals and prophets with epilogue http://www.indymedia.ie/article/88972

There seems to be some confusion around production of "Hammered by the Irish" on other Irish indy threads. To clarify, "Hammered by the Irish" is not a project of the now defunct Pitstop Ploughshares, it is a work by the author and journalist Harry Browne. The production of the book, in a time of general disinterest in the war and anti-war resistance, partly involved the co-operation of the broader Catholic Worker www.catholicworker.org and Ploughshares www.plowsharesactions.org movements with Counterpunch www.counterpunch.org . Such co-operation is solely in relation to buying 450 copies (of 2,000) wholesale and distributing the book, these commitments were made after the text of the book was complete. Longtime CW/Plowshares activists such as Carmen Trotta, Kathy Kelly, Paul Magno, Catholic Worker Bookstore (D.C.) and myself have been doing this part of the work.

The Pitstop Ploughshares were one of 100+ such communities over the last 28 years that formed with the intention of nonviolently disarming military equipoments and enfleshing the prophecy of Isaiah. No commmunity has been perfect, very few have been acquitted and avoided prison sentences, all have had their strengths and weaknesses. A particular weakness of the Pitstops was the lack of community formation (8 days....3 months minimum is the general recomendation witin the plowshares movement!) and also the lack of availability of the acquitted defendants to debrief following the action/trialsprocess (largley due to exhaustion of an unusally long 3 1/2 year/ 3 trial process and the far flung origins and destinations of the acquitted defendants).

For those of us who remain active in the work of solidarity organising and nonviolent anti-war resistance we remain under continual police surveillence and harrassment. It is considered unwise in our movement to do such debriefing in public and/or on the internet.

Having said that, I do recomend the recent academic work analysing the Plowshares movement Sharon Nepstead "Prophetic Provocation: War. Resistance in the Plowshares Movement" (New York: Cambridge University Press.

See this link for availability of "Hammered by the Irish" and gigs around the book http://www.indymedia.ie/article/89439#comment237409

Also as folks read the book, this thread might be as good an opportunity as any for feedback and commentary on "Hammered by the Irish"

author by Bookwormpublication date Wed Oct 22, 2008 14:31author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Well, it was never set out to be a complete account of everything that happened at Shannon, and didn't claim to be, the book at 175 pages packs in a lot of how circumstances and conscience brought so many people together on the issue of Shannon Warport, and how a few of them took drastic action to try to save even one life from carnage.

"Hammered by the Irish" is a thoroughly good read, and especially so when contrasted with the lazy hack journalism coverage of the actions and trials. While giving sympathetic descriptions of the five, Browne doesn't hoist them on pedestals like action heroes, he shows their humanity, and frailty at times, (under the considerable tension of harsh bail conditions and thrice being dragged through the Circuit Court), as well as the humour which undoubtedly kept them sane through it all. Comic book heroes they sure ain't. Made of the same stuff as the rest of us, but making different choices from most of us.

The book concentrates on the actions of 5 people, but gives enough mention to other events to show proper context,
the Dubsky action, the peace camp, the double talk of the government, shallow support of image conscious organisations, and the attitude of the authorities is very clearly indicated by a short section dealing with an exchange between the district court Judge and fumbling Garda prosecutor in the Dubsky trial.
It contrasts very well with the thorough scrutiny that the defendants actions were subjected to by the prosecuting barrister in the Circuit Court.
It also shows how and why Mary Kelly didn't get the same result, a story not too well known outside of activist circles, and one which casts a deservedly poor light on the intergrity of the judge who presided over all three of her trials and disallowed witnesses and legal arguments on spurious grounds.

Nobody who reads this book, (or was at the trial) will be in any doubt as to the motivations of these five or the fact that the jury gave the correct verdict when the crazy legal roller coaster actually managed to get through a trial, following two tense mistrials.
It can be a bit off putting to read through all of that, but one can't blame the author for the fact that it took three attempts before the defendants got a fair trial, and there are important and interesting notes on how and why each trial went the way it did.

Mr. Browne combines his personal research and interactions, along with other sources, indymedia included to give a good rounded picture of something the main stream media were too lazy, or too scared to cover. 5 people taking great risk for no personal reward, to try to help total strangers, and despite the best attempts of corrupt government and lazy media, their message reached 12 people in a jury box, who agreed that they were not criminals and that even with odds against you, 'sometimes you just have to do the right thing'.

author by joemcivorpublication date Wed Oct 22, 2008 17:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

A book review should display the publisher's name ,the book's price and where it can be bought . The publisher is AK Press . I don’t know the price in Ireland ,perhaps somebody who does could put it up .From the other thread on the subject , Hammered By The Irish is presently available in Dublin from....

Afri 134 Phibsborough Rd. Phibsborough ;
Tower Records off Grafton St. City Centre ;
Connolly Books , Essex St , Dublin .

In Cork...from James at WSM

In London at the Anarchist Bookfair Oct 18th 08

Online from ....
AK Press


Catholic Worker Bookstore

The book is also available on Amazon:
the book is presently available in Dublin from....

Afri 134 Phibsborough Rd. Phibsborough ,
Tower Records off Grafton St. City Centre
Connolly Books , Essex St , Dublin .

In Cork...from James at WSM

In London at the Anarchist Bookfair Oct 18th 08

Online from ....
AK Press


Catholic Worker Bookstore

The book is also available on Amazon:

People can order it from their local libraries as well , which is what I'm going to do .

author by Interview with authorpublication date Mon Jan 26, 2009 13:27author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Harry Browne Interview: Hammered by the Irish

An Interview with Harry Browne, author of Hammered by the Irish: How
the Pitstop Ploughshares Disabled a US Warplane - With Ireland's


Except from interview:

What do you make of the US / UK differences on what makes a plowshares action?

The important thing is that people on both sides of the Atlantic are
prepared to take some action, and put themselves at risk, to make
peace. If the US Catholic Worker version is more 'total' -- to use the
Berrigan word -- and the likes of Trident Ploughshares arguably more
'tactical', they clearly both have a part to play. The main thing in
both traditions is that something sustainable and, hopefully,
significant can be built.

Related Link: http://apos-archive.blogspot.com/2009/01/harry-browne-interview-hammered-by.html
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