One of the Sperry Corporation's efforts to be both good servant of the Pentagon and of its shareholders is the production of computer equipment for nuclear weapons.
Sperry, a major military contractor that recently pleaded gulty to three counts of fraudulently overcharging the government, currently gets $1.3 billion from the Pentagon to develop, among other things, computer components for the Trident II missile. This is a multi- kiloton weapon able to explode a holocaust many times more violent than the bombs dropped by America on Japan in 1945. In its current annual report, Sperry boasts of being "well established in the electronic-warfare business."
In August John LaForge, 28, and Barb Katt, 26, entered a Sperry plant in Eagan, Minn., and began hammering at the computers. LaForge is a former Eagle Scout and a graduate of Bimidji State University who served 18 months as a VISTA volunteer. Katt, who graduated from Bimidji State with a degree in philosophy, has worked with mentally impaired adults. Both have made deep commitments to peace, whether in the form of comforting a poor person or of trying to stop the military's idolatrous faith in the bomb.
LaForge and Katt have been involved in civil disobedience for four years. They are also students of the history of arms escalation.
The disarmament conference convened by the pair in the Sperry weapons plant went at first unnoticed by the employees. LaForge and Katt had entered the place peacefully, were unarmed and wore the clothes of corporate respectability: blue suits and shined shoes.
During the disabling of the computer, workers were at first confused. Finally, LaForge recalled, "Someone said, 'Shouldn't someone call security?' They thought we were employees gone bonkers."
Security was called. LaForge and Katt were arrested. Two months later, in mid-October, both were found guilty by a jury of a felony. Two days ago, Judge Miles Lord, sympathetic to the defendants, gave them six months suspended sentences.
The case of the Sperry Software Pair, as it is called, deserves attention. A number of facts converge to make it larger than only a Minneapolis case, and a number of ideas were presented by LaForge and Katt that make them more than two well-meaning rebels.
The destruction of a weapons system at Sperry -- causing about $35,000 damage -- is one of at least a dozen recent actions against the government's war preparations. In Syracuse, seven members of the Griffiss Plowshares, who had damaged a B52 fitted with cruise missiles, were hit with two-and three-year prison terms. In Orlando, eight peace activists were each sentenced to three years for damaging a missile launcher at the Martin-Marietta plant. Jail terms were given to four members of Friends for a Nonviolent World for trespassing at an Air Force base in Grand Forks, N.D. In Bangor, Wash., three citizens are serving 90-day sentences for blocking a train carrying nuclear missiles to a military base.
In all, more than 30 peace activists are in prison or jail for civil disobedience against the arms race.
In cities such as Minneapolis and Orlando, the trials of these cases receive media attention. But nationally, there is little. Trees in the forest are falling as never before, but because the media choose to put their ears elsewhere, the noise never happened. Americans are told more about the protests occurring in places like England, where the women of Greenham Common are saying no to nuclear weapons. Petra Kelley of West Germany is better known to Americans than Elizabeth McAlister, now locked away for three years in the federal women's prison in Alderson, W. Va.
McAlister and the others in jail, as well as John LaForge and Barb Katt, are not off-the-wall crazies. All of them are well-educated, mature, prayerful and caring citizens who came to civil disobedience in the same spirit that Gandhi, King and Thoreau defied the might of the state. Many are parents, some are teachers, a few are priests or nuns. Todd Kaplan, 26, in a Florida prison, describes himself as "a faithful Jew struggling to follow God's call to bring shalom (peace) and tzedekah (justice) to this world."
By stiff sentences to resisters like Kaplan, the courts give credibility to the Pentagon's argument that the Bomb is sacred. Destroying the property of death that could destroy the ultimate property -- the world -- is somehow, twistedly, seen as criminal.