Vietnam War-era activist opposes current conflict PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN

January 21, 1991|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Evening Sun Staff

For 16 years, Elizabeth McAlister has tried to alert people to the dangers of nuclear weapons. To get their attention, she has thrown her blood into the White House fountain and beat on B-52 bombers with hammers.

McAlister has served time in a federal prison for her protests. She is awaiting trial on charges that she spray-painted the words, "No More War, War Never Again," near the White House fence last October.

Today, with this country engaged in a war with Iraq, McAlister, 51, fears that the United States will use nuclear weapons to end the hostilities.

"I'm convinced in my own soul that life as we know it will never be the same again," McAlister said, while hugging her cat, Pope John Pumpkin II. "No one believes that there are U.S. nuclear weapons over there, but I do. It's tragic because the world isn't the same when they're used. They affect the air, the water, the ground, trees, plants -- it affects everything for centuries to come."

McAlister said her husband, Philip Berrigan, 67, estimates that 40 percent of the weapons the United States has sent to the Persian Gulf contain nuclear warheads, a notion she said many Americans have not contemplated.

President Bush has said nuclear weapons will not be used by U.S. troops.

"People assume that these weapons will not be used -- that this is an old-style war," McAlister said. "But the macho spirit behind this is such that Bush is tempted to use these weapons. He's made much out of the fact that we'll get it over fast in a surgical strike. One of our deepest hopes is that military people will say, 'No. I won't do it.' "

McAlister, a former nun, and her husband, a former priest, committed their lives to peace during the anti-war movement in the Vietnam era. They belong to a peace group called Plowshares, which they formed in 1980 to protest nuclear arms.

In 1969, Berrigan and McAlister married and in 1973, the couple opened Jonah House in Reservoir Hill. Dedicated to housing pacifists and helping the poor, five adults and the three Berrigan-McAlister children live in the large rowhouse.

Since the Persian Gulf conflict began Aug. 2, McAlister and Berrigan have protested the buildup of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.

McAlister said Bush has misinformed the American public on why he has sent U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf. She also blames the media for what she calls misleading and incomplete reporting of the crisis and Bush's flip-flops on policy.

"People are paying too much attention to the administration and every reason and every lie is published in the media," she said. "When new reasons for us being over there come out, they are published and replace the old reasons. And I see these Harris polls that say a majority of the American people support a war in the Middle East -- that is utter and complete bull----!"

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