At dawn on August 10, 2005, Turi Vaccaro scaled the fence of Volkel Air Base near Uden, Netherlands. He carried a miner’s hammer, children’s drawings, a tailcoat “to celebrate disarmament,” and a book of the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale. Once inside the base, Vaccaro hid behind a container and did some calming yoga. Then he shattered the window of a hangar where two F-16 fighter jets capable of carrying B61 nuclear bombs were being repaired. At 6:40am, one jet’s computer system abruptly stopped under the first blow of Vaccaro’s hammer. At 7:20am, the police arrived, alerted by a base employee to look for “an elf on a plane.” During those 40 minutes alone in the hangar, Vaccaro had played his flute, chalked “Not ready for the next war” on the ground, hung the drawings in the F-16s’ cockpits, and otherwise caused an estimated US$1 million of damage. He says that he knew where to hit the planes because he had studied children’s toy replicas of F-16s for 15 years since joining the Plowshares movement.
For most Christians, the Biblical prophecy that men and women will “beat their swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4) is supposed to come true after Judgment Day. But for the Christian pacifists of Plowshares, the world must be demilitarized today. Over more than 30 years, Plowshares members have symbolically disarmed weapons across Europe and the United States by hitting them with hammers or covering them with bucketfuls of human blood. Their actions are usually planned and performed collectively, but Vaccaro, now 60, styles himself a second Jonah, called by God to reform the world alone. Since being fired by Italian car manufacturer Fiat in 1985 for refusing to work on a tank-transportation vehicle, he has been imprisoned a dozen times by various European police forces for, among other things, peeing on the wall of a military base, hiding bricks intended for the construction of a military base, and occupying lampposts, antennas and electricity towers. “Goods are called goods because they are meant for the greater good,” he says. “If they are meant for evil, then we can – we must – destroy them.”
Recently, the Italian activist has been lending his efforts to the NO TAV movement, a 20-year-old protest against a high-speed-railroad project in the northern Italian valley of Val di Susa that will connect Turin, Italy, to Lyon, France. Locals argue that the project is unnecessary, expensive and harmful for the valley’s ecosystem and Vaccaro considers it a form of violence against nature. But dis-armament remains his priority. “Next year, nuclear weapons in the Netherlands and the USA will be modernized,” he says. Jonah might be back on duty.
From the pages of COLORS #88 - Protest.