frontline volume 2, issue 6. March 2008
Radical Song: Four strong women
Bill Scott continues his series on radical song with a tale of bravery against the military machine.
Four Strong Women
Maurie Mulheron (1996)
It took a hammer, an act of love
To turn that jet Hawk into a dove
It took some courage, it took some strength
To stop that fighter from dealing death
Into the hangar, into the plane
Now use your hammer to stop the pain
There’s steady breathing as your work starts
Four strong women, four beating hearts
You sang of justice, you rang the bell
You drove your hammer through Timor’s hell
You won your freedom but you won more
You stopped a death plane from making war
Four strong women with hammers high
Beating ploughshares for a peaceful sky
They know the struggle, they know the cause
Whoever profits keeps making wars
Coda: Four strong women, four beating hearts
Until now I’ve concentrated on songs fairly well-known within the socialist movement. This time I’m showcasing one that deserves to be better known. “Four Strong Women” celebrates the actions of four women, Andrea Needham, Joanna Wilson, Lotta Kronlid and Angie Zeltner, who are members of the peace group, Ploughshares and it was written by an Australian, Maurie Mulheron.
In January 1996, the four women broke into a high security hangar owned by British Aerospace in Lancashire. Their purpose was to disarm one of the newly built Hawk jets due for delivery to the Indonesian Government who use the jets against the villagers of East Timor.
Once they were positive that the plane was being exported to Indonesia they quit their flats, said their farewells, bought some tools - bolt-cutters, crowbars and small hammers, and made their way to the airfield. There the four women broke into the hangar and set about destroying the war machine. Over a period of about an hour the women methodically destroyed the plane’s weapons system with their hammers. When they were finished, they draped banners over the plane, sang songs and dropped small seeds (of hope) everywhere. They placed a video of John Pilger’s documentary on East Timor in the cockpit.
They were arrested and charged and faced heavy prison sentences. At their trial they argued that their crime was justified because its intent was to prevent a larger crime, genocide, from occurring. As the Pilger documentary had been found at the scene of the crime, it was evidence and the women were allowed to show it to the jury. On the trial’s 6th day, the jury turned in a majority verdict of not guilty.
British Aerospace were stunned. On the steps of the court, a company representative served an injunction ordering the women not to trespass on the company’s property again. Angie Zeltner took the papers and, grinning broadly, promptly tore them up.
Their actions have been emulated here in Scotland by women (and the occasional man!) from Trident Ploughshares and Angie Zeltner, having made history in one case, has not been resting on her laurels.
On Thursday 21st October 1999 after an 18 day trial Sheriff Margaret Gimblet instructed the jury at Greenock Sheriff Court to acquit Angie Zelter, Ellen Moxley and Ulla Roder of Ploughshares who had been charged with causing £80,000 worth of damage to Maytime, a Trident-related acoustic research barge.
Their defence was that (i) due to its destructive power, Trident could not be used in any manner that was lawful in international law (ii) that under the principles established at the Nuremburg trials citizens not only had a right but a duty to prevent mass murder and that (iii) successive UK governments had failed to fulfil their obligations to disarm under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (iv) finally they had acted out of necessity to prevent a crime, the mass death of civilians.
In addressing the jury Sheriff Gimblett said “I have to conclude that the three in company with others were justified in thinking that Great Britain in their use of Trident... could be construed as a threat and as such is an infringement of international and customary law. I have heard nothing which would make it seem to me that the accused acted with criminal intent.”
The jury acquitted the women. Unfortunately such a sensible legal decision could not go unchallenged, it was quickly over-turned by the Court of Session who said that nuclear missiles weren’t really criminal weapons of mass destruction until they were used (by which time it would be kind of late to do anything about it!) so therefore there was no urgent necessity for the women to act. Lewis Caroll obviously consulted with these asses before writing Alice in Wonderland.
Trident Ploughshares continues to cause trouble for the authorities with a 25 foot, plastic, “Yellow Submarine”, Trident mock-up built and occupied outside the new Scottish Parliament in March 2005.
Angie Zeltner was there yet again. She and 9 other protestors including SSP MSP, Rosie Kane, were arrested and charged with obstructing the road and refusing to obey police instructions (never!). Denied the “Greenock” defence they were convicted and fined £300 each. We wait patiently for the day when the police will charge the British Government with being in possession of an illegal weapon (Trident).
Men too can sometimes show the common-sense and courage of their convictions in a peaceful way. On the eve of the Iraq warTony Olditch and Philip Pritchard broke into RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire with the intent of sabotaging US B-52 bombers by pouring liquid containing staples and nails into their engines. Their defence in court was that their actions were intended to prevent war crimes. The US Government had openly stated their intention of bombing civilian areas indiscriminately using cluster bombs and Tony and Philip saw this as the only way to stop them. The jury agreed and they were acquitted in May of 2007 after an earlier mis-trial. No wonder the Government is so keen to get rid of jury trials!
Unfortunately I don’t know of any British recordings of this song but it can be heard on “Union Made” a live recording by the Sydney Trade Union Choir which also contains Guthrie’s “Union Maid” , the Internationale, the Red Flag etc. You can hear some of the song here - http://www.solidaritychoir.com.au/fourstrongwomen.html
More information re the CD here - http://www.asslh.org.au/sydney/books.htm Good hunting internationalists!