Good morning, Your Honor.
My name is Mary Yelenick. I am a member of the Bar, and practiced law for nearly 40 years — first as a judicial law clerk, and later as a litigation partner in a large global law firm.
I am presently the NGO Main Representative at the United Nations for Pax Christi International, a global Catholic movement for peace and nonviolence.
I am offering this sentencing statement on behalf of Martha Hennessy: a woman whom I respect greatly — and who I believe is an example of the kind of person we need more of, if we as a human race are to survive.
For unless and until we eradicate nuclear weapons, we face the very real threat – day by day, minute by minute – that those nuclear weapons will eradicate not only every one of us involved in this proceeding, but everyone and everything we know and love.
Whether we are paralyzed by fear, or feel powerless to act, this cataclysm that hangs over the heads of each one of us assembled here today has rendered most of us mute.
Yet there are, fortunately, truth-tellers among us, who are not afraid to speak, and to act: and Martha Hennessy is one of those brave, selfless, sighted people. She knows, as Pope Francis continues to warn, and which Ronald Reagan emphasized in his 1984 State of the Union Address, that “a nuclear war can never be won.”
Martha Hennessy knows that as long as we are silent about that basic truth, we risk extinction.
As a farmer in Vermont, Martha cares for the Earth. She cherishes, fosters, and preserves, life. She treats the soil, and plant and animal life, as integral to the health and well-being of the whole. She understands the inter-connectedness of all organisms, of all life. And she understands that our actions – both as individuals, and as nations – have consequences for all generations, and for all beings, on the planet.
Martha Hennessy has consistently demonstrated – through her life, her actions, and her choices – her deep commitment to peace and nonviolence. She has sacrificed her own personal comfort to safeguard the futures of everyone sitting in this courtroom today.
Martha’s life is rooted in her strong faith, and in her biological and spiritual heritage.
Martha grew up in the presence of her remarkable grandmother, Dorothy Day – a woman who has been nominated for sainthood in the Catholic Church.
So you might say that recognizing, and speaking, unpopular truths is in Martha’s blood.
Martha has devoted years of her life working, as her grandmother did, among the poor, the hungry, and the homeless – at the Catholic Worker house in New York City.
Martha not only attends to the needs of the poor, but to the souls and consciences of the comfortable. Over the years, I have attended numerous public presentations by Martha – including to civic groups, large church congregations, and at the United Nations – in which Martha enlightened and challenged all of us on issues of peace and nonviolence – and reminded us of our obligations to each other.
Martha is a deep thinker. I am sure that this Court has observed that Martha is exceedingly thoughtful, always pausing to collect her thoughts before speaking. She speaks respectfully, carefully, and in a quiet voice.
She is patient. She tries, always, to listen to, and understand, others’ points of view. She recognizes the importance of dialogue.
Martha’s writings are filled with references to spiritual teachings about what we owe each other, and what is expected of us if we are not only to honor our Creator – but also the sanctity of creation itself. Martha’s goal, and her lifetime, demonstrable personal commitment, is to nurture, to protect, and to preserve that creation.
Martha Hennessy’s lifetime fidelity to a life of peace and nonviolence has been manifested in many, many ways, over the years. Several years ago, I spent long days with Martha, and others, in a seven-day fast and vigil near the Isaiah wall across from the United Nations complex in New York – in the plaza that bears the injunction from the Book of Isaiah the we must “turn our swords into plowshares.” For a full week, Martha, fasted; walked quietly in procession, holding up signs and pictures of the haunting faces of starving, emaciated children; spoke and listened carefully to passersby; and prayed publicly and peacefully for an end to the cruel slaughter of children in Yemen.
Martha also traveled to the Korean peninsula a few years ago, as part of the effort to support the peaceful reunification of people in the South with their families and country people in the North – a division that resulted, as has so much suffering in the world, from global power struggles in which our own country wields its nuclear arsenal as a global bully stick.
Martha derives her conviction from principles of the Christian faith, in which God sacrificed his own blood.
“Do this,” Jesus directed, “in memory of me.”
And Martha did. In a deeply symbolic, sacramental action, blood was spilled at the Kings Bay nuclear-weapons naval facility in the hope that the sight of that blood would be a wake-up call, and a reminder, of the blood gushing from the bodies of the hundreds of thousands of people killed (and still being harmed through irradiation damage) by our nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
That spilling of blood is also a reminder of the certainty – far greater than any “risk of death,” – that blood will gush from the bodies of millions more – human blood; animal blood; the life force of the earth itself – if nuclear weapons are ever used again.
And in keeping with her Christian faith, and her knowledge of the horrific consequences of nuclear weapons, Martha has not only spilled blood, but is now offering for others her very body, in sacrifice: exchanging her own freedom for the lives and security of others.
Two final thoughts: as an attorney with decades of experience practicing law, I recognize that adherence to “law” provides predictability and stability, in a society. But I also recognize that, over the course of our history, some things that we now recognize as vile, and deeply immoral – such as, in our nation’s history, slavery – were once deemed “legal.”
So, too, nuclear weapons – which have incinerated newborn babies, and their young mothers; vaporized elderly people as they fled in panic; and transformed vibrant young schoolchildren into blackened, pulsating blobs of burned skin – are deemed “legal” in this country.
But the global Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – pursuant to which nuclear weapons will be formally recognized as illegal under international law on January 22 – makes clear that the world is steadily and inexorably rejecting the “legality” of the diabolical weapons of mass destruction that glide ominously through the waters of Kings Bay.
None of us – in this courtroom, this county, this country, this small, closely-connected planet – can escape the necessary consequences of what is happening here in Brunswick.
“Sentencing guidelines” cannot help us evade our own moral responsibility. Those guidelines could not, and do not contemplate a time of global pandemic – when consigning Martha Hennessy to prison presents a very real risk of being a death sentence. Does that stark parallel to the biblical narrative trouble our consciences?
Martha Hennessy has accepted – and exercised — her own moral responsibility, trying to protect all of us from mass death. It is we who have ignored, and abdicated, and refused to admit that which we are still trying to conceal – going so far as testifying before the trusting jury, whose members wanted to know whether nuclear weapons are in fact stationed at Kings Bay, that the government could “neither admit nor deny” the presence of nuclear weapons embedded in the Brunswick community.
As Martha Hennessy tried to convey to the rest of us, so long as nuclear weapons exist, it is only a question of when – not whether – they will be used: intentionally, or by accident or mistake, or through sabotage or theft.
And when that happens:
The final questions that dying children everywhere – not only here in Brunswick, but all across the planet – will be asking their parents – as they and their parents scream in agony, consumed by raging fire; or withering away from radiation; or inexorably reduced to skeletal remains resulting from global starvation, with nuclear dust clouds preventing the sun’s rays from reaching global crops – is “why didn’t somebody stop this, while we still had a chance?”
And the response – the final words of parents dying horrific deaths here in Brunswick, Georgia, and all across the globe – the last human sounds before the extinction of all life on this beloved planet – will be:
“Some people DID try to stop this. But we prosecuted them.
And we locked them away.”