Tuesday, April 23, 2013


 Hello there, people, while you've all been eating toast, drinking your morning tea, and reading the ongoing saga of Catholic Worker Dennis Apel, I have been to Guelph, Ontario and back.

What with Pope Francis's call for visible, voluntary poverty, and the push for canonization of Dorothy Day well underway, Dennis's story seems especially timely.

For those who missed the first installments, here's:


And here's [the penultimate of the series] Part IV:

Okay, just so we don’t leave it out completely [originally the main reason I was interviewing Dennis at all], part of your thing has been witnessing, if that’s the way you put it, at a whole bunch of places, but especially Vandenberg…so just tell about that.

I just want to say, too, our decision not to do Catholic Worker, when that flip-flopped over the course of that first weekend, we made a conscious…the expectations, sort of, of the Catholic Worker model were going to mean nothing to us.

The expectations, meaning?...

Well there’s kind of like an unspoken…This is how Catholic Workers do things. And there’s a kind of unspoken, Well if you’re gonna go against that…Everybody loves another and they’re not gonna say it but they’re thinking Well that’s not really Catholic Worker…

Okay well give us an example.

Well you talk about the resistance, the resistance is part of the model.

It’s obligatory.

Well it’s not…it’s that unspoken…

Are ya REALLY a follower of Christ?…

Well are you really a follower of Dorothy [Day] anyway. And most Catholic Workers have some level of resistance work. But we decided we were just going to do what made sense to us. Now granted our values and our thoughts are very close to…I mean the Catholic Worker has a great model for that. Dorothy would say, You have to stop the bleeding. You have to serve the poor. You have to stop the bleeding but at some point you have to address the reason for the bleeding. You can’t just mop up after it all the time. So her idea was you made an intersection with the institutions and structures that were causing the marginalization or the poverty or whatever it was.

Beautifully put.

It makes sense. It does make sense. But we weren’t gonna do it just for the sake of conforming to some…but it made sense to us. And we started with the obvious, which was the field workers and what they were dealing with. When we first came to Guadalupe, the Border Patrol was regularly coming in and scooping people up. Immigration would come in and take people. So what we would do, we had signs in our car that said in Spanish Immigration Ahead. We just kept em in our car and any time we’d see them, like a roadblock, we’d see it up ahead and we’d just stand there with our sign and people would go the other way.

Which is not illegal.

No, it’s not illegal, but it’s not going to endear us to a lot of people who are not going to support undocumented immigrants. So we started with that and then we did a lot of work around strawberries. Because we were asked to by some strawberry workers. Which is a whole long story, but…

In other words, to get better wages and working conditions?

What they wanted was more money for what they were doing.

And you were saying last night, strawberry picking is just the worst of the worst when it comes to farm working…

So we said well we have to raise public awareness first. So we suggested that we go with them to the…there’s an annual strawberry grower’s dinner that precedes the annual Strawberry Festival. Where they have a Strawberry Queen. And it’s to celebrate the economic boost from strawberries in this valley. It’s now their number one crop. But they do grower of the year…and that’s all growers, not the workers. The Queen is chosen from one of these growing families, not from the workers. So we said Well let’s go to the dinner. So we showed up and we made this huge sign and in one direction it had an arrow saying, “Strawberrry Growers’ Dinner Twenty Dollars a Plate. And it had an arrow going in the opposite direction saying Strawberry Pickers’ Dinner Twenty Cents a Plate.” And we had all these strawberry workers show up and we stood at the entrance to the parking lot where the dinner was and of course the press always came to that so they saw us out there. Well it made the front page and there was a big uproar…

Did you actually have?...

Yes, we had beans and rice.

So the pickers could come and actually have a plate of food.

Yes, and we had a flat of strawberries and we had it propped up there with a sign saying “No Strawberries, You Can’t Afford It.” They couldn’t afford to buy the strawberries they picked.

So there was an uproar, letters to the editor….

Now would you get hate mail?

We did get on our answering machine a couple of hateful messages, just a couple, it wasn’t that much. But we lost some supporters. Some people who were sending us money.

Cause meanwhile you’re writing a newspaper and you’re living on donations, that’s part of the Catholic Worker model.

We’ve always lived on donations. That’s what we’ve done.
Tensie and I never had aspirations to grow and become that big. And we don’t need that much. We do just fine. I think we have nine people who currently send us something every month and then we get sporadic other donations. But we just don’t need that much money to do what we do. It’s amazing what you can do…

So those were some of your early forays…

And then we go out to Vandenberg [Air Force Base] cause it’s very close to us.

And tell us what goes on there.

Well it’s a huge base. But it’s the military space program operates out of there basically so a lot of satellites get sent into orbit, rockets from the south end of the base. But the north end of the base which is just over the hill from Guadalupe they test intercontinental ballistic missiles. And they do that, now they’re doing that four or five times a year; they were doing that nine times a year. When they shoot the missile off, it comes out of an underground silo, the windows rattle in the house. You feel it in your chest. They’re very powerful. They shoot em off and the warhead is targeted to land in Kwajalein Atoll which is in the Marshall Islands. It’s four thousand two hundred miles away and it takes twenty minutes. From the time they shoot if off to the time it lands, it’s twenty minutes. Can you imagine something going that fast? It’s something like 13,000 miles an hour.

And the atoll has been more or less decimated?

Well this is something that’s close to my heart because I’m hurting for the people there [Dennis has been to the Marshall Islands twice, most recently a couple of months prior to our conversation] The atoll is like a circular string of islands so what happened was a volcano came up at one point and made that big hole that’s in the middle of a volcano. But then it sunk back down below the surface of the ocean and a coral reef grew up around the rim of the volcano and then at places along that circular coral reef there were still parts sticking up that became islands. So it’s like a string of islands…they’re just gorgeous. They’re like those pictures you see in National Geographic. Well they picked Kwajalein to be their target for these missile tests. So they shoot the missile off , it goes into outer space and the warhead detaches and then re-enters the atmosphere and lands at the target it’s been programmed to land at which is the atoll. And in order to do that…so this atoll is 66 miles across, it’s the largest atoll in the world. The U.S. military took 11 islands in that atoll. People were living there. And they built their major military base on Kwajalein Island which is the biggest island in the Kwajalein Atoll. So they have USAKA (the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll), which is the military base.

And so they needed a labor force. So they moved these people off their other islands and onto this one island that’s twenty minutes away by barge from their army base. And then they barge the people over from the island of Ebeye each day and barge them back home. But the island of Ebeye is 80 acres and now has 15,000 people living on it. And the U.S. military constructed these homes for the people to live in, they put em together out of plywood.

So they’ve created a population of working poor in an overcrowded…

Oh yeah. They pay them five dollars an hour to come over and…they clean and manicure the gold course, they…the Army base has a golf course, they have soccer field, baseball field, they have an outdoor theater, they have their own private beach, they have stores and…so they bring the people over to work on that, they do all the groundskeeping and landscaping, they clean the rooms, they work in the restaurants and the laundry.

So they appropriated their land and then made them dependent…

So before that, they lived an island life. They had canoes, they fished in the lagoon. Coconut palms grow there, but they also grew breadfruit and papaya. They lived island lives. That was it. But when we put the base there and brought people over to work there and then put them on an island close to the base, that population grew because the employees had their families with them. So it went from I think it was 150 people living in Ebeye before the base and now it’s 15,000, but some of those people are just extended family…cousins…they can’t live on their islands anymore. I’m not talking about just the lagoon, there’s another island there, Ilegini Island, sometimes they target that island…

And there’s people living on it?

No, they moved the people off. And technically the islands are leased. Because there’s a tribal system, they’re native people, so there’s a chief on every island. So they paid off the chiefs. So they could lease the island and move all the people off. So there’s 11 of those islands they leased.

And this is just one of…a tiny portion of the U.S. military…

We have over a thousand U.S. military bases outside of the United States. And it’s growing.

And no-one’s even…what is the threat? There’s nothing of “defense” about it…It’s empire.

“China is this growing power,” we say. “China, China, China.” China doen’t have a single military base outside of China. Nor does North Korea or Iraq. None of these people has a single military base outside their own countries. We have a thousand.

Can you imagine the hue and cry if any other country in the world…just that little operation you just described. Took it over and starting shooting test missiles. We would drop a bomb on them for having such arrogance!

That’s right.
North Korea fires a missile…oh, provocative!

Right. They’re crazy, those North Koreans!

And we’re doing it all the time. Oh look, that’s a real treat to see them.

These are spectacular. Shoot, I hate that my battery’s low.
And so do the people who say…ooh we have to defend ourselves against the terrorist threat!...what is your response to that?

Well I guess my response is why doesn’t Canada have to defend itself against the terrorist threat? Why doesn’t Mexico? Or the Netherlands? Well, because there’s a reason we have a terrorist threat. There’s a reason why people want to do harm to the United States. And it’s not because they’re jealous because we have more money or a better life than they have. A lot of people would like to live here and with good reason. We’ve got a pretty cushy life-style. But it’s because of how we’ve gotten all that. And what we’ve done in their countries. We’ve put a military base in Mecca for God’s sake. We put it in Saudi Arabia. We just take what we want. We just take it. If we want a base in Guam, we just take it. If we want a base in the Marshall Islands, we just take it. And you know, when I went on this trip, I went to a lot of islands, I went to Hawaii, I went to the Marshall Islands, I went to Jeju Island, where we’ve just taken their land, and everywhere where there’s a military base, there is hatred for the United States. Not even just because of the military base, but because…

We’re bullies!

And because the military personnel there have immunity. They can rape, steal, destroy, they can do anything with impunity. And they do. And so we’re not seen as these benign…

Protectors of freedom.

No, we’re as imperial as any imperial power ever was. More so. And that’s why we have terrorists. You can’t defend yourself against that.

No, and that lust to dominate is a form in and of itself of violence. To me. And therefore violence always begets the desire to retaliate. And I think we’re seeing it in the violence within our country, us doing to each other. How could Sandy Hook, for example, possibly be a surprise? That is the inevitable result of an entire culture, politics, and often unfortunately, religion, my religion, that takes the dynamic of perpetual violence, which is so utterly un-Christ-like, as a matter of course.

Here’s a question. We were talking to a pastor friend of ours, who had this mega-church in Dallas, 8000 members, it was huge, it looked like a mall. And we stopped to visit him, we went to this church, and they were doing a memorial for 9/11, and as part of the service they had the American flags going and the patriotic music and so afterwards we were asking the pastor, it’s a Christian church, they reads the same Gospels the rest of us read, I don’t know if you can see it in there, there’s a lot of tortoises that live in there, can you see a tortoise?

Oh! That right there, that looks like a dusty rock, but that could be a tortoise.

[Looks through binoculars]. Yup, that’s a tortoise, you can see the green and red on its head.

Stop it. Oh I’ll be darned. What an incredible camouflage. And the green is the exact color of the green of the leaves of the tree under which he’s sitting, too.

There’s a bird called an American bittern. It’s about this big. And it has a real striped breast and it will go in the reeds and just stand there [mimes with face to sun, next stretched and held rigid] forever because those stripes will camouflage…

And you wonder what he’s thinking. "I’m just going to stand here and meditate"…
Okay so anyway, you say to this pastor…I just don’t get it. Love thine enemies! How do you reconcile…

Right. How does that work out in a Christian church? Let’s go get those Iraquis. They’re all on board with that. And our pastor friend says Well, the only way I can really explain it is it’s an idea that when you read the Gospel and it talks about your neighbor it’s talking about the person who lives next door to you. Literally on your block. You have to treat the people in your life the way you want to be treated, but it doesn’t apply to nations! But then I want to say, Well wait a second. The same people who would say those things aren’t meant to apply to nations, only to people, would say Honor the people who are in the service and who go out and kill, even tough our Gospel says Don’t kill.


They’ll support those people, because those are individual decisions. But we’re one nation under God. That’s important. Our nation. No-one else’s nation.

We’re an exception.

We’re 'under God!' So they’re applying certain things to the nation…they’re saying we can be a Christian nation, but the Christian principles don’t apply to us as a nation. They only apply to us as individuals.

Well plus it’s such a bizarrely…what about someone from another nation who also…I know I’m preaching to the choir, but it just doesn’t make any sense at all.

I went to Mass when I was in Iraq. I went to Mass. The Catholics were bombed the same as the Muslims were bombed, the same as anyone was bombed. It’s indiscriminate. You go out and see these people outside the abortion clinics with their rosaries and you just want to say, God, how many kids do you think were aborted in shock and awe...

It doesn’t even register. They’re not Americans.

When I went to Iraq, there were five thousand kids a month dying because of the sanctions we had. Five thousand children a month. They wouldn’t let em have the replacement parts for the incubators for God’s sake. They wouldn’t let em have anything. They wouldn’t let em have vitamins, they wouldn’t let em have medicines…they said we’re gonna squeeze these people and if five thousands kids have to die a month, so what.

I mean let’s just go back to the Gospels! The Gospels, the Gospels, the Gospels. It’s not that complicated. Christ was the Son of Man who died for everyone. He didn’t die just for his people. He didn’t die for the people of Bethlehem. I mean it’s so basic that it’s hard to believe…but that’s what we do. Take some tiny portion and appropriate it to our own…

Let me just say this real quick. After WWII, the Marshall Islands were made a protectorate of the United States. Immediately after WWII, we began above-ground nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, Bikini Atoll, we detonated nuclear weapons above-ground there, and we irradiated the people of the Marshall Islands the same way we did the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We did it on purpose, and that’s not an opinion, there are documents released in the ‘90s that talked about why they did it on purpose, for the study of the radiation poisoning in people.

In other words that was their purpose, to intentionally irradiate people in order to observe the effects.

That was their purpose! It was part of the purpose. Just the same as we did in Nevada, even with our own military, we had some of our own military go out there and then did a study of them.

Unbeknownst to the military people.

They didn’t know they were being studied for radiation poison. [Here are a few links: "Unethical Human Experimentation in the United States," "Operation Plumbbob," and "Nuclear Testing and the Downwinders"]. So I’m just saying we did that, and then we finally stopped after I think it was 67 nuclear detonations over there in the Marshall Islands and now these warheads that we’re dropping in this atoll are depleted uranium and all you have to do is go to the history of Iraq to see what happened when we used depleted uranium there. [from wikipedia: “The use of DU in munitions is controversial because of questions about potential long-term health effects. Normal functioning of the kidney, brain, liver, heart, and numerous other systems can be affected by uranium exposure, because uranium is a toxic metal.”] All of a sudden all the kids are having birth defects, all the kids are having childhood leukemias, it’s toxic, toxic, toxic and it has a half-life of whatever the age of the sun is, I always forget, how old is the sun?

Ya got me [it’s 4.5 billion years].

Well however old the sun is, that’s the half-life of uranium. It’s going to lose half its radioactivity in [2.25 billion years]. It’s forever.



  1. This is fascinating. I don't even live in the States, and I am getting indignant. I admire Dennis Apel and all who dedicate their lives to exposing hypocrisy on the large scale.

  2. Wow, that's really sad. I'm absolutely on board with all he's saying, for sure. Except for:
    "You go out and see these people outside the abortion clinics with their rosaries and you just want to say, God, how many kids do you think were aborted in shock and awe..."

    I get what he's saying, but abortion is part of the imperialist cancer that the U.S. is spreading. It's part and parcel of the very problem he's talking about - devaluing human life, at the very root, i.e. certain people are okay to kill, others aren't. I don't like how he's setting up a false dichotomy there. To me, that's just playing into the false dichotomy of Left and Right ideologies. I support both forms of protest, peaceful praying at abortion clinics and Denis' type of raising social awareness of unjust conditions. And it's definitely easier to protest the injustice you see, that's in your own backyard, then the injustice you're only informed about through news sources.

    Anyway, wow, America is a troubled nation. I pray for the moral health of its leaders, because what it does affects the whole world.

  3. Thanks, Michelle, I was at Mass this morning, agonizing over/pondering this stuff. Thinking of how it’s never a matter of us vs. them, or God forbid me vs. them. I’m a bully. I have a lust to dominate. My impulse in the face of any kind of violence, and often simply out of my own mean heart, is to retaliate. I’m absolutely complicit in the violence, which is precisely why I'm called to be aware of the extent of the violence of the culture in which I live. We’re called to look at the powers and principalities of darkness so that we can understand that our inner lives, our prayers, our hearts, and our actions are a matter of life and death. In one way we’re not important at all and in another, the salvation of the whole world depends in a sense on each of us.

    A reader wrote to me privately saying she didn’t like the story. Surely we’re not supposed to break the law! she said. But I think we are absolutely called to break certain laws. Rosa Parks broke the law. The people who operated the Underground Railroad broke the law. The people, Catholic and non-Catholic, who rescued, hid, harbored Jewish children during the Holocaust broke the law. The many deeply courageous men and women of integrity who have trespassed at abortion clinics have broken the law.

    I can’t speak for Dennis but as a follower of Christ, I’m for all life, across the board. To me, to promote abortion is to promote war, and to promote war is to promote abortion. So my brain sort of short-circuits at people who are, say, against abortion but gung-ho for war, or against war but gung-ho for abortion. Jesus said Say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no. You can’t do that in partisan politics which is why my idea of politics, as you say, Michelle, is not left or right but rather speaking truth to power.

    That of course includes the many people who at great cost to themselves have made serving “the least of these” in the form of unborn children their life’s work. They often risk their own form of censure, scorn (look at Mother Teresa and Christopher Hitchens), and financial insecurity.

    One thing I know: I'm always being called to look on my own ongoing hypocrisy...

  4. It'd be easier to move to Canada or Mexico than to try to change this country. Maybe that's all we can do, be witnesses.

  5. Dear Heather:

    There's much here to consider and of course my inclination is to be critical but I can refrain. I would correct Mr. Apel on one point, however. The Status of Forces Agreement in the Marshall Islands specifically establishes that jurisdiction for criminal actions committed by US military personnel outside of defense department property belongs to the government of the Marshall Islands. US troops DO NOT have immunity. "They" may be "raping" and "stealing" (activities that I hasten to point out are common occurences by non-military people all over the world, and even by people who aren't Americans) but they aren't doing so under some US government legal umbrella. I will grant that it's possible that the United States government may fail to abide by its own agreement, but if so that's not the troops' fault, and moreover that really stretches the definition of "immunity". My point here is I wonder how this is speaking truth to power. Does the end of characterizing our Soldiers as "bullies" justify the means of lying about them?

    Very best regards,

  6. Hi Peter, speaking truth in any capacity, I'm thinking, would dictate addressing the question at hand: namely, how DO we reconcile "Love thine enemy" with war?...

  7. Hi Heather:

    I don't think you can. Perhaps you'd be surprised about how often I'm sympathetic with Mr. Apel's positions. I have a problem, though, when you equivocate "war" itself with "military personnel", especially when these are accused of rape, theft, and destruction, en masse, and doing so with impunity to innocents without recourse. This just isn't the case and it ill-serves Mr. Apel's cause (and therefore Christ's, if we're to buy his sincerity). Military personnel are people and don't deserve to be treated as if their existence is worth any less than anyone else's simply because you might find their line of work distasteful.

    A perfect world wouldn't require militaries. Perhaps you're correct; the military oughtn't exist. But it does, and so long as it does, let us direct our criticism at the folks who would make war unjustly, and leave the struggling, seeking, striving folks in the ranks alone, because in almost every way they're just like you.


  8. Hi Heather,

    It is odd to see my conversation with you in print. As a friend, I think I have a tendency to speak frankly with you and possibly not consider how my words might affect others. I wonder if I haven't offended some folks like Peter. It is not my intent. On the other hand, my limited experience in visiting folks outside of the United States who are living the consequences of our military exploits and bases leads me to be dismayed by the structure that can bring out the worst in human nature of some but not all of our military personnel and contractors. I think my comments about immunity were not meant to apply specifically to the Marshall Islands but to our bases in general. See this link for an example of what has occurred in Okinawa and Japan...http://factsanddetails.com/japan.php?itemid=1865&catid=22&subcatid=148. But in my limited travels I have found that the Status of Forces Agreement we have in whatever country our bases are located is not an indication of the accountability brought to bear on offenders there. My intention is not to indict military personnel, but to indict our foreign policy and the "filthy rotten system" that has many in other countries questioning the actions of a nation claiming to be "under God." Just as to challenge the Catholic Church for the structure that allows pedophiles to operate with impunity for decades is not an indictment of all priests, so it is with our military and our foreign policy. But the structure exists and the tendency of those who want to protect their brothers, in the end, supports that structure. I am convinced that as disciples we need to challenge that structure.


  9. Hi Dennis, well, that is the best kind of conversation, between and among friends, and that you were kind enough to offer our talk to the world is a lovely example of treating everyone as a friend. This is my way, or one of them, of feeding the poor, and I thank you very much for participating in it...


I WELCOME your comments!!!