Flames of Berrigans illumine properties

   Here are some thoughts on Daniel Berrigan.   In the late 1980s, I wrote Exchanges:
come spring of orange
tulips orange stamens
on Catonsville draft
flames of Berrigans
illumine properties
quiet the cell help others
read laundry/daffodils
listen to burning footfalls
beneath the voices
the war goes on
the edge of sadness
god’s voice to officers
who class at Lowry
still afternoons
where nuns beneath roadsides
San Salvador Quito Guatemala
are but a distance
you move across the
a quiet candle
guards escort
to shadowy buses
      your eyes in blanker distances
               upon mine
       I was not immediately in the part of the movement that Dan and Phil Berrigan inspired.  I was in SDS which wanted to ally with ordinary people whom we saw had profound interests against war; we also fought racism in conjunction with the civil rights movement, women on welfare and many others.  As a graduate student, I did draft counseling for the Boston Draft Resistance Group.  We helped individuals avoid becoming killers in the Vietnam War, do conscious objection or escape the country.  I admired the Resistance, a group in which people for reasons of conscience burned their draft cards.  But to some extent, they also looked down on working people whom they regarded – ignorantly – as identified with the War (now Harvard professors, particularly in Government Department, like Kissinger and McGeorge Bundy and Daniel Moynihan often were…).
      In 1969, I gave up 2-s. I was part of the Harvard strike which shut down the campus for a week against Harvard’s massive cooperation with the war, including its training of officers, as well as its dispossession of working people in Cambridge. and soon after, was expelled from Harvard.  With some others, I thought, with some reluctance. that we should go into the army and organize against the War.  But in the end, I was lucky enough to fail my physical.  
        In 1968, Daniel and Phillip Berrigan led the now famous Catonsville 9.  Dan had that year been to Vietnam with Howard Zinn to bring home 3 American pilots, prisoners of war, whom the Vietnamese returned to the US.  That Vietnamese gesture was not reciprocated by the American government…
     Berrigan speaks of being in a shelter with children, under the bombing night after night.  He had also saw what napalm did to women and children.
      Now most of us had seen the photo of the little girl, running down a dirt road, naked, burning (the New York Times, though always reactionary, sometimes did more reporting during that time than today); that inspired me to join a sit-in of 500 people against the Dow chemical corporation.  Napalm was invented at Harvard by Louis Fieser – see here for a poem by Sam Friedman about Fieser setting a hut on fire to “entertain students” for Halloween…
    The atmosphere of racism at Harvard was then often truly poisonous.
       The Catonsville 9 went into a draft board, took several hundred draft files out into the parking lot, and burned them with homemade napalm.  Berrigan was friends with Dorothy Day and knew viscerally about young men, poor, conscripted to murder people in Asia.  Even had the cause been just – it was anything but – it would not, as Berrigan rightly says, have been worth the life of one human being.
   Here are Daniel’s words from his play The Trial of the Catonsville 9:

       “On a June morning, I lay before the altar in the chapel — to be ordained a priest — and the voice of Cardinal Cushing1 shook the house like a great war horse. His hands lay on my head like a stone. I remember a kind of desolation, the cold of the floor on which I stretched like a corpse, while the invocation of the saints went over me like a tide, a death. Would these bones live?

        I arose to my feet and went out into the sunshine and gave my blessing to those who had borne with me, who had waited for me. A most unfinished man. What would it mean to be a Catholic? Who would be my teacher? It was, finally, the world, the world we breathe in, the only stage of redemption.  Cardinal Cushing: Conservative Archbishop of Boston. DANIEL BERRIGAN and the men and women the men and women who toil in it, sin in it, suffer and die in it. Apart from them, as I came to know, the priesthood was a pallid, vacuumatic enclosure, a sheepfold for sheep. (Discards the reading desk.) Priests? Why, priests kept their peace, muttered the Mass, sidestepped queasily the public horror, made Jesus mild as milk, a temple eunuch.

       I don’t want to miss the action, but I must tell you my brother Phil and I were in jail at the same time last year — he for that little business of pouring blood on draft records and I for marching on the Pentagon. Those prison blue jeans and denim shirts! It’s a clerical attire I highly recommend for a new church. As Camus said — (Laughs.) I love to talk to people but I’ve got to get to a burning.

     The US government murdered nearly 3 million Vietnamese in its aggression in Vietnam.  That followed its aid to French colonialism.  In 1954, the US ere paying 80% of the French military budget when the Vietnamese defeated them at Dienbienphu. (See Martin Luther King, “A Time to Break Silence,” drafted by Vincent Harding here and here).
      I did not know that the Berrigans’ action would inspire 300 similar protests inside draft boards around the country.  At the time, I thought the Berrigans’ action heroic, but isolated.  It was not part of a broad and militant student resistance to the War like the Harvard Strike or the growing resistance inside the military. 
        I did not understand that the Berrigans were the first two priests to make action against unjust war in America something a Catholic – Christians, inspired by Martin Luther King, were already active – could and must do as a matter of conscience:

     Apart from them, as I came to know, the priesthood was a pallid, vacuumatic enclosure, a sheepfold for sheep. (Discards the reading desk.) Priests? Why, priests kept their peace, muttered the Mass, sidestepped queasily the public horror, made Jesus mild as milk, a temple eunuch.

      The Berrigans inspired many others.
         It often takes prophets like Martin Luther King to start a movement.  And Daniel and Phillip Berrigan, as Father John Dear says, were prophets of a coming resistance to American killing, to the taking of young working class men by the war machine, and to the threat of nuclear war.  Among Catholics and for many others, the Berrigans started it, incarnated it.
       If you asked what good the American aggression in Vietnam or the many in the Middle East (the 4 Iraq wars, as Andrew Bacevich has recently written) have accomplished, the answer is not much.  Even  under Obama, America makes more war, more foolishly, against worse and worse enemies, to less and less effect.  But more importantly, these wars were criminal, and America at home,  increasingly a war state – a military-industrial-congressional- media – foreign generals sustained with US aid and weapons-academic-think tank complex – staggers now, in decline even with the Obama Presidency.  Young people often cannot find jobs in America, outside a “volunteer” army. Students are enslaved by debt so that Martin Marietta can build missiles… Billionaires bend laws and buy politicians to make the most petty and indecent gains – the Republicans in Congress recently tried to vote down food stamps for poor children in the Mississippi delta –  and even Rand Paul, who is occasionally decent about foreign policy, sneers that the disabled are “faking it.”  And all this is often in the name of (Ku Klux) Xtianity…
       Dan Berrigan was right.
      I have for many years studied and thought about the possibilities of mass nonviolent resistance. In America, we tend to think of that part of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King as a paradigm.  Under fierce and sometimes deadly attack, that movement had many startlingly courageous protests to integrate buses in Montgomery, lunch counters in Nashville, schools in Birmingham.  It was a mass movement from below and of which King was one of the leaders (there were many others, James Lawson, SNCC, Malcolm X, rebellions in American cities…).
        But there is also an old tradition, stemming from Socrates as well as Gandhi’s translation of the Apology, – see here and here – of standing up against one’s own people, raising questions, bearing witness.  That was what the Berrigans did at Catonsville in 1968, and in 1980, in Prussia, Pennsylvania, against nuclear weapons, for American aggression, set in space.   Think about that “bipartisan” hypocrisy: an American threat to humanity and the very earth in “the name of peace”…
       The Berrigans were trying – it is unforgiving work – to save humanity from the profitability of such weapons.  Even Obama, having pledged to work against them, is funding a new generation of them and is currently – though at times an eloquent and amusing admirer of King and Gandhi – waging wars in 7 countries (oh, but they are not “as large-scale as the Bush invasions” chorus Democratic “humanitarian” interventionist/war-“advisors”),  The President of the Empire often bends…
      Prophetic – yes.  There is something about paying the price – what nonviolence requires, in Martin Luther King and Gandhi’s case with one’s life.  Daniel Berrigan went to jail and so did Phillip many times.  He and many of his friends and cohorts met in Danbury Prison.  But their standing up also inspired a movement.  Socrates modeled civil disobedience. Dan Berrigan lived it against war.
Dan was not determined to turn himself in for what he regarded rightly as a morally trivial “offense”  (that is an attitude much like the one we student radicals embraced – see here).  Instead, he went underground to many cities and homes on the East Coast, escaped after speaking at Cornell masked as an apostle (students had put on a play about the Last Supper).  He gave his life to the cause.
      Frida Berrigan  speaks about how life is in community in the streets.  Not in learning, not in the pulpit (nor the classroom): in the streets. 
     Sometimes there is cold but the spirit of a march – of community or of a resistant community against evil – makes this no obstacle. 
    Coming back from Central America, Dan Berrigan was once ate a dinner at the Kennedys with Robert McNamara, President LBJ’s War Secretary.  Those there asked them to debate the war.  Berrigan said, “since you didn’t stop the war this morning, could you stop it this evening?”
      Looking past Berrigan’s left ear as Berrigan put it, McNamara tried to imitate the form:  “Just as the government has to enforce the law in Missisisippi, it has to enforce it in Vietnam.”
     Berrigan was taken aback.  This member of “the Best and the Brightest” had no idea what he was talking about, no justification at all for murdering all those Vietnamese and sending so many Americans to crime, death, being maimed, ptsd…
    The civil rights movement was from below.  Even in Mississippi, the law was often segregationist.  And the federal government rarely intervened on behalf of a just law (a distinction beyond McNamara’s grasp despite his interest in – self-deception about – ethics at the outset of “The Fog of War”) against the Southern states, and never to save civil rights demonstrators who had to pay in life or beatings near to death…
      Now in Vietnam, the US government waged unjust war (like the “laws” in the South).  It was the aggressor.  And aggressors put the lives of millions of people to the sword unless they defend themselves. The Vietnamese cause, not that of the American aggressors, was just. (see Article 2, section 4 of the United Nations Charter; Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars).
    And Berrigan upheld the moral law – not wantonly killing children, let alone with napalm (or today drones…). 
        In Vietnam, the US violated the Geneva Accords of 1954, refused to allow the elections mandated by it in which as President Dwight Eisenhower put it, 80% of the Vietnamese would have voted for Ho Chi Minh, and installed Ngo Dinh Diem a Catholic dictator representing 10 per cent of the people. Diem outlawed celebration of Buddha’s birthday and made Christmas an enforced “national” holiday.  The US tried to restore the landlords against an already successful peasant revolution.   Unsurprisingly, for all its weaponry, the American climb was always steep and murderous…
     Berrigan himself did not directly answer McNamara, but there is little sense to be made of what McNamara, a very troubled human being who made himself a war criminal, said.
      Jeremy Scahill, a fine reporter on America’s secret army and the Assassination complex, is also a Catholic.  In the 1990s, he met – with awe – Dan Berrigan and walked with him into the Pentagon with him to pee.  Berrigan said to him: under FDR, this was supposed to be turned into a hospital after World War II.  And it has been: there is more mental illness  here than in any asylum…(Listen here).
       In 2003,  during the run up to the Iraq War, I met three nuns, inspired by Plowshares, members of Jonah House.  They were part of a movement in Colorado which proclaimed:   “we have found the missiles     Colorado 49, Iraq 0.”
      They shed their blood high above on the top of  a missile silo in Colorado.  The missile was 1400 feet below.  They waited 45 minutes for the cops to come and arrest them,  Such is the “security” that surrounds the weapons of Armageddon.
    Their blood was so dangerous.  They were put in jail by a vindictive DA –- and served 30-41 months.  The DA: as stupid and cruel as McNamara.  See here, here and here.
     The sisters would not take pay, but worked constantly to help other people in prison. I worked with their lawyer and spoke with them (even the pay in prison is not just for being a phone operator – cheap – but was once an “incentive” for medical experimentation on prisoners.  See Jessica Mitford, Kind and Usual Punishment and for the horrors that remain here).
        Jackie Hudson,  Carol Gilbert and Ardeth Platte – their light shines on all of us…
    Daniel Berrigan is a nonviolent leader of a movement against War and against poverty.  He bore witness.  He wrote poems and plays.  He gave himself no airs.
    He contributed to the great river of mass nonviolence which is the only decent and effective way to stop American militarism and the immense impoverishing of ordinary people.
     Go well, Dan…