“Now cracks a noble heart;
Goodnight sweet prince;
And flights of angels
Sing thee to thy rest.”
FATHER DANIEL BERRIGAN – 5/9/1921 — 4/30/2016
Lifelong peace activist, Father Daniel Berrigan, died Saturday, April 30 just shy of his 95th birthday. Often called the anti-war priest and the Holy Outlaw (title of a documentary about him)) he fought against what he called “American military imperialism.” In the eighties, he founded the anti-nuclear Plowshares movement when he, his brother Philip and six others (the Plowshares eight) poured blood and hammered on nuclear warheads at a GE nuclear missile plan in King of Prussia, PA (recounted in the documentary In the King of Prussia). That “crime” cost him twenty-seven months in the federal prison in Danbury.
The most poignant memory for many of us occurred on May 17, 1968 when nine Vietnam War protestors led by Daniel and Philip Berrigan walked into the Catonsville, MD draft board office, seized 348 selective service records and burned them in the parking lot using homemade napalm. That act, drenched in defiance, outrage, and silent witness against the Vietnam War, cost Daniel and the eight others protestors two years in a federal prison. Right before Catonsville, Father Berrigan wrote: “Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children. How many must die before our voices are heard, how many must be tortured, dislocated, starved, maddened? When, at what point, will you say no to this war?”
Strange, isn’t it, how the more things change, the more they remain the same. Almost a half-century has passed and the same imponderable questions tear at the fabric of peace-loving communities.
In January, 1968, before the Catonsville protest, Daniel Berrigan and Howard Zinn went to North Vietnam to bring home three American prisoners of war. While there, they experienced first hand, the horrors of a US bombing raid, the death and destruction wreaked on innocent victims, and the unspeakable plight of children alone and starving to death.
Father Berrigan scored another first when he was added to the FBI’s most wanted list in 1970 after he went underground. He was captured four months later.
Altogether, Dan and his brother, Phil, spent more than ten years in jail for protests against war and nuclear weapons— twin scourges of American imperialism.
Things got even more interesting in 1973 – long before the BDS movement roared onto the national scene, Father Berrigan stirred up a veritable hornet’s nest with his controversial yet prophetic anti-war speech branding Israel a military settler state with as little moral vision as the US whose own imperial follies were on full display in Southeast Asia.
…in place of Jewish prophetic vision, Israel launch[ed] an Orwellian nightmare of double talk, racism, fifth rate sociological jargon [the myth of the ‘barbarian Arab’] aimed at proving its racial superiority to the people it has crushed…
Israel has not abolished poverty and misery, rather she manufactures human waste, the by-products of her entrepreneurs, the military industrial complex. Israel has…perfected her espionage, exported on the world market that expensive, blood-ridden commodity, the savage triumph of the technological West, violence and tools of violence.
Her absurd generals, her military junk are paraded on national holidays before the narcotized public. The model is not the kingdom of peace, it is an Orwellian transplant, taken bodily from Big Brother, a bloody heart.
[from Father Berrigan’s 1973 Israel speech]
No less a stalwart of the U.S. civil rights struggle, a man who stood with King and other leaders at the March on Washington in 1963, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, expressed his extreme pique — “Let us call this by its name: old fashioned theological anti-Semitism.”
The New York Times did not deign to cover the speech until two months later when several Jewish organizations sought to have Father Berrigan stripped of honors he had previously received. In a December 16, 1973 article headlined “Daniel Berrigan’s Speech to Arabs Stirs a Furor over Award,” the lead paragraph of the Times article sounded like it had been ripped out of the front page of the Enquirer —“Plans to honor the Rev. Daniel J, Berrigan with a peace award have run into opposition following the report of a speech…to an Arab audience describing Israel as a ‘criminal Jewish community’ and ‘a nightmare’ that ‘manufactures human waste.’”
The reaction to this denunciation of Zionism gone horribly wrong is reminiscent of the howls of protest that erupted after another prophetic voice, that of Martin Luther King, spoke truth to power in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech in 1967. In the case of Dr, King, the paper of record, AKA the imperialist mouthpiece, The New York Times, opined in an editorial headlined “Dr. King’s Error”—“There are no simple or easy answers to the war in Vietnam or to racial injustice in this country. Linking these hard, complex problems will not lead to solutions but to deeper confusion.”
As we discovered almost a half-century too late, on this issue as on so many others that touch on the delusions and ill-conceived decisions of US leaders, the paper of record got it wrong —again.
They risk it all. How best to understand why their moral vision impels them to reveal unpopular truths when the cost is often the support of political and financial backers? “There comes a time when one must take a stand that is neither safe not politic, nor popular, but…take it because it is right. (Part of Dr. King’s response to a letter from an aggrieved donor also a pro-Vietnam war supporter)
The late Howard Zinn drove the point home — “ They [Daniel and Philip Berrigan] and so many others, not famous, who have struggled against war, who have tried to live the promise of a loving community, teach us what heroism is.” [2/3/2003]
Won’t see the golden of the sun when I’m gone
And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I’m gone
Can’t be singing louder than the guns when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do while I’m here
All my days won’t be dances of delight when I’m gone
And the sands will be shifting from my sight when I’m gone
Can’t add my name into the fight when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
And I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone
And I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone
Can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here…
[“When I’m Gone,” Phil Ochs]
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