Kerrey chose one kind of public life during and after the Vietnam era. Today we are going to look at a very different response to those times. We will be spending the whole hour with the famous Catholic priest and peace Activist Daniel Berrigan, who will be turning 80 in a few days.
Daniel Berrigan was born into a devout Irish-German Catholic family on May 9, 1921. He entered the Jesuit order when he was still a teenager was ordained as a Jesuit priest at the age of 31. In 1965 Berrigan was exiled by the church to Latin America for his early opposition to the Vietnam War.
Daniel and his brother Philip’s most celebrated and publicized action was the raid they conducted in Catonsville, Maryland, which Daniel immortalized in his play, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.
In May 1968, nine activists invaded a Maryland Selective Service Board in Catonsville, snatched up draft records, carried them outside in wire mesh baskets, and set them ablaze with homemade napalm.
During the trial, Berrigan’s lawyer asked if what he had done was carrying out the “philosophy of the Jesuit order.” Berrigan replied, “…’[I]f that is not accepted as a substantial part of my action, then the action is eviscerated of all meaning; and I should be committed for insanity.”
The activists were arrested and tried in federal court, and became a nationwide cause celebre that led to as many as 100 similar actions in protest of the Vietnam War.
Historian Howard Zinn has said of the Berrigans: “When the energy of the 60s began to dissipate, and the civil rights movement foundered and the war in Vietnam ended, a lot of people it’s not that they turned against their ideas or changed their values, but a lot of people just didn’t find a very powerful central issue to occupy their energies. But the Berrigans and others–the religious community of pacifists–continued. The Vietnam War ended in 1975, and in 1980 the first Plowshares action took place.”
In 1980, the Berrigan Brothers entered a General Electric plant in Pennsylvania, hammered and poured human blood on a nuclear warhead, then prayed aloud while awaiting the arrival of the FBI and police.
Since then, there have been more than 50 of the antiwar Plowshares actions around the country. Berrigan, who is not only a renowned peace activist but a prolific poet and author of more than fifty books, remains a guiding light for those committed to social justice and nonviolent action.
Berrigan’s most recent arrest was one week ago.
- Daniel Berrigan, renowned anti-Vietnam war activist, pacifist, poet and author