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RIP Father Daniel Berrigan: Remembering the Life and Legacy of the Antiwar Priest & Poet

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We spend the hour remembering the life and legacy of the legendary antiwar priest, Father Daniel Berrigan. He died on Saturday, just short of his 95th birthday. Berrigan was a poet, pacifist, educator, social activist, playwright and lifelong resister to what he called “American military imperialism.” Along with his late brother Phil, Dan Berrigan played an instrumental role in inspiring the antiwar and antidraft movement during the late 1960s, as well as the movement against nuclear weapons. He was the first Catholic priest to land on the FBI’s most wanted list. In early 1968, Father Daniel Berrigan made international headlines when he traveled to North Vietnam with historian Howard Zinn to bring home three U.S. prisoners of war. Later that year, Father Dan Berrigan, his brother Phil and seven others took 378 draft files from the draft board in Catonsville, Maryland. Then, in the parking lot of the draft board office, the activists set the draft records on fire, using homemade napalm, to protest the Vietnam War. They became known as the Catonsville Nine and invigorated the antiwar movement by inspiring over 100 similar acts of protest. It also shook the foundation of the tradition-bound Catholic Church. Then, in 1980, the Berrigan brothers and six others began the Plowshares Movement when they broke into the General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, hammered nuclear warhead nose cones and poured blood onto documents and files. They were arrested and charged with over 10 different felony and misdemeanor counts, and became known as the Plowshares Eight.

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Video squareWeb ExclusiveMay 03, 2016“A Moral Giant”: A Democracy Now! Special on the Life & Legacy of Father Daniel Berrigan
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from New Orleans. We spend the hour remembering the life and legacy of the legendary antiwar priest, Father Dan Berrigan. He died on Saturday, just short of his 95th birthday. Berrigan was a poet, pacifist, educator, social activist, playwright and lifelong resister to what he called “American military imperialism.” Along with his late brother Phil, Dan Berrigan played an instrumental role in inspiring the antiwar and antidraft movement during the late 1960s, as well as the movement against nuclear weapons. In the early 1970s, he became the first Catholic priest to land on the FBI’s most wanted list. Georgetown University theology professor Chester Gillis once said of Father Berrigan, quote, “If you were to identify Catholic prophets in the 20th century, he’d be right there with Dorothy Day or Thomas Merton.”

In early 1968, Father Daniel Berrigan made international headlines when he traveled to North Vietnam with historian Howard Zinn to bring home three U.S. prisoners of war. In the documentary Holy Outlaw, Father Dan recalled spending time in Vietnamese shelters while being bombed by U.S. jets.

FATHER DANIEL BERRIGAN: So we were in this shelter and very unexpectedly came on three children, who were crouching in there, too, against all expectations, and one of the elder children feeding rice to one of the younger ones. And I wrote this little verse within a couple days and tried to read it later at our trial. It’s called “Children in the Shelter.”

Imagine; three of them.

As though survival
were a rat’s word,
and a rat’s death
waited there at the end

and I must have
in the century’s boneyard
heft of flesh and bone in my arms

I picked up the littlest
a boy, his face
breaded with rice (his sister calmly feeding him
as we climbed down)

In my arms fathered
in a moment’s grace, the messiah
of all my tears. I bore, reborn

a Hiroshima child from hell.

AMY GOODMAN: On May 17th, 1968, Father Dan Berrigan, his brother Phil and seven others took 378 draft files from the draft board in Catonsville, Maryland. Then, in the parking lot of the draft board office, the activists set the draft records on fire, using homemade napalm, to protest the Vietnam War. They became known as the Catonsville Nine. The act of civil disobedience was chronicled in the 2013 documentary Hit & Stay: A History of Faith and Resistance. This begins with Father Dan Berrigan.

FATHER DANIEL BERRIGAN: We make our prayer in the name of that god whose name is peace and decency and unity and love. We unite in taking our matches, approaching the fire. We’re all part of this.

GEORGE MISCHE: While people throughout the world, and especially Vietnam now, are suffering from napalm, that these files are also napalmed, to show that these lives can fall on the same fate as the Vietnamese.

FATHER DANIEL BERRIGAN: Amen.

DAVID DARST: Napalm, which was made from information and from a formula in the United States Special Forces handbook published by the School of Special Warfare of the United States. We all had a hand in making the napalm that was used here today.

JIM HARNEY: Napalm is a very old weapon. It goes back to the Byzantines. But it really came to public attention during the war in Vietnam, in the pictures of napalmed people. So that was the kind of quintessential symbol of the war: We were burning babies, literally, in Vietnam. So that’s why we wanted to come up with something symbolic and also something that would really destroy the files.

TOM MELVILLE: Our church has failed to act officially, and we feel that, as individuals, we’re going to have to speak out in the name of Catholicism and Christianity. And we hope our action to inspire other people who have Christian principles or a faith similar to Christianity will act accordingly, too, to stop the terrible destruction that America is wreaking on the whole world.

FATHER DANIEL BERRIGAN: We regret very much, I think all of us, the inconvenience and even the suffering that we’ve brought to these clerks here.

FATHER PHIL BERRIGAN: We sincerely hope we didn’t injure anyone.

PRIESTS: Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

FATHER DANIEL BERRIGAN: We have chosen to be powerless criminals in a time of criminal power. We have chosen to be branded as peace criminals by war criminals.

AMY GOODMAN: Father Berrigan and other members of the Catonsville Nine were arrested on the spot. The draft board raid invigorated the antiwar movement by inspiring over a hundred similar acts of protest. It also shook the foundation of the tradition-bound Catholic Church. In 1970, Father Dan Berrigan spent four months living underground as a fugitive from the FBI while his conviction was under appeal.

INTERVIEWER: During the time he was in hiding, Father Berrigan changed his location often. He stayed with 37 different families in 10 Eastern and Midwestern cities. Well, Father Dan, you’ve been underground for some time now. What’s it like to be underground in the United States of America?

FATHER DANIEL BERRIGAN: Well, I’d say that it looks as though it could go on forever. It looks good enough, looks useful enough, for the movement.

LIZ McALISTER: So there were some, what, four months that they looked for Dan, everywhere. And he was everywhere and available to everyone, except the FBI.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Liz McAlister, Phil Berrigan’s wife, in the film Hit & Stay. In 1980, the Berrigan brothers and six others began the Plowshares Movement when they broke into General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The activists hammered nuclear—on the nuclear warhead nose cones and poured blood onto documents and files. They were arrested and charged with over 10 different felony and misdemeanor counts. They became know as the Plowshares Eight. And I want to turn now to a clip from the film In the King of Prussia. This scene features Dan Berrigan reciting what he told the judge and jury during the trial.

FATHER DANIEL BERRIGAN: You’ve heard about hammers and blood in this room. These are the hammers of hell. These are the hammers that will break the world to bits. These are the hammers that claim the end of the world. The judge knows it. The prosecutor knows it. We’ve seen people walk away from these things. We’ve seen them disclaim them. We’ve seen them say they are not responsible for them. We’ve seen all sorts of language circling them like a dance of death. They are murder. He knows it. He knows it. You must know it. We have been trying—we eight—to take responsibility for these things, to call them by their right name, which is murder, death, genocide, the end of the world. Their proper use is known to the judge and the prosecutor and to you. …

We would like you to know the name of our crime. We would like to assume responsibility for a world, for children, for the future. And if that is a crime, then it is quite clear that we belong in their jails. Where they belong is something else. But in the name of all the eight, I would like to leave with you, friends and jurors, that great and noble word, which is our crime: “responsibility.”

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from the film In the King of Prussia, directed by Emile de Antonio. In the film, the actor Martin Sheen played the judge in the trial.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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“It was the Happiest Day of My Life”: Martin Sheen Recalls His Arrest Alongside Father Dan Berrigan

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