Saturday, May 28, 2016

Jeremy Varon, Witness against Torture, at Dan Berrigan's memorial



    I admire Jeremy Varon, Matt Daloiso and other participants in Witness against Torture, a movement that protests endless imprisonment and torture at Guantanamo.  Jeremy wrote to me about Daniel Berrigan's memorial:

     "Jeremy Varon here, the academic (new school) / activist (torture stuff) from New York.  I enjoyed greatly the Berrigan remembrnaces, especially the poem, which itself feels very berrigan-esque in its cadence, morality, and imagery."Jeremy, irreligious (of Sephardic Jewish coupled with a German Kantian background), resonates spiritually (as I do in certain ways) with Daniel Berrigan. Jeremy has long campaigned against torture at Guantanamo. And that certainly walks in the same footsteps as Dan Berrigan.

 ***

     Below are Jeremy's powerful remarks as well as the story of his son's Arlo's engagement in the memorial.  Dan lived up to his words, spent much of his life in jail, and as an outlaw priest.  Outlaw - that was, of course, Jesus...

     A friend of the Berrigans, Father Stephen Kelly, who gave the service, had spent 6 years in jail for protest against nuclear war.  He had been held in solitary confinement, an internationally recognized form of torture hideously practiced in the United States  (in America, legislators are just beginning to open their eyes).  He, too, had taken part in the first protest at Guantanamo with Witness against Torture in 2005.

***

    A mendicant priest who had few earthly possessions, lived to help others and save lives, Daniel Berrigan was in "the sacrament of the street."  So were the 2,000 at the service.

***

   Paul Tillich, the Protestant radical theologian, was also a Marxian (and a leftwing Heideggerian).  He was once 5th on Hitler's list of emigres to detain or kill (Bertolt Brecht was 12th), even though he became a "quietist" in the United States.   In The Protestant Era, he speaks of the congealing of the Christian or Protestant principle in each epoch with the ruling class and evokes  the need to fight for a world without social oppression.  The  IWW spoke, more colloquially, straightforwardly, of Jesus named "Jerusalem Slim"  being a hobo just like them, bringing the spirit of resistance among  them ("the kingdom of god is on earth, but we do not see it").  See here.  That Jesus preached for, fights for the poor and oppressed, is pretty obvious to those who do not have a stake in some powerful and wealthy church.  

***

     The love for the beauty of this world and the hope of life goes, into and beyond death, in Berrigan's words and in the feeling that Jeremy conveys about the gathering.

***

     As Tink Tinker, also a draft resister and organizer of resistance, and in this respect, an admirer of Daniel Berrigan and the Catonsville 9 , reminds me, Berrigan had a part in the chauvinist film "The Mission" in which the Jesuit, noble characters,  give the Guarani in Paraguay "the book";  the indigenous play no role of their own,  except to participate in communal farms and Jesuit resistance, and of course, their land and lives are taken.  And this is Western Christianity historically, a conductor of chauvinism and genocide, even at its best.  It is not clear to me why Berrigan, who prayed about and saw through so much and risked so much, acted out customary or reactionary Jesuitism in the movie, could not see through this (more on Tink's letter soon).  

***

        When  Daniel Berrigan went to Vietnam, he sided with Vietnamese children against American murder.  When he spoke of the humanity of the Palestinians and the militarism of Israel, he was ferociously denounced.  Today, his words appear all too prophetic.  See here.  He was not, much, gulled by racism. He stood up.  And yet toward the Guarani... 

***

The Death Stops Here: The Death and Resurrection of Daniel Berrigan

Fidgety and a little bored in the crammed pews of the Church of St. Francis Xavier, my eight-year-old son waited with us for the service to begin. For distraction and readiness, he etched on his program, with his parents’ help: “Today we reflect on the life of Daniel Berrigan. He was a great priest, prophet, poet and peacemaker. He touched many lives with his actions and words. It is nice to be in such a beautiful church with so many people honoring a man they loved.” Simple and true, these words presaged a ceremony that edified and even transformed the two thousand or so people blessed to have been there.
Berrigan Program with Notes, 2016 © Jeremy Varon
The death on April 30 of the 94-year-old Fr. Dan Berrigan, S.J. at a Jesuit infirmary in New York City has been big news. Heartfelt obituaries have poured forth: from fellow priest and political troublemaker John Dear; from the rogue Washington Post columnist Coleman McCarthy, who for decades tried to explain radical pacifism to Beltway readers; from the New York Times, which ran an uncommonly long remembrance of Berrigan by the evening of his death; from Democracy Now, which devoted a full broadcast to his life and legacy; and from far-flung bloggers in the Catholic and peace and justice worlds.
Most tributes have focused on Berrigan’s admixture of deep religiosity and militant opposition to war. His raid of a Catonsville, Maryland draft board office in 1968 and resulting trial was the signal instance of this union. Seemingly overnight, the deeds of the Catonsville Nine — so named to include the nine defendants, among them Daniel’s late brother Philip — have been turned by obituary writers from a semi-obscure episode in the history of peace movements into an epic act of American dissent, with Dan at its heroic center. The morning of the May 6th funeral, the Times added an endearing, page one profile of Berrigan as a mendicant priest in our midst. He died with virtually no possessions after a life of writing, protest, and service to others.
The purpose of the funeral, however, was neither simply to wrap Daniel Berrigan in holiness nor to explain the importance of his life. It was also to affirm and enact many of the things he believed in, while pondering the special meaning a life takes on in death. Deeply Catholic in ritual and pedagogy, it radiated a transcendent universalism.

The Sacrament of the Street 

A portion of the overflow crowd at St. Xavier had made a grand entrance. Before 8 am, 200 mourners stepped off from Maryhouse — the East Village headquarters of the Catholic Worker movement started in 1933 by Dorothy Day, a great mentor to Berrigan. The Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a motley, anarchic marching band, livened the soggy “Peace March” as it pushed through rain to the West Village church.[*] It was “the sacrament of the street,” explained Frida Berrigan, Dan’s beloved niece, to an NPR reporter. Just as Dan would have wanted it.
A sing-a-long erupted at the church’s mouth. “We’re gonna lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside. . . We’re gonna study war no more!” Torn from the biblical injunction to beat swords into plowshares, the song was the perfect anthem for the day. Dan, his brother, and a small circle of Catholics had drawn from the same verse in Isaiah in conceiving their high-risk protests of nuclear and other weapons in the 1980s and early 90s, named “Plowshares actions.” In the first such action in 1980, the “Plowshares Eight” damaged a nuclear warhead nose cone and poured blood on documents at a General Electric facility near Philadelphia. Plowshares protests, and their stiff prison sentences, occur to this day, taken up by successors to the Berrigan flock.
Outside the funeral of Daniel Berrigan at the Church of St. Francis Xavier 2016 © Jeremy Varon
A festival of vintage banners danced above the boisterous throng. (“Love Your Enemies – Jesus; Kill Your Enemies – Uncle Sam” was my son’s favorite). “We’re gonna walk with Dan Ber-ri-gan!” offered one celebrant to close the song. The peacemakers blessed themselves, as they filed in to bless brother Dan.

The Sacrament of Resistance

Inside the church, a fleet of clergy, a sparkling choir, and a bishop sympathetic to the Berrigans made sure that no splendor was spared this grand farewell. But as with all things Berrigan, the service proved a challenge to much of the liturgical practice and broader outlook of the very religious order to which the militant peacemaker had staked a claim.[†]
The homily was lead by Berrigan’s longtime friend and associate Fr. Stephen Kelly, S.J. Kelly has himself participated in Plowshares actions. He is thus a six-year veteran of federal prison, much of it spent in solitary confinement. He also accompanied Witness Against Torture in 2005 to Cuba to protest, as its inaugural act, the US torture prison at Guantánamo Bay. (Violating the US ban on travel to Cuba, the trip held considerable legal risk.) It is through my decade-long immersion in the group, of which Frida Berrigan was an early leader, that I have participated most directly in the Berrigan legacy and the Catholic Worker culture he powerfully shaped. Perhaps hundreds at the funeral had similar affiliations, with greater or lesser proximity to the man himself. Call us disciples, sharing in Berrigan’s convictions, if mostly lacking in his courage.[‡]
The “sacrament of resistance” that Berrigan lived was the insistent theme of Kelly’s homily. Humor led the tribute. After thanking the medical staff that cared for Berrigan during his extended convalescence, Kelly welcomed the FBI detail that may as well have been in the church. “Dan Berrigan. Funeral. Resurrection. Now you can close your file!” In this levity was a coy message to the Jesuit establishment, whether present or watching the simulcast on a prominent Jesuit website. Berrigan’s true church could only be an outlaw church.
“Our beatnik priest,” as Kelly dubbed the departed, was a “visionary” who “saw all that was possible in hope, community, and resistance.”[§] Berrigan lived that vision as a “total commitment, not a partial desire.” He and his brother Philip (1923-2002), to whom much of the homily was also directed, served as “doctors of the Church.” They sought to heal it by the turn “from orthodoxy to orthopraxis.” Berrigan’s ultimate religious gift was to offer the “conscientious objector as imitating the life of Christ.” “I leave it to your assessment,” Kelly concluded, “of his holiness.”
The most theologically demanding portion of the homily was Kelly’s meditation on resurrection and how the ancient concept — which stands at the center of the Catholic funeral rite — was given new meaning by the Berrigans. Herein Daniel Berrigan transcends his stature as an “activist priest” who breathed full-throated life into Christian values like love, peace, and mercy. Far more than that, he reinscribed the deepest meanings of the Gospel.
The body of Dan Berrigan leaving the funeral service, 2016 © Jeremy Varon
Christianity is at once a protest of, reconciliation to, and overcoming of death. The great wager of Catholic faith is to believe in the resurrection — to believe in the divine, in the promise of everlasting life, and in life itself in the face of, and despite, death. In this message, the story of Lazarus, which dominated Kelly’s exegesis, takes on its ultimate significance. Letting Lazarus die so as to raise him from the dead, Jesus chooses cunning means to demonstrate that he is the son of God. But it was also his test of faith to a community embarrassed by the stench of death and fearful of its dismal finality. It is here that Jesus first proclaims that, “he who believes in me will live, even as he dies.” Performing this subversive miracle on Lazarus, Jesus hastens his own imminent martyrdom that will repeat the drama of resurrection. “In hell they say,” Berrigan once wrote, “heaven is a great lie.”
The Berrigans by their acts against militarism and war rose up against death, but not of the inexorable kind. Their concern was murder by earthly conflict and the sorrows of persecution. In that sense, they ignored or even rejected the idea of theodicy. They were vastly more interested in the evil that men and women do to one another than whatever evil God may apparently permit. Humanity had made a mess of free will. Their mission was to turn the world toward peace, in defense of life itself. Human beings cannot raise the dead. But they can stop the killing. Thus, in works of resistance — not faith — the resurrection finds its truest home and Christianity its essential teaching. Still vital, faith seemed to Dan Berrigan the hope that in some times and places lives can actually be saved. On that hope he staked his life.

Our Apologies Good Friends for the Fracture of Good Order

Liz McAlister is herself a veteran of peace actions and a hero of the Catholic left. The wife of the late Phillip Berrigan, she was also among those closest to Dan. Her three splendid children, given Dan’s allegiance to his priestly vows, seem more than nieces and nephews and something closer to his own as well.
McAlister had the task of asserting the absolute inseparability of the sacred and political for Berrigan in more worldly terms than Kelly’s cosmic homily. She referenced all that challenges the hope of the peacemakers, whatever their era. “It never seems to get better, and we walk in that reality.” Dan brought his militancy, she explained, into his numerous university appointments. “While other professors would rail against apathy and indifference, Dan would offer the insights of the consequence of being out in the streets,” arrests included. She implored, “There is no sense to hold Dan as an icon, especially in ways that exempt us from responsibility.” At this, the congregants rose in thunderous recognition of Berrigan’s life as an example, with implications for their own.
But the full catharsis came when she recited the words that Dan Berrigan wrote in preparation for the burning of draft files in Catonsville and later spoke to the trial judge:
Our apologies   good friends / for the fracture of good order   the burning of paper / instead of children . . . / We could not   so help us God   do otherwise . . . / We say: killing is disorder / life and gentleness and community and usefulness / is the only order we recognize . . . / How many indeed must die before our voices are heard / how many must be tortured dislocated / starved maddened? . . . / We have chosen to say with the gift of liberty / if necessary our lives: the violence stops here / the death stops here / the suppression of the truth stops here / this war stops here [**]
With these words the church, two thousand strong, again rose — in honor and resistance — with wild applause. My dear friend Matt Daloisio, a leader in Witness Against Torture and great student of the Berrigan example, described the ovation as “one of the most profound moments in my entire life.” This epiphany bathed the vast hall.
With both religious and political significance, McAlister definitively marked the Catonsville lines, famous to most in attendance, as the essential text of the Berrigan prophecy. Holy in their own right, they extend the wisdom of Isaiah, while pronouncing the sin of modern war. “The times are inexpressibly evil,” Berrigan continued in court in 1969. We all knew what he meant, for our own times also. “And yet,” he added (as Liz reminded us) “the times are inexhaustibly good / solaced by the courage and hope of many.” For an instant in the church, that hope felt vastly greater than all it protests.

The Gifts

Arlo Varon and Lina Daloisio with gifts for the alter at the funeral of Dan Berrigan, 2016 © Jeremy Varon
In Catholic mass, “gifts” are brought to the altar in preparation for the sacrament of communion. In a funeral mass, the life is remembered, its loss mourned, and its resurrection before the face of God celebrated.  The traditional “gifts” are bread and wine, ritually transformed into the body and blood of Christ.
At this funeral, the gifts included also objects dear to Dan and his family: banners held at life-altering protests, books he had authored, a hammer used to beat on weapons.  By request of the Berrigan family, children carried the gifts, as is sometimes done.  My son Arlo, raised in no faith like his father, had the privilege of bringing one of these to the altar as I strode beside him.  It was a mottled, black and white picture of the Plowshares Eight.  With the gifts received, the Lord’s Prayer, tears, and hugs of peace followed.
After the mass, performed with palpably solemn purpose, Dan’s nieces, nephews, and their cousins eulogized their uncle. Their remembrances were too tender, personal, and of the moment to favor recitation here. But Frida Berrigan, speaking last, spoke also of the power of community, and the community gathered before her. Dan was gone. All that was left was us and our love — for him and the things he loved. “It’s enough,” she proclaimed, with both assurance and desperation. “It’s enough, because it has to be.”

There Are Not Blades Enough

The union of vulnerability and defiance, frailty and resolve was fitting consummation to the ceremony. That union was Daniel Berrigan. It was Christ on the cross. It is all of us, in our own ways and traditions.
Perhaps Dan Berrigan himself provided for the service the most poignant expression of that union, while suggesting, as always, an ethic of resistance. It seems unfair that the deceased should have to have the last word on his own death. But Berrigan appeared at times to exist in another dimension, with special powers of reflection. “Its almost like he lived right in the heart of God and reported back to us,” his nephew Jerry Berrigan had said.
The “Call to Worship” beginning the entire ceremony was a poem of Berrigan’s, adapted and set to music. Printed in the program, it reads:

We Love
        About trees: past is never tall enough,
Future too tall. Another spring will tell.

Tell another spring I will be there, and fairer.
I become myself, standing upon
that throat of swan
that striding giant I decree myself.

We love: in trees or men, how many die
forward on the blade.
I see men like forests
Striding, like swans, royally, always
Royally: though lowly afoot, striding unto death.

What we love: there are not blades enough.

Like others of his poems, this one is profound and quirky, part Beatitude and part Beatnik. In it there is a precious image of human beings: proud and a little vain, standing tall like tress, strutting like swans. There is also the inevitable succumbing of all of nature — humans included and no matter how regal — to the blade of mortality. Ashes to ashes, the eternity and naturalness of death.
But there is also in the poem the implied horror at human slaughter. Whole forests disappear to the scythe of industrial avarice. With habitat perish the swans. Humans die on the blades of hunger, war, terror, torture, and drone strikes; in holocausts, on slave ships, and in genocides. This death is never acceptable.
So much death, whether unavoidable or offensive, could easily overwhelm any faith in humanity, life, hope or even God. But here Berrigan provides the redemptive twist in declaring that the things we love — humanity, each other, trees and swans, plants and animals, peace and justice — are greater and more abundant than death, even as these may die. This possibility, this victory of life over death, lies also the heart of the resurrection. It was the guiding spirit of his godliness and acts of resistance.
We entered the funeral knowing that Dan Berrigan’s life had changed the world and our own lives. We left hoping that his death would change these as well.
Whether that happens is up to us.

Footnotes:
[*] The march was a fascinating tour through the dense ecology of progressive and radical institutions in lower Manhattan. St. Xavier Church is just two blocks from a prominent building of the New School for Social Research, where I am a professor. The New School, by history and reputation, is European, secular, Jewish, and Marxist. The Berrigan ceremony, by intriguing complement, was deeply American, churched, Catholic, and redemptive. Worth noting is that the church also sits on the same block as YIVO, the great Institute for Jewish Research exiled from Vilna to New York City with the Nazis’ advance. It is very much an archival monument to a near-vanquished Eastern European Jewish civilization, felled by persecution and war (and with Catholic complicity).
[†] I thank Patrick Gilger, S.J. for clarifying for me aspects of Catholic ritual and belief.
[‡] I credit Waging Nonviolence editor Nathan Schneider and fine essay “Claiming Dan Berrigan” with inspiration for this line. Schneider’s sentence reads, “I share many of [Dan Berrigan’s] convictions but very little of his courage.” America — The National Catholic Review, May 6, 2016.
[§] The quotes from the service are based on notes I took while in attendance. My apologies for any small inaccuracies in my transcription.
[**] I render the lines based on their published version in Daniel Berrigan, The Trial of The Catonsville Nine, Fordham University Press, 2004. McAlister quoted slightly different portions in her address.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Flames of Berrigans illumine properties


   Here are some thoughts on Daniel Berrigan.   In the late 1980s, I wrote Exchanges:

                          exchanges

                              1


come spring of orange
tulips orange stamens
napalm
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


2


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
        line

a quiet candle
guards escort

to shadowy buses



               3


ammoniaalcohol
holding
cell

      your eyes in blanker distances

trade

               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…