Daniel Berrigan
Article published on 14 August 2016
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"I DON’T THINK I WOULD HAVE EVEN CONSIDERED SUCH STEPS HAD IT NOT BEEN FOR DAN BERRIGAN" — William Davidon, leader of the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI

A friend said this morning that the death of Daniel Berrigan yesterday (30 april 2016) is the end of an era. I hope not. Dan influenced many people. I prefer to think that the values and actions he inspired won for countless years beyond his 94 years in those people.Like all of us, Dan’s core values came from numerous roots. The work for which he became best known — acts of non-violent resistance in efforts to stop the Vietnam war and later to stop the use of nuclear weapons — came into full maturity in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, the historic event convened in 1962 by Pope John XXIII, a pope very similar to Pope Francis. From the council and the pope himself came many ideas that were radical in the post-World War II Catholic Church, including a declaration against anti-Semitism. Catholics also were urged to work for peace, including with people outside the church. This was a new stance, one that the American church hierarchy was not ready to accept. Dan, however, was more than ready to work for peace.

With his brother, the late Philip Berrigan, Dan joined with others in what became one of the most remembered acts of non-violent resistance to the war – removal of draft records in October 1968 from the draft board in Catonsville, MD. From the transcript of the trial, during which the nine participants were convicted, Dan wrote “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” a play that continues to be staged throughout the world. It includes this statement, spoken by Dan as the group waited to be arrested as they burned draft files in the parking lot outside the draft board officeill live on for countless years beyond his 94 years in those people.

There was an irony in Hoover’s effort to “get” Dan and his brother. For awhile, the director’s false statements succeeded in recasting the image of the Berrigans and the Catholic peace movement from the nonviolent, pacifist organization it was to a group of violent extremists who planned to kidnap and bomb. The effort also rewarded Hoover with the extra $14.5 million he wanted from Congress that year to hire a thousand new agents he said were needed because of the crisis created by these activists. But that effort backfired. Within the bureau, these new agents were known as “the Berrigan 1,000,” as reported by journalist Sanford Ungar, because they resisted spying on political dissidents and asked to be assigned instead to organized crime and other criminal cases.

In further irony, when Bill Davidon, leader of the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI, the group that at enormous risk broke into an FBI office in March 1971 and removed the files that led to the historic revelations of Hoover’s widespread suppression of dissent and vast criminal actions the FBI conducted against Americans, it was the writings of Dan Berrigan that inspired Bill to take such an action, to think that breaking into an FBI office might be the only way to get evidence of how Hoover operated. As Bill looked for more aggressive forms of non-violence as the peace movement became increasingly hopeless in 1970 after years of failing to stop the war, he was profoundly moved when he listened one day to Dan’s play about resistance.

When I interviewed Bill for my book, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, about the Media burglary and its impact, he said, “I don’t think I would have even considered such steps had it not been for Dan Berrigan.”
I first met Dan in 1970 when I interviewed him for the Washington Post while he was in the underground. He had refused to turn himself in to serve his prison sentence in the Catonsville case. Two weeks after our interview he was arrested on Block Island, off Rhode Island, and went to prison. The day before the interview I drove from Washington to New York and waited at a friend’s home on Staten Island for the call from someone who told me to take a ferry to Manhattan. As I got off the ferry, I was met by someone I didn’t know and driven by him to an address in Manhattan I didn’t know. The interview with Dan went well, both his fierce and gentle qualities evident as he explained why he had chosen to escape to the underground. At one point as we talked, shots rang out in the street outside the apartment building. Dan smiled. I did not.

Dan was a priest, a teacher, an honored poet, an excellent cook and, most of all, someone who inspired others to be more than they imagined they could be — to realize they did not have to accept things as they are. He was a beloved brother, son, uncle, friend. He surely knew that countless people close to him would continue to live the life of protest that he lived, including his niece Frida Berrigan, a fine writer on the issues that consumed Dan; her mother, Elizabeth McAllister, and also Mary Anne Grady Flores and Ellen Grady, activist daughters of the late John Peter Grady, a close friend of Dan.

RIP, Dan.

Sarah Davidon, Ruth Davidon Rodgers Johanna Hamilton Kem Kemsey James Mackey John T. Racanelli Natalie Racanelli Bob Good



Daniel Berrigan, S.J., reflecting on Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s "Ten Commands" — a piece of paper found in Dr. King’s pocket following his death, and shared publicly by Coretta Scott King three weeks later at a mass anti-war rally in New York City: "A nation goes to war, and biblical faith, faith in the God of peace and justice, quickly yields place to fantasies; faith in the omniscience of generals, faith in military victory, faith in this or that political ideology prevailing, faith in accurate accounting of deaths on either side, faith in worldwide support for ’our side.’” Read the full essay by Dan Berrigan: http://forusa.org/fell…/…/spring/dr-kings-ten-commands/11668

Dr. King’s Ten Commands
By Daniel Berrigan

On April 27, 1968, shortly after the murder of her husband, Coretta Scott King spoke to a peace rally in New York City. The following is a transcript of her powerful words delivered at Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park that day.

My dear friends of peace and freedom, I come to New York today with the strong feeling that my dearly beloved husband, who was snatched suddenly from our midst slightly more than three weeks ago, would have wanted me to be present today. Though my heart is heavy for having suffered an irreparable personal loss, my faith is stronger today than ever before. As many of you probably know, my husband had accepted an invitation to speak to you today. And had he been here, I am sure he would have lifted your hearts and spirits to new levels of understanding.

I would like to share with you some notes taken from my husband’s pockets upon his death. He carried many scraps of paper upon which he scribbled notes for his many speeches. Among these notes was one set which he never delivered. Perhaps they were his early thoughts for a message he was to give you today. I simply read them to you as he recorded them.

And I quote, “Ten Commands on Vietnam.”

1. Thou shalt not believe in a military victory.

2. Thou shalt not believe in a military victory.

3. Thou shalt not believe that they, the Vietnamese, love us.

4. Thou shalt not believe that the Saigon government has the support of the people.

5. Thou shalt not believe that the majority of the South Vietnamese look on the Vietcong as terrorists.

6. Thou shalt not believe in the figures of killed enemies or killed Americans.

7. Thou shalt not believe that the generals know best.

8. Thou shalt not believe that the enemy’s victory means communism.

9. Thou shalt not believe that the world supports the United States.

10. Thou shalt not kill.

The following is my reflection on Dr. King’s “Ten Commands for Vietnam.”

Dr. King’s notes are, in effect, an assault on wrongly-placed belief. Nine of his ten “commands” testify to his conviction; wartime induces a spasm of dis-belief or mis-belief, of belief gone madly awry. A nation goes to war, and biblical faith, faith in the God of peace and justice, quickly yields place to fantasies; faith in the omniscience of generals, faith in military victory, faith in this or that political ideology prevailing, faith in accurate accounting of deaths on either side, faith in worldwide support for “our side.”

In wartime, anti-faith is strongly at work. This I believe is the plain implication of Dr. King. Trust in the saving work of violence, he hints, is demonic. According to this rubric, Violence is savior. This ultimate trust in violence glorifies, magnifies, incants death as agent of social relief and respite.

In wartime, we are set off kilter in the deepest matters of heart; worship, tradition, biblical literacy. The trappings of war – uniforms, weapons, titles, rankings, medals, parades – these take on the aura of the holy. Public authorities are exempted from critique “for the duration.”

Dr. King’s “Decalogue” ends with a tenth commandment, a return to the original. He sets it down as definitive and final: “Thou shall not kill.”

Genuine faith, according to him, is marked by a return to sources. It is laconic, imperative, brief. Take it or leave it. “Thou shall not kill.”

If you take it, drop your weapons.

If you take it, not one more bombing spree, not one more child victim, not one more tortured prisoner, not one more refugee.

If you take it, this tenth and final command and its collision with American omnipotence, walls will come down in a rubble, whether in occupied Gaza or the Texas border.

If you take seriously “Thou shall not kill,” you will swallow dry and welcome at long last, the return of national sanity, its costs and rewards.

But if we refuse “Thou shall not kill,” if we walk away from it, if we wash our hands of it, we are all lost.

So refusing, we are well advised to close our korans, roll up our scrolls, “for the duration,” in favor of the normalized horror of Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Gaza strip.

More honestly, rebutting and refusing “Thou shall not kill,” we would simply burn the offensive books. They inhibit our righteous right arm, embarrass our honorable rage, indict our contempt for community and the creation.

I also thought of Dr. King’s decalogue as a kind of exorcism. He would evict from our culture a form of “faith” he rebuked as properly demonic. He saw our plight as no faith at all, but a form of faithlessness. It assured us that the Sermon on the Mount was irrelevant to the American main chance, irrelevant to our virtuous hatreds, to the enemies in our gun sights.

Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians – Dr. King was speaking to ourselves. This is his legacy, both precious and ignored.

Daniel Berrigan, S.J. is a poet, writer, and peace activist. H

Footnote from Dan Berrigan: “It is cause for rejoicing that the scriptural reflections of John L. McKenzie are once more available. We are the richer for his erudition and saving sense of humor.”


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