Arrested for destroying draft documents during Vietnam War
Co-founded the Plowshares movement
Born May 9, 1921 in Virginia, Minnesota, Father Daniel Berrigan is a longtime anti-war activist who invokes Catholic scripture to justify his positions. Beginning with the Vietnam War and continuing through the current war on terror, he has consistently opposed (along with his brother Philip Berrigan) the United States in its conflicts against Communist and/or terrorist adversaries.
Berrigan was the fifth of six sons born to his German immigrant parents, Frida Fromhart Berrigan and Thomas F. Berrigan (the latter was a radical labor organizer). The family moved to Syracuse, New York when Daniel was a child, and he was raised there. He was ordained into the Jesuit priesthood in 1952.
On May 17, 1968, Berrigan and eight others (including his brother Philip) forced their way into a Catonsville, Maryland draft-board office, stole some government records, and used home-made napalm to destroy other documents.
Berrigan was arrested for his role in that “Catonsville Nine” incident, but (along with his brother Philip) went underground before the sentencing phase of his trial and spent several months as a fugitive. His name was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list until his 1970 apprehension in New York City, at which time he was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.
During his incarceration, Berrigan was indicted by Federal prosecutors as a co-conspirator in a scheme to abduct then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and blow up federal buildings in Washington, DC. Berrigan was acquitted of complicity in the plot, and was paroled from prison in 1972.
In 1973 Berrigan became a member of Jonah House, a community of anti-war activists established that year by his brother Philip and the latter’s wife, Elizabeth McAlister. The Jonah House founding statement reads, "We submit ourselves to the over-arching standard of nonviolence: love of enemies (Matthew [5:43]) …” Its core belief is that “the U.S. is the world’s #1 terrorist” and should “disarm now.”
Throughout the 1970s, Berrigan spoke out against America's development of nuclear weaponry, stating, "The plain fact is that our nation, along with its nuclear cronies, is quite prepared to thrust enormous numbers of humans into furnaces fiercely stoked."
When the 1975 fall of South Vietnam triggered a mass exodus of refugees, Berrigan atypically found a circumstance where he did not aim his criticism principally at the United States. He was one of 79 prominent individuals to sign a May 30, 1979 open letter -- exhorting the North Vietnamese to treat their prisoners humanely -- that singer Joan Baez published in The New York Times.
In 1980, Berrigan and seven other Jonah House members (including his brother Philip) took part in the first action of what would later come to be known as the Plowshares nuclear arms abolitionist movement. Berrigan and his accomplices vandalized an arms-production factory in Pennsylvania, pounding missile casings with hammers in a symbolic attempt to "beat swords into plowshares" (a phrase from Biblical passages in Isaiah [2:4] and Micah [4:3]).
Since then, Berrigan has participated in many Plowshares demonstrations, consistently siding with America's enemies. He opposed the United States in the Cold War, Grenada, Nicaragua, the Gulf War, the Kosovo War, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, and the 2003 war in Iraq. He also condemned American aid to the Afghan rebels seeking to repel Soviet invaders in the 1980s.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Berrigan stated that it would be wrong for America to respond militarily to those responsible for the calamity. "To work one's way through that justification and sense of nationalism is the Christian task," he said.
Berrigan attributes the 9/11 attacks directly to America's alleged abuse and exploitation of other nations. "The ruin we have wantonly sown abroad," he says, "has turned about and struck home. Thus: sin, our sin, has shaken the pillars of empire. What has befallen, we have brought upon ourselves. The moral universe stands vindicated." He has characterized the Pentagon and the World Trade Center (the two principal targets of 9/11) as "symbols of idolatry."
While Berrigan is quite willing to denounce the American "sin" that supposedly brought about 9/11, he is loath to label the actions of the terrorists as "evil." "Biblically speaking, that sort of language is blasphemous," he says.
Berrigan has been particularly critical of American military spending since the start of the war on terror. "The first fact is that -- even from a tactical point of view -- the money is going nowhere," he says. "This is money being pushed down a rat hole, and it's bottomless. The military is simply bottomless. It will continue, as far as I can see, for the foreseeable future simply to lay waste to the land and the people, here and elsewhere, in the service of more kind[s] of indiscriminate killing."
Notwithstanding his numerous arrests and periods of incarceration over the years (as a result of his anti-war activism), Berrigan proudly states that he remains "entirely unreformed." He continues to condemn American foreign and domestic policies in his writings and in his lectures as a visiting professor at college campuses across the United States.
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