Dan Berrigan – Peacemaker – Dies, age 94

Catonsville Nine burn draft files

The great “radical priest” Daniel Berrigan has died. With his brother Philip and a group of Catholic pacifists known as the Catonsville Nine he famously burned draft files, protesting the Vietnam War, in 1968 and with the Plowshares Eight, he hammered on the nosecone of a nuclear missile, inspiring a wave of similar symbolic disarmament actions around the world. After being convicted for the Catonsville action Dan went underground, popping up at anti war demonstrations, eluding the FBI and, when caught, he spent two years in Federal prison.

Dan Berrigan with Howard Zinn in Hanoi. Photo: howardzinn.org

With the historian Howard Zinn he travelled to North Vietnam and obtained the release of three American pilots, telling the story in the book Night Flight to Hanoi, and he appeared with Jeremy Irons in the film The Mission. He said his epitaph should be: “It was never dull. Alleluia.”

Berrigan was a prolific writer of poetry and prose. He wrote: “Of course, let us have peace, we cry, ‘but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties … ‘ There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war – at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison, and death in its wake.”
 

Dan Berrigan speaking at Cornell while on the run from the FBI

But Dan Berrigan was a peacemaker. He was arrested hundreds of times, consistently, nonviolently protesting US wars, bombing, torture. His way with words coupled with dramatic action propelled him to fame. In a “Meditation” on Catonsville he wrote: “Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise…. The time is past when good men can remain silent, when obedience can segregate men from public risk, when the poor can die without defense.”

 

Dan and Phil Berrigan on the cover of Time magazine

And his brand of peacemaking certainly brought notoriety. The first US priests to be arrested for anti war protests Dan and Phil were, notably, pictured on the cover of Time magazine, and Dan’s obituary, fittingly, appears on the front cover of yesterday’s New York Times.

 
Among those inspired by Dan Berrigan were Sister Megan Rice, the 84 year old Catholic nun who broke into the Y12 complex in Tennessee where US nuclear weapons are built and Fr John Dear who hammered on an F15-E nuclear-capable fighter-bomber in North Carolina. Sr Megan and Fr John have both spoken at the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre.
 
I met Dan Berrigan when he spoke at Georgetown University in 1983, just a few years after the Plowshares Eight action near my hometown in Pennsylvania. I was deeply impressed by his talk and asked him what I could do to work for peace. He answered enigmatically that there were many things to do. And so there have been. And so there are.
Dan Berrigan’s life stands as a call to peacemaking, a call to action.
John Dear gives a more detailed account of the life of Dan Berrigan in The Huffington Post. 
Brian Larkin
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