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.
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.”
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.”
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.