Philip Berrigan

Philip
Berrigan
1923
2002

American Peace Activist, Christian Anarchist and Former Catholic Priest, on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives

Author Quotes

We talked about international treaties which prohibit nations from preparing for wars of mass destruction. We told the court that,

When we were tried and sentenced to prison, our children were in the courtroom. They listened to the prosecution, heard our testimony, and learned how the judicial system works.

We were convicted of burglary, conspiracy, and criminal mischief, and Judge Salus sentenced Daniel and me to serve 3?10 years in prison. Other defendants received shorter sentences. We weren?t surprised. Montgomery prosecutors pursued our case with great vigor, the judge was biased and incompetent, and the jury felt it had to follow Judge Salus?s instructions.

With periods of reflection, planning, acting, and evaluating, the assembled community sought to learn from Peter?s denial, and to confront our own. Perhaps in time, those who claim the name Christian will learn how to say ?NO!? to death and ?YES!? to life. Instead of the other way around.

Pius said, ?Wars are waged in defiance of all international laws, with bestial ferocity. It is seen that following war crimes, there is a great irreparable damage to morals which comes from this school of hatred and misery called war. Secret arms foil plans of governments which thought it would be possible to wage war justly in the hope of gaining victory. All this and many other things show that today it is impossible in waging war to fulfill the conditions which in theory make a war lawful and just. Nowhere can there be a cause proportionate or of such importance as to justify so much evil, slaughter and destruction, and moral and religious ruin. In practice, then, it will never be lawful to declare war.?

The Bible says that hope is closely related to faith. One hopes because one believes. One believes in God?s promises, in the ultimate goodness of human beings, in the redemption of Christ, in the advocacy of the holy spirit. One believes; therefore, one hopes. We can?t live without hope. We need it as we need water and bread. And so one of the most precious gifts we can give others is to offer hope; to be a hopeful example, standing for life instead of death.

The jury found all seven Griffiss Plowshare defendants guilty. Liz was sentenced to three years in prison. Things certainly could have been worse. Dan and I received 3-10 years for our part in the King of Prussia action. Judges in the Midwest would impose draconian sentences on Plowshare activists?up to eighteen years for pouring blood and pounding on a concrete missile silo. Comparatively speaking, a maximum of three years wasn?t terrible, though it would mean long months of separation from community and family, particularly from her children.

These are exceptions. Judges in Plowshare trials have steadfastly disallowed ?jury nullification,? warning jurors they must not use their consciences to decide guilt or innocence, they must not use their individual judgment, and they must decide innocence or guilt solely on very narrow, circumscribed (i.e., the judge?s) interpretations of the law.

We (the United States of America) had never really chopped down the slavery tree; we just pretended, now and again, to trim its limbs. The roots grew into our own backyards, wound through our homes, undermined our schools, strangled our sense of reason and fair play. I discovered that the roots of this poisonous tree are inextricable from our economic system. Greed waters these roots, keeps them healthy, enables them to keep expanding their power and influence. Avarice transplants the tree when it isn?t flourishing. Exploitation supplies the tree with nutrients and fertilizer. I was also engaged in a dialogue with my brother Daniel, whose first book of poems, lime Without Number had won the Lamont Poetry Prize, and had also been nominated for the National Book Award. Dan spent 1954 in Europe where he met French priests who were articulating a unique, activist theology. These ?worker priests? hauled nets on fishing boats, helped farmers harvest their crops, and worked on assembly lines. They walked picket lines and participated in strikes. They took to the streets with angry workers, and they chose to live among the poor. France?s bishops accused the workers of collaborating with socialists and communists, and Pope Pius XII first warned against the ?spirit of innovation,? then ordered the priests to return to more traditional parish work, or face excommunication. Dan and I were intrigued by the worker priests? ideas, and inspired by their commitment to ordinary men and women. Would we, as priests, take these kinds of risks?

We have in effect, added new horrors to Guernica, Auschwitz, and Hiroshima. Never before has a war been attempted against children like the war in Indochina. Because of bombing, napalming, shelling, search and destroy operations, interdiction artillery, food denial programs, and other similar acts of charity, over 50% of the Indochinese children don?t reach five years old. One American officer puts it this way: ?We are at war with the 10-year-old children;. It may not be humanitarian, but that?s what it?s like.? An eyewitness account of an American correspondent illustrates his point. ?In a central Vietnam village, I saw a group of children run toward an open fire which laborers had made of uprooted grass. One boy threw a handful of something into the fire, the rest waited. As I was approaching them out of curiosity, one boy used a stick to get the things out of the fire and the rest swarmed over him, snatching them up. The things were baby rats. In near frenzy, the children began to pursue one another again, some tossed the hot rats between their two hands, others gulped them down whole.? (Ecocide in Vietnam, Barmy Weisberg).

Plowshare activists go to jail in order to resist the empire. We are innocent, but there is no other way to make our statement. We make it publicly, in court, before the press and anyone who cares to listen. We do not choose to go to prison. That is the government?s decision. We violate unjust laws, and take the consequences, whatever they may be. But our submission doesn?t mean that we respect the corrupt judicial system. We go to prison for our nonviolent beliefs, not because we accept the empire?s rules.

The Biblical view of the law, the courts, and the state is profoundly radical. The Bible looks upon the state as a kind of rebellious artifice; it is spurious, a human creation in rebellion against God. In the Old Testament, when the first state is proposed in the person of Saul, the first King of Israel, God tells the prophet Samuel that this project spells rejection of God. The state and its legislation are in rebellion against, or rejection of, God. Its courts are a human fabrication, cannot promote justice and peace; they are founded in violence, and legalize violence.

The means for making this vision real is nonviolent direct action; civil disobedience, or divine obedience. Nonviolent direct action carries the truth of justice and love into the marketplace, where it confronts social, political, and economic injustice. It witnesses against the darkness of the way we treat one another. Civil disobedience diminishes individual narcissism, egotism, and solipsism. It enables us to resist being cogs in the engine of oppression. Our choice is clear: We act to recreate the political order, or we solidify the old order of violence and death.

they had to use measures against the violence of their own government. After the war, Continental army soldiers were given certificates for future redemption, only to discover that they desperately needed cash to pay their debts. In Massachusetts, the new Constitution of 1780 established that only the wealthy could hold public office. The legislature refused to issue paper money. Debt-ridden farmers, many of them war veterans, were hauled into court. Their cattle were sold to settle debts. They were driven from the land.

We Americans have an almost obsessive need to embrace the illusion of freedom. We cannot see that the bomb makes all of us prisoners. Nor are we willing to admit that fear and freedom are incompatible. We fail to see the irony in our boast that we are free to build bombs, free to carry guns, and free live in walled-in communities.

We have talked about the teaching and example of Christ, who went to the shameful and agonizing death of a criminal rather than pick up a sword. ?Put your sword back into its place,? he told Peter. ?All who live by the sword will die by it.? (Matthew 26:52)

Our critics say that attacking atomic weapons with ballpeen hammers is an act of violence. Destroying property, they insist, is a form of violence. At best, it is a curious argument, one I?ve heard many times before. Warheads whose sole purpose is to vaporize cities are hardly to be thought legitimate property. Bombs that indiscriminately murder millions of men, women, and children are not ?property.?

Plowshare activists maintain that there are two great historical commentaries on the law. First, Christ was condemned in accordance with law. The Judean leadership told Pilate that, according to their law, Jesus must die for declaring himself the son of God. Our Lord was completely innocent. He spent his life teaching the good, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. He preached nonviolence, urging his followers to love their enemies. Second, in our day the law legalizes nuclear weapons. The slaughter in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was legal. The spread of nuclear weapons has been legal. Atomic warfare that threatens to spawn a nuclear winter, destroying life on earth, is legal. The poisoning of millions of human beings, and the contamination of our air, food, and water supplies, is legal.

The Christian who follows Jesus must be a nonviolent resister and revolutionary. There is no avoiding this truth. A Christian must take risks for the Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, the new sisterhood and brotherhood. Christians are obligated to resist collusion between church and state, and to fight nonviolently against tyranny, injustice, and oppression.

The mirror we looked into in the fifties has become the vicious magic show of the nineties: Ending affirmative action means creating meritocracy. Cutting people off welfare means giving people hope. Putting people to death means respecting life. Building atomic submarines, instead of schools, means protecting democracy. Destroying our children means saving them.

They talked about life in Alderson. The majority of inmates were doing time for nonviolent drug-related crimes. There were no Pentagon contractors, CIA agents, or State Department operatives in Alderson. Many of the inmates were from urban war zones, most were poor; throw-away people who, after years behind bars, would return to throw-away neighborhoods.

We answered him, ?It would never occur to you that one might do something other than for money.? His answer, ?In any case, in the world we?re living in, if you don?t sell yourself, someone buys you.?

We hid nothing from them; nor did we demand that they follow our path. Jonah House is a community, not a cult. Children are encouraged to think critically, to discuss and debate and come to their own conclusions. Resistance shows the violence and criminality of the American empire. Through resistance, our children learned to deconstruct the myths and counter the lies of their culture. They were empowered to distinguish between truth telling and obfuscation.

Our friend was confirming Gandhi?s observations that ?the truth seeker should go to jail even as a bridegroom enters the bridal chamber?; that ?social betterment never comes from parliaments or pulpits, but from direct action in the streets, from the courts, jails and sometimes even the gallows.? Or Dorothy Day?s statement that ?if Christians seek a better life for the poor and relief from the tyranny of nuclear weapons, they must fill up the jails.?

Power always blames its victims. Mrs. Thatcher was sworn to protect Britain?s interests in Northern Ireland. False arrests, beatings, torture, assassination, these were not enough; she must transform Bobby Sands and the hunger strikers into monsters. Demagogues, megalomaniacs, dictators speak the same Orwellian language: The state is powerful; therefore the state is good.

Author Picture
First Name
Philip
Last Name
Berrigan
Birth Date
1923
Death Date
2002
Bio

American Peace Activist, Christian Anarchist and Former Catholic Priest, on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives