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Daniel Berrigan, RIP



The great anti-war priest has died at the age of 94.

The legendary anti-war priest Father Daniel Berrigan died today at 94. He was a poet, pacifist, educator, social activist, playwright and lifelong resister to what he called “American military imperialism.” Along with his late brother, Phil, Dan Berrigan played an instrumental role in inspiring the anti-war and anti-draft movement during the late 1960s as well as the anti-nuclear movement.

In 1968, Father Daniel Berrigan made headlines when he traveled to North Vietnam with Howard Zinn to bring home three U.S. prisoners of war. Later that year he and eight others took 378 draft files from the draft board in Catonsville, MD. Then in the parking lot of the draft board office, the activists set the draft records on fire using homemade napalm to protest the Vietnam War.

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  • efgoldman

    A great American. Actually, with brother Phil, two great Americans.

    • Thirtyish

      And an unfortunate time to lose him.

  • ChrisTS

    This is truly painful for me. While I was an undergrad at Conn. College, the Berrigan brothers were pretty much our ‘alternate’ chaplains. I know they had their faults, but I still think of them as two of the most genuinely decent humans I have known.

  • jeer9

    What the Berrigans never realized was the importance of compromise, that you need to talk with the opposing side, to get outside your bubble, in order to institutionalize the change you desire.

    The Pentagon was willing to listen.

    • AMK

      They had a pretty clear, simple demand: America out of Vietnam. I don’t think it’s a fair comparison.

      • The Dark Avenger

        I think jeer9 is being sarcastic in repeating the advice given to BLM a few days ago.

        • ThrottleJockey

          Speaking of Obama he killed it last night at the Washington Correspondents Dinner.

          • The Dark Avenger

            Don Lemon is for people who find Lester Holt too street for their taste.

            • Dennis Orphen

              The only lemons I have a taste for are Chet, Bob and Liz.

              • DocAmazing

                Maybe Blind Jefferson.

                • galanx

                  What about the three lovely Lemon Twins, as they were always introduced, back-up singers for the Schmenges, as shown in that great documentary , now scandalously unavailable, “The Last Polka”?

                • The Dark Avenger

                  Just wait for The Man Who Would be Polka King:

                  Jack Black is to star in and produce a biopic about the rise and fall of Jan Lewan, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

                  The Man Who Would Be Polka King is described as centering on the true-life polka crooner who did a prison stint for running a Ponzi scheme.
                  The movie will be based on the 2007 documentary of the same name made by Joshua Brown and John Mikulak for Court TV.

                  Lewan went from Poland to Pennsylvania and became a Grammy-nominated polka music superstar, before serving five years in prison from 2004 for defrauding investors.


            • Denverite

              I remember when he was an “investigative” reporter at the NBC affiliate in Chicago.

          • Dennis Orphen

            The concept of flop sweat is completely alien to the man.

    • UserGoogol

      They did compromise, as far as I can see. To refuse to compromise would be to declare their goal to be the abolition of all war and violence and consider everything short of that a contemptible half-measure. Compromise doesn’t mean you can’t break into buildings and set off napalm, it just means you have to be willing to accept whatever crumbs are offered. Three POWs is a compromise.

  • For the radical priests who got folks released, shouldn’t that have been the cover of Newsweek?

  • Brad Nailer

    Somewhere on an Air Force base in northern Michigan there’s a barracks room with a ceiling, doubtless painted over many times, that has a poem by Daniel Berrigan printed in day-glo paint. The military was different in those anti-war days of the early 70s.

    • CrunchyFrog

      Conscription versus all volunteer. It’s why there never will be a draft again despite the money wasted on keeping the corpse of the Selective Service on perpetual life support. Today’s officers really do “wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth” rather than get sarcastic about it. And the enlisted folks – who are there mostly because it was the easiest job to get which would also keep them out of trouble – buy into the whole mentality.

  • Bootsie

    Then in the parking lot of the draft board office, the activists set the draft records on fire using homemade napalm to protest the Vietnam War.

    1) That seems a bit dangerous.

    2) You can make homemade napalm?

    • Just_Dropping_By

      1) Yes.

      2) It’s trivially easy if all you’re going to do is light it up in a parking lot. Add a flammable thickening agent to gasoline.

      • N__B

        Re 2: styrofoam.

        Or so I hear.

        • DAS

          One time at Jamboree when I was in Boy Scouts, there was a competition to put some logs below a line, start a fire and burn a string well above that line in the shortest time possible. You were allowed to use any solid fire accelerant you wanted (except for metal based ones); but you couldn’t use any liquid fire accelerant.

          We took some gasoline, thickened it with styrofoam and adsorbed it onto polyurethane foam in order to make a solid solution. Would it surprise you to learn:

          (A) our patrol easily won the contest
          (B) the next year, they changed the rules to exclude all but certain selected fire accelerants
          (C) one of our patrol members is now a big-shot scientist at an internationally renowned research hospital, and another (me) is a chemistry professor at a second tier state university


          • ThrottleJockey

            My 13 year old pyro nephew will be pleased to learn he has a bright future ahead of him.

          • N__B

            I am glad to hear that there was no (D) involving a burn unit.

        • Denverite

          I heard that too when I was 12.

          That the only thing we burned down was a six foot strip of my friend’s yard (he’s currently a big shot indie film producer, FWIW) is a miracle.

    • DocAmazing

      They used to sell napalm soap (soap with naphtha) for mechanics to clean their hands.

  • Malaclypse

    And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

    • BubbaDave

      + II Timothy 4

  • libarbarian

    It seems odd that, in this age of gender fluidity, a person would still be simplisticly characterized as “for” or “against” something as complicated as war.

    Militarism is a spectrum and we are all non-binary.

    • Quakers are pretty binary on the issue.

      • petesh

        Dan was pretty binary: anti-killing. That, in his mind, included war, capital punishment and abortion. I interviewed him once (by phone; we had a mutual friend) and he was absolutely charming, completely respectful of those who disagreed with him (I agreed with him on the first two but not the third), and in my tiny experience deserving of all the accolades he ever got.

      • Amanda in the South Bay

        Bay Area hippie Quakers, or George Fox University (still want to say college) in Newberg Oregon Quakers? The latter of which seem a lot closer to generic conservative fundie Protestantism.

      • wjts

        Witness noted Quaker pacifist Richard Nixon.

  • ThrottleJockey

    Too bad they were Xtianists. We know those guys are all bad. They’re probably going straight to hell.

    • Vance Maverick

      I think if you look up “how to be Christian without being Christianist”, you might find their names.

      • BubbaDave

        The defining split in Christianity, in my opinion, was the conversion of Constantine; a religion of slaves and the persecuted and the pacifists and radical change was now also a religion of emperors and the persecutors and the warriors and the status quo.

        The brothers Berrigan chose to serve Christ rather than Caesar. That’s not the easy choice; that’s not the choice the majority of American “Christians” make; and we are right to honor them for it.

        • PhoenixRising

          “And all my country saw
          Were priests who broke the law
          First it was the question, then it was a mission
          How to be American, how to be a Christian
          Oh if their law is their cross and the cross is burning…
          God of the just I’ll never win a peace prize
          Falling like Jesus
          Now let the jury rise
          Oh it’s all of us versus all that paper
          They took the only way they know who is on trial today
          Deliver us unto each other, I pray

          I had no right but for the love of you
          And every trial I stood, I stood for you

          Eyes on the trial
          8am arrival
          Hands on the bible”

          We of GenX whose dads both fought in and then protested the American war in Vietnam have complicated feelings.

    • My great uncle was their lawyer. They weren’t christian-ists. They were actual Christians. Big difference.

      • The Dark Avenger

        You have all the cool great uncles. The only one I have worked undercover in Japan after WWII for the CIA.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          family legend holds that one of my great-uncles spent part of the post-war occupation of Germany driving big trucks on narrow mountain roads and was supposed to have greatly enjoyed hogging the road and making the jeeps carrying the brass take the ditch

        • Vance Maverick

          Sometimes I think Aimai is really Bill Ayers.

          • DocAmazing

            Or maybe Alex Haley.

          • Did you know that “No More Mister Nice Blog” and “Dreams From My Father” use many of the same nouns, adjectives and punctuation?

        • efgoldman

          You have all the cool great uncles.

          One of my great uncles (mom’s side) fought in the Spanish American war, and lived well into his 90s, when I first met him. Had a handshake like a vise, even then, and hands the size of a first baseman’s mitt. Only person I ever met with bigger hands was the cellist (later conductor) Mstislav Rostropovich.
          Mom’s Aunt Kitty, the hushed family story went, died in an asylum from syphilis that Uncle Moe brought home from the war.

    • The Dark Avenger

      He was a Jebbie who had the courage of his convictions, who was willing to do the time for his crime. Even if one is an atheist, one has to admire his ability to deal with the consequences of his actions.

      This is unlike, for example, Kim Davis, who thought her “Christian” beliefs allowed her to shirk her duties in the name of the Prince of Peace. Duties, which, I remind you, were paid for by all the people in her county, including the gay and lesbian adult citizens as well. In this country we went to war, in part, over taxation without representation, and our Founding Fathers never intended for religious freedom of any sort to be a get out of jail free card as well.

      So your confusion is quite understandable.


    • brad

      I hate to break it to you, but being atheist doesn’t actually make one anti-Christian. You don’t have to participate in it to respect genuine, deeply considered faith. Especially in the case of good people who aren’t hypocrites about their beliefs.
      Problem is the rarity of such folk, and their more or less total absence from the insecure flocks of born again evangelicals.

    • Malaclypse

      By their fruits ye shall know them, TJ.

  • NewishLawyer
  • NewishLawyer
  • galanx

    They’re actually working on the canonisation of Dorothy Day, so maybe someday….

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