BooksThe Horror Continues


OF COURSE, the people were more important than the events. Daniel and Philip Berrigan, brothers and priests, had come out a poverty-stiffused Minnesota childhood with a paradoxical gentleness. Philip, fatherly in his white crewent, had moved from civil rights work in New Orleans to anti-war organizing after the first Kennedy assassination. His belief in the Christianity he preached had made people uncomfortable because he wanted to act on that belief. His superiors had silenced him when they transferred him to Baltimore, but then the Pope spoke against the war, and Philip felt himself unmuzzled again.

Daniel, as a Jesuit (the soldier of Christ). had moved along different roads, but the faith in the humanity of man common to the brothers had brought them to the same end. As a well-known poet he had traveled to South Africa. Eastern Europe. Latin America, and had been unable to ignore, or rationalize away, the bitter world he had seen. A trip to Hanoi with Howard Zinn had confirmed him in his opposition to the war.

Three of the nine had worked in Guatemala. Thomas Melville, and his wife Marjorie, a former priest and a former nun, calm in their love, had joined John Hogan and five others in attempting to change the crushing poverty the Guatemalan people are living in:

So we decided we would join

the revolutionary movement

knowing that perhaps

some of us would be killed...

We were all finally expelled

by the American Ambassador

who was recently assassinated

I know you are bored by this

And there was Mary Moylan, who had worked as a nurse-midwife in Uganda when American planes piloted by Cuban refugees had bombed the country, supposedly by accident. And Thomas Lewis, and artist, surprised to find himself working against the war. And George Mische, who had discovered the difference between words and actions while working for the Alliance for Progress in Central America. And David Darst. like the rest unable to close his eyes to the brutal contradictions he saw around him.


On May 17. 1968, during the idyllic optimism of the McCarthy spring, this unlikely group came to the unlikely town of Catonsville, outside Baltimore, to bear witness to the value of life, a strange act for Americans. an even stranger act for members of the church of Cardinal Spellman. They walked into the offices of Local Board No. 33, seized several hundred I-A files, and carried them outside, where they placed them in a wire trashburner. They then poured napalm over the files (made from a recipe in a Special Forces manual-"two parts gasoline one part soap bakes") and destroyed them. Then they waited for the police.

THE BOOK Daniel Berrigan has produced from the court transcript of the nine is beautiful in its simple brilliance. In editing the testimony of the witnesses, jurors, judge, and defendants in the case, he has recognized and captured the lyrical poetry of common speech. Rightly, most of the book consists of the testimony of the nine. Each talks of the reasoning and the decisions that brought him to Catonsville. Yet the book is not unsympathetic to the problems of the witnesses, the prosecution, and the judge. In only a few lines by the draft board clerk named Mrs. Murphy, the tragedy of the petty bureaucrat is bared:

WITNESS: ... Then they ran down the stairs. I followed to the edge of the building and saw the fire, and I came running back up, and I said to the girls: "My God, they are burning our records."

PROSECUTION: What effect on the functioning of Local Board 33 has the incident of May 17 had?

WITNESS: It has given us a tremendous amount of work, and has certainly inconvenienced our boys.

DEFENSE: Would you conceive that the prime purpose of the files, and the work you do, is to serve the government?

WITNESS: Yes, sir, the Army of Defense. I am part of the Army of Defense.

The judge is caught defending a system he doesn't like because he is afraid to try to change it:

JUDGE: I am not God almighty. I did what the law required me to do. All we can do is our best...

PHILIP BERRIGAN: Your honor, I think that we would be less than honest with you if we did not state our attitude. Simply, we have lost confidence in the institutions of this country, including our own churches.

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