late Philip Berrigan was a World II veteran, Catholic
priest, civil rights activist, and a visionary.
He was also a pacifist who urged people to "speak
truth to power." By this, Philip meant that
citizens have an obligation to challenge the United
States government's destructive (sometimes psychotic)
domestic and foreign policies. Father Berrigan did
not believe in writing polite letters to elected
representatives, asking them to come to their senses
and stop supporting war. He did not believe in pounding
drums for political candidates who, once in they
gain office, nearly always break their promises
to voters. Republican or Democrat, conservative
or liberal, it makes no difference because racism,
capitalist greed, and war profiteering, said Berrigan,
drive the system.
he died on December 6, 2002, Phil Berrigan had spent
over eleven years in jails and prisons for his many
acts of civil disobedience (he called these actions
"divine obedience".) It was, it is, a
great honor to have known this peace warrior, and
to have co-authored his autobiography, Fighting
the Lamb's War: Skirmishes with the American Empire.
Were he alive today, I'm sure that Phil would applaud
the tens of millions who marched through the streets
of New York, London, Madrid, Paris, Seattle, Dublin,
and other towns and cities to protest the Bush administration's
plans to invade Iraq. A modest man, Phil would take
no credit for warning the world that the Iraqi war
would end in disaster for the people of that country
and for the United States. It was obvious, he would
say, that Secretary of State Collin Powell was lying
(the Central Intelligence Agency wrote Powell's
speech) when he urged the United Nations to support
attacking Iraq. It was easy to see that Mr. Bush
and friends were lying when they kept warning that
the "smoking gun in Iraq" might one day
become "a mushroom cloud in America."
And it was depressing to see how easily the America
media, including the The New York Times and
The Washington Post, turned into cheer leaders
for an illegal preemptive strike against a sovereign
most remarkable thing about Fr. Berrigan is that,
like Martin Luther King, he refused to give up on
nonviolence. Jailed, threatened, insulted, thrown
into solitary confinement, excommunicated, Philip
maintained his sense of humor and his determination
to treat even his enemies with love and respect.
Nevertheless, he understood and supported liberation
struggles in Vietnam, Palestine, and the North of
Ireland. In 1980, Phil flew to Ireland with his
brothers Daniel and Jerry. The Berrigan brothers
were planning to visit IRA prisoners who were protesting
against the British government's refusal to treat
them as prisoners of war.
tour of the North," writes Berrigan,
"was supported by staff members of the IRA,
young men and women who had been in jail for their
opposition to British rule. All were deeply committed
to the movement, and had suffered greatly for their
beliefs. Wherever we traveled, our hosts introduced
us as nonviolent revolutionaries. Ireland does not
have a great tradition of nonviolence, and I suspect
some people thought we were rather naïve, unschooled.
Our experience in the North helped us understand
that victims of violent oppression find it difficult
to appreciate nonviolence."
denied the Berrigans' requests to visit Long Kesh
and the women's prison at Armagh, and the brothers
returned home wishing they could have done more
to show their support for the prisoners.
"The world watched in horror,"
wrote Berrigan, "as Margaret Thatcher allowed
Bobby Sands and nine more hunger strikers to die
always blames its victims. Mrs. Thatcher was sworn
to protect British interests in Northern Ireland.
False arrests, beatings, torture, assassination,
these were not enough; she must transform Bobby
Sands and the hunger strikers into monsters.
megalomaniacs, dictators speak the same Orwellian
language. The state is powerful; therefore the
state is good.
"Opponents of the state must be jailed, starved,
tortured, and killed."
March 2, 2003, five Catholic Worker activists-Deidre
Clancy, Nuin Dunlop, Karen Fallon, Damien Morgan,
and Ciaron O'Reily-engaged in a nonviolent action
to disarm a U.S. Navy warplane at Shannon airport.
These women and men were protesting against the
United States military's use of Shannon airport
to move troops and supplies into Iraq. According
to the protestors, 360,000 US troops, as well as
components for cruise missiles, have passed through
Shannon since 2002. In the best tradition of nonviolence,
the Pit Stop Ploushares were speaking truth to power.
By exposing the Bush administration's violations
of Ireland's neutrality, they were trying to sound
a warning. If allowed to do so, the American empire
will plant its military tentacles deep into Irish
soil. Once this happens, it will be difficult if
not impossible for Ireland to avoid being drawn
into the empire's endless wars.
late October 2005, the Pit Stop Ploughshares will
go on trial for speaking truth to power. Let us
hope that those who sit in judgment of these resisters
will decide to honor their courage and commitment
to world peace, rather than send them off to jail.
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