On Saturday, Father Daniel Berrigan died at 94. Berrigan was a priest, a poet, and a lifelong activist who first rose to national prominence protesting the US government’s draft of young men against their will to fight in the brutal invasion of southeast Asia in the 1960s. Whether breaking into Selective Service offices to burn draft records, publicly preaching nonviolence while on the run from the FBI (whose extra-reactionary militarism policy placed him on the Top 10 Most Wanted list for two charges of vandalism), using hammers to damage nuclear missile warheads in factories, or negotiating with the Viet Cong to secure the release of American POWs abandoned by their own government, Berrigan’s entire life was dedicated not only to faith-based pacifism, but to a revolutionary pacifism that screamed against the imperial state and its many engines of injustice with a self-sacrificing militancy of compassion for human beings and the world that was impossible to ignore. He wrote eloquently against American interventions in Central America, he spearheaded the movement for nuclear disarmament for over 30 years, and he was arrested at age 82 for protesting the Iraq War. Berrigan wrote over 50 books, including over a dozen books of poetry. This piece, about his and his brother’s arrest after using homemade napalm to publicly destroy stolen draft records, is taken from his 1998 compilation, And the Risen Bread: Selected Poems, 1957-1997
False Gods, Real Men by Daniel Berrigan
Our family moved in 25 years from Acceptable Ethnic
through Ideal American
(4 sons at war Africa Italy the Bulge Germany)
and Ideal Catholic
(2 sons priests uncle priest aunt nun cousins
great uncle etc. etc.)
But now; 2 priests in and out of jail, spasms, evictions,
We haven’t made a nickel on the newest war
probably never again
will think, proper
with pride; a soldier! a priest! we’ve made it now!
What it all means is – what remains.
My brother and I stand like the fences
of abandoned farms, changed times
too loosely webbed against
A really powerful blow
would bring us down like scarecrows.
Nature, knowing this, finding us mildly useful
her backhanded love of freakishness
allows us to stand.
both serious and comic;
a cry in the general loveless waste
both more and less
…did conspire to enter, disrupt, destroy draft files of the American Government, on the 17 day of May…
Among the flag poles
wrapped like Jansenist
at half mast
(alas for sexual
mortmain) the wooden poles
on high but
We did yes we did your Honor
while legitimate cits
newts bats foxes
parks and green swards
rutting earnestly drilling
tooth and claw
We fools and felons
went on a picnic
apples quince wines hams swimsuits
loaves fishes noonday relics and traces
badminton watery footsoles infants all
An FBI agent estimated at least 600 individual files were in the two huge wire baskets carried from Local Board No. 33 and set fire in the parking lot.
– AP dispatch
Then foul macadam
blossomed like rosemary
in the old tapestry
where unicorns deigned
to weave a fantasy
truer I swear than
Judge Mace his black
shroud his skeletal
body & soul
whose veins decant
vapors to turn the
dry as the dead.
When a United States judge sentenced two of the pacifists to six years in Federal Prison…he clearly ignored sound discretion. The powers of the bench include the power to fix sentences on those found guilty, but they do not include the right to impose punishment out of all proportion to the crime.
– The New York Times
charged with creating
Jews in Babylon
we sit and mourn
somewhere in Mace’s
mad eyes’ space
“I have tried all the conventional and legal forms of protest to little or no avail,” says Philip, who argues that both Christ and Paul allowed the possibility of civil disobedience when man’s law counters God’s.
Compassionate, casual as a good face
(a good heart goes without saying)
someone seen in the street; or
infinitely rare, once, twice in a lifetime
that conjunction we call brother or friend.
Biology, mythology cast up clues.
We grew together, stars made men
by cold design; instructed
sternly (no variance, not by a hair’s
breadth) in course and recourse. In the heavens
in our mother’s body, by moon and month
were whole men made.
We obeyed then, and were born.