Posted by: smstrouse | May 14, 2016

Remembering the Berrigans by Remembering the Anti-War Movement

CNS-Berrigan BANNER_croppedWhere is the anti-war movement today? I’ve heard – and asked – the question often in these past decades.

Who are prophets of the stature of Phil and Dan Berrigan (sheesh, even spellcheck keeps changing it to Kerrigan)?

I know. There are many, many people speaking up and working quietly for justice in many areas, e.g. Black Lives Matter, Sojourners,  Veterans for Peace.

But where is the kind of outrage that drove the Berrigan brothers (part of the Catonsvilleplowshares Nine) to burn draft records with homemade napalm in 1968 and to lead the Plowshares Eight into a GE plant in King of Prussia, PA, pouring blood on company records and damaging nuclear warhead nose cones?

There are many reasons why times have changed. In my own admittedly very simplistic analysis, I can see three. One is that we don’t see the war on TV. Those of us who can remember Viet Nam surely were affected by nightly footage of coffins being unloaded at Dover Air Force Base. In fact, the phrase “Dover Test” became an indicator of public tolerance, or lack of it, for war casualties. That is, until 1991, when the media were banned from covering the arrival of remains at Dover. The ban was lifted in 2009, but the media itself seems to have gone MIA on war coverage.

Two: where they have done a good job, though, is in defusing any criticism of the war by equating it with “not supporting the troops.” So we’ve bent over backwards to reverse the stigma of the Viet Nam era when returning vets were called “baby killers” and the like. I do not want us to go back to that kind of behavior, but my concern for returning vets does not depend on my opinion of our foreign policy. In fact, I lament that those who send them off to fight do not “support our troops” by providing adequate medical care, housing, job training, etc.

The third reason for our malaise, I think, is that getting out of the mess we’re in today is a lot different from the quagmire of Viet Nam. We created the disaster; just picking up and abandoning the people caught in the middle won’t make anything better. Except that nothing appears to be making anything better. We’ve created an “Apocalypse Now” horror show with no end in sight.

It seems hopeless. Even for Dan Berrigan. In an interview with The Nation in 2008 (which could have been written today), he said  “This is the worst time of my long life. I have never had such meager expectations of the system.” Still, he also wrote elsewhere that what made it bearable was a disciplined, implicitly difficult belief in God as the key to sanity and survival.

The Berrigans and all the other anti-war protestors of the past can still be role models for us today. Maybe war is different and the world is different. But our ability to live in the world with conviction, faith and courage does not have to change. WE can be the prophets. The spirit of the Catonsville Nine and the Plowshares Eight can live on is us, in whatever ways we are called to embody peace and justice in the midst of a very difficult time. lxiRc7HngdkqN1uxCsRAiQ-smallw




  1. Thanks for honoring one of my heroes and motivating us to carry on his courageous commitment.


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