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Daniel Berrigan: Forty Years After Catonsville

Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges recently spoke to Father Daniel Berrigan, who at 87 is observing the 40th anniversary of a crucial act of civil disobedience in Catonsville, Md. The priest offers Hedges a frank assessment of our times: “I have never had such meager expectations of the system.”

Chris Hedges in The Nation:

Forty years ago this month, Father Daniel Berrigan walked into a draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, with eight other activists, including his brother, Father Philip Berrigan, and removed draft files of young men who were about to be sent to Vietnam. The group carted the files outside and burned them in two garbage cans with homemade napalm. Father Berrigan was tried, found guilty, spent four months as a fugitive from the FBI, was apprehended and sent to prison for eighteen months.

Father Berrigan, unbowed at 87, sat primly in a straight-backed wooden chair as the afternoon light slanted in from the windows, illuminating the collection of watercolors and religious icons on the walls of his small apartment in upper Manhattan. Time and age have not blunted this Jesuit priest’s fierce critique of the American empire or his radical interpretation of the Gospels. There would be many more “actions” and jail time after his release from prison, including a sentence for his illegal entry into a General Electric nuclear missile plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, on September 9, 1980, with seven other activists, where they poured blood and hammered on Mark 12A warheads.

“This is the worst time of my long life,” he said with a sigh. “I have never had such meager expectations of the system. I find those expectations verified in the paucity and shallowness every day I live.”

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