Last Friday Philip Berrigan died. Today, Boston Globe columnist James Carroll, perhaps the best columnist we have in the mainstream press, gave him the sendoff he deserved. Known for his acts of civil disobedience during the Vietnam War, Berrigan never ceased to oppose the American war system and the nuclear weaponry that has, since 1945, undergirded all our ideas of “national security.” Carroll, who wrote a fascinating memoir of the Vietnam years, An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us, and Berrigan are both reminders that the best of that era remain with us. The Vietnam experience remains barely below the surface, despite endless attempts at burial. This administration, in its very military planning, is still in flight from that war, though sometimes what you flee is what you find.
As our fundamentalist administration prepares for the next war and the one after that, a faith in weaponry and the military as the American way of problem solving deepens. Today, we offered to sell arms to the dismal military government of Algeria to put down the dismal rebellion there (just as last week Secretary of State Powell ventured to Colombia to offer yet more military aid to another dismal regime to put down yet another dismal rebellion). Our answer to all the world’s problems is now invariably a military one. Berrigan knew that this could not last.
Here is his final statement. To his last breath he was a man of conviction:
“WHEN I LAY DYING…of cancer
“I die in a community including my family, my beloved wife Elizabeth, three great Dominican nuns – Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert, and Jackie Hudson (emeritus) jailed in Western Colorado – Susan Crane, friends local, national and even international. They have always been a life-line to me. I die with the conviction, held since 1968 and Catonsville, that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself. We have already exploded such weapons in Japan in 1945 and the equivalent of them in Iraq in 1991, in Yugoslavia in 1999, and in Afghanistan in 2001. We left a legacy for other people of deadly radioactive isotopes – a prime counterinsurgency measure. For example, the people of Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be battling cancer, mostly from depleted uranium, for decades. In addition, our nuclear adventurism over 57 years has saturated the planet with nuclear garbage from testing, from explosions in high altitudes (four of these), from 103 nuclear power plants, from nuclear weapons factories that can’t be cleaned up – and so on. Because of myopic leadership, of greed for possessions, a public chained to corporate media, there has been virtually no response to these realities…
“At this point in dictation, Phil’s lungs filled; he began to cough uncontrollably; he was tired. We had to stop – with promises to finish later. But later never came – another moment in an illness that depleted Phil so rapidly it was all we could do to keep pace with it… And then he couldn’t talk at all. And then – gradually – he left us.”
I’ve also included below a piece from the Guardian on the father of a young man who died in one of the Bali nightclubs — just as another reminder that individual acts of conscience and courage can affect our world. Tom
Thank you, Philip Berrigan
By James Carroll, December 10, 2002, The Boston Globe
PHILIP BERRIGAN is dead. His family and friends laid him to rest yesterday in Baltimore. Most people associate him with the Vietnam era draft board raids that made him famous. Fewer know that he committed eight major acts of civil disobedience between 1980 and 1999 – acts of disarmament, which cost him years in prison. But the image of the smiling, white-haired man in handcuffs can be misleading. Far from being a marginal figure whose time is long past, Philip Berrigan, even in death, has extraordinary relevance for two of today’s most urgent questions.
The first has to do with the Catholic priesthood. Once, the pressures facing the Catholic Church would have seemed a parochial matter, but the moral conflagration that is melting the inner-girders of this institution has begun to threaten the very structure of authority in society.
One man’s stand against Australia’s war on terror
By Rod Liddle, December 9, 2002, The Guardian
The Australian government is having a rough time at the moment. The newspapers are full of calamitous bush fires, a crippling drought which has reduced the crop yield by 40% this year and giant jellyfish a metre in diameter lurking just offshore, with poisonous mischief on their monocellular minds.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also Brian Deegan to deal with. Deegan is currently causing more trouble than certainly the jellyfish and probably, in the end, the bush fires. He has set about the politicians with fervour and intelligence. The politicians patronise him and are condescending to him, but he’s not having it – he just keeps right on causing trouble.
The thing is, the politicians can’t be nasty to him because he is bereaved, and being nasty to the bereaved is not on, if you have been elected to public office.