Daniel Berrigan was an American hero of the highest order. He put himself in harm’s way to stop the war machine that was destroying Southeast Asia and a generation of young Americans.
I learned about Berrigan from a teenage Catholic girl on a bus to Washington DC in November 1969. Her older brother had recently been killed, hideously, in Vietnam, and she was searching for ways to stop the war. She told me that when she met Berrigan, she learned that talking, complaining and yelling wouldn’t accomplish anything, that only taking action, at whatever personal cost, would change things. That was the life Daniel Berrigan was living.
Whether it was torching draft records with napalm or hammering a nuclear warhead into uselessness, Berrigan was willing to go to prison or disappear underground. He never stopped working for peace.
When I was faced with registering for the draft in the spring of 1970, it was Daniel Berrigan who inspired my decision. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. (The full story is in Some Way Outa Here.)
Three weeks before my 18th birthday, as I was agonizing over the decision, Berrigan made headlines for disappearing before he was due to start a prison sentence. His courage inspired me.
When he dramatically reappeared two months later. Here’s how the Times reported it:
Berrigan was convicted with eight other Christian resisters for destroying Selective Service records snatched two years ago from Local Board 33 at Catonsville, Md. But he failed to surrender for imprisonment on April 9.
Berrigan went underground instead, promising to surface at a Cornell peace weekend entitled “America Is Hard to Find,” which had been arranged to celebrate his departure for prison.
Movement people and the FBI suspected this bizarre turn was just one last fading act of protest. They were wrong. The holdout showed at the appointed time, gave a brief exhortation to the crowd of 10,000 assembled in the Cornell gym, and then slipped away when the lights went out. Since that appearance, Berrigan has been hard to find.
– The New York Times, June 28, 1970