Know Where You Stand: Decades Ago, the Ever-Prescient Daniel Berrigan Lamented That the Dream of Israel Had Become A Nightmare
In so many ways we mourn the indomitable poet, priest and activist Daniel Berrigan, who died at age 94 on the 41st anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War he decried and defied for years, starting with his famous 1968 burning - with homemade napalm - of Catonsville draft files with his brother Philip and other pacifists. "Our apologies, good friends," he wrote in his play The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, "for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise." Father Berrigan got three years in federal prison for the action; when the appeals ran out, he refused to show up, spent four years opposing the war from underground, and went on to assemble an impressive rap sheet of arrests and convictions for protesting war, weaponry, nuclear power and the world's other unholy ills. Thus did Kurt Vonnegut crown him, "Jesus as a poet."
Known for his fearless insights, Berrigan's mantra was to, "Know where you stand, and stand there." He remained true to it in a much-criticized 1973 speech to the Association of Arab University Graduates, where he denounced an Israel that had become "a criminal Jewish community" and, alongside a South Africa under apartheid and a U.S. embroiled in Vietnam, "a settler state (seeking) a Biblical justification for crimes against humanity." He lamented the tragedy of Jews who after enduring the Holocaust "arose like warriors, armed to the teeth, (who) entered the imperial adventure and spread abroad the imperial deceptions," going from slaves to masters who created slaves of "the people it has crushed"- Palestinians. Finally, he cites the "savage triumph" of a "model (that) is not the kingdom of peace; it is an Orwellian transplant, taken bodily from Big Brother's bloody heart." After the speech raised a furor, he defended it as "an act of outraged love." At his passing, Berrigan's family quotes his belief that, "Peacemaking is tough, unfinished, blood-ridden. We walk our hope and that’s the only way of keeping it going." Today, they add, no one person can pick up his burden, but there is enough work for us all: "His spirit is free, it is alive in the world, and it is waiting for you."