American War (in Vietnam), Catonsville Nine, Father Daniel Berrigan, Jeremy Scahill, Plowshares Movement, SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, the draft, Vietnam War, Weather Underground, William Kunstler
LUMPENPROLETARIAT GONZO: I first heard about the Catonsville Nine last week during a speech given by Jeremy Scahill in Berkeley, California. But actually it kind of flew over my head the first time because Scahill mentioned so many things during his Assassination Complex address at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley. And I wasn’t feverishly scrawling notes, as I would if I were at a formal university lecture. 
48 years ago today, the Catonsville Nine took a historic stand against militarism, war, and imperialism and, in so doing, inspired generations to work for peace.
WIKIPEDIA—[accessed 18 MAY 2016] The Catonsville Nine were nine Catholic activists who burned draft files to protest the Vietnam War. On May 17, 1968, they went to the draft board in Catonsville, in the U.S. state of Maryland, took 378 draft files, brought them to the parking lot in wire baskets, dumped them out, poured home-made napalm over them, and set them on fire.
The Nine were:
- Father Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest
- Philip Berrigan, a former Josephite priest
- Br. David Darst, a De La Salle Christian Brother
- John Hogan
- Tom Lewis, an artist
- Marjorie Bradford Melville
- Thomas Melville, a former Maryknoll priest
- George Mische
- Mary Moylan
George Mische and Father Phil Berrigan were prime organizers of the Catonsville Nine. The organizing process was very democratic, with interminable meetings and “who’s in, who’s out” handraisings.
Fr. Philip Berrigan and Tom Lewis had previously poured blood on draft records as part of “The Baltimore Four” (with David Eberhardt and James Mengel) and were out on bail when they burned the records at Catonsville. (The first documented action against draft files is reputed to have been by Barry Bondhus in Minnesota, who, along with other family members, carried human waste into a draft board and defaced draft records.)
The Catonsville Nine were tried in federal court October 5–9, 1968. The lead defense attorney was counterculture legal icon William Kunstler. They were found guilty of destruction of U.S. property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967. They were also sentenced to a total of 18 years’ jail time and a fine of $22,000. Several of the nine—Mary Moylan, Phil Berrigan, Dan Berrigan and George Mische—went “underground” when it came time to show up for prison—in other words, the FBI had to try to find them. Father Dan Berrigan caused considerable embarrassment to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover by popping up and giving sermons and then fading back into the “underground”.
Fr. Daniel Berrigan wrote, of the Catonsville incident: “Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children…” The whole of his statement is in The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.
Large demonstrations occurred outside the Federal Courthouse on Calvert Street during the trial. The trial came soon after the events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago where considerable violence took place. The Nine’s trial, with religious people involved, made the overall peace movement a bit harder to dismiss since protesters in Chicago consisted of younger, student and SDS, Weather Underground, and youths with long hair.
Both the judge, Roszel C. Thomsen, and the prosecutor, Stephen H. Sachs, realised the historic proportions of the event but allowed little leeway to the defendants’ arguments. In these early trials of such actions the government always overcharged and always tried to keep the trials to “nothing but the facts,” i.e., did the Nine destroy files or did they not? The Nine, on the other hand, often referred to a higher law that they were following—God’s moral law—as well as such precedents as the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II. They called several expert witnesses. At one point, prosecutor Sachs quipped that “the government is not a balloon attached to the consciences of the Nine.”
Learn more at WIKIPEDIA.
- “Jeremy Scahill’s ‘Assassination Complex’ Book Tour Benefits Free Speech KPFA”, Lumpenprolariat, 9 MAY 2016.
 But, then, I knew I was going to replay my audio notes, i.e., my audio recording of the lecture.
[17 MAY 2016 07:00 PDT]
[Last modified 05:27 PDT 19 MAY 2016]