Letter from Tom Lewis and Philip Berrigan to Daniel Berrigan, November 1968
|Cornell University Library
|Date of Digitization:
|Daniel and Philip Berrigan Collection at the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library
Here are some of our thoughts on the Paris thing. We feel that we possess enough prestige
and, sufficient credentials to move on our own in Paris. Not only do Eqbal, Howard and
Doug have contacts with the delegation, as you do also, but they represent the only
Movement that has put people in jail. People over thirty, that is. Moreover, we see
no great difficulty in explaining to the Vietnamese the considerable efforts made to
get support from Dellinger, Hayden et al; plus, our relationship to the Mobilization;
plus, the unstructured makeup of the peace movent in the U.S. etc.
We feel constrained to emphasize that the utmost secrecy should be maintained from this
point on. This should not be mentioned to the peace public; nor should it be subject
matter for dialogue with diplomats, etc. When we make approaches to official quarters
we may have a tendency to forget the bandits we are dealing with. They can exert prior
pressure on the Vietnamese to have nothing to do with us; or if this is unsuccessful,
they can lay their plans for reacting to their advantage. By the same token,
speaking about it to peace people will unerringly get it to Washington. Surprise is
a great advantage in any struggle. We may have already lost it.
Our objective, it would seem, would be to set up a program for release of U.S. fliers,
and if possible, imprisoned peace people in the U.S. Final agreements will largely de-
pend upon what the Vietnamese will agree to as possible in negotiating the matter with
the U.S. In a word, they may be initially convinced that amnesty for U.S. political
prisoners is not possible at this point. On the other hand, they may see the entire
point of the idea very soon, and feel very free to take a hard line with the U.S.
No political prisoners, no fliers- that sort of thing.
The whole question might be broached as well to the NLF, which has U.S. military prisoners.
The NLF in fact, may gain political leverage as an official delegation for the South
through negotiating this matter. To be able to establish something with them would not
only put the peace movement in better contact with the NLF, but would provide a better
opportunity to publicize the fact that there are two main adversaries in the war- the
NLF and the U.S. Despite U.S. propaganda.
We feel it imperative, without further publicizing or seeking of peace group support,
to get Eqbal, Howard and Doug- at least two of the three, whoever is free to go- to
Paris to open up the deal. If the Vietnamese agree, they will approach Washington, and
make it clear to our leaders that if they do not agree, we will let the matter drop
like a bombshell in the laps of the international media- the U.S. would rather allow its
fliers to remain in captivity than release, even for a week or two, a couple of incon-
sequential and subversive peace people. We think they will agree. If they don't let them
suffer with an aroused U.S. public.
The Vietnamese would make it clear to the Americans from the outset that Tom Lewis and
Phil Berrigan would have to be released to go to Hanoi, or to some undesignated spot
in the South to receive the prisoners. We feel that we are the most logical ones for
several reasons; we know the politics of the affair, we are more purely political pris-
oners than draft resisters are; and, we are the only ones combining the above two
qualifications in jail. Moreover, we would hopefully have better qualifications for
reporting and interpreting the event.
It may be that the men going to Paris cannot demand amnesty at this time. That's ok,
but the matter ought to be discussed, since amnesty would be far more embarrassing to
the U.S. than mere release (two weeks) from prison. Even that however, would be a major
victory. It would among other things, disrupt the federal penal system in all sorts of
One last point- to our mind, the aim of the thing is to use creative non-violence against
the U.S., to embarrass it, to expose its weakness and duplicity. And finally, to force
it to be honest, insofar as this can be accomplished. Could you Xerox copies of this
and get then to Eqbal and Howard? Love, peace, gratitude.
Tom - Phil