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The Catonsville Nine: an act of conscience

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The Catonsville Nine: an act of conscience
View larger version of imageDean Pappas
Collection: Dean Pappas
Date: 1968
Date of Digitization: 2004-11-04
Source: Dean Pappas
Original Dimensions: 23 x 41 cm
Creator: Catonsville Nine Defense Committee
An informational folding leaflet prepared by the Catonsville Defense Committee and dedicated to the Catonsville Nine and their struggle.

              Daniel Berrigan: a meditation

   Every page that deals, as this one tries to, with the news 
about today, finds itself fairly buried before it is born. 
Last week's omelette. This week is still in the egg shells. 
I sit here, breaking eggs to make an Easter, to feed the 
living as I hope, good news for bad.
   Some 10 or 12 of us (the number is still uncertain) 
will, if all goes well (ill?) take our religious bodies dur-
ing this week to a draft center in or near Baltimore. There 
we shall, of purpose and forethought, remove the 1-A 
files, sprinkle them in the public street with home-made 
napalm, and set them afire. For which act we shall, be-
yond doubt, be placed behind bars for some portion of 
our natural lives, in consequence of our inability to live 
and die content in the plagued city, to say "peace peace" 
when there is no peace, to keep the poor poor, the home-
less, the thirsty and hungry homeless, thirsty and hungry.
   Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good 
order, the burning of paper instead of children, the anger-
ing of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel 
house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise. For 
we are sick at heart, our hearts give us no rest for think-
ing of the Land of Burning Children. And for thinking 
of that other Child, of whom the poet Luke speaks. The 
infant was taken up in the arms of an old man, whose 
tongue grew resonant and vatic at the touch of that beauty. 
And the old man spoke; this child is set for the fall and 
rise of many in Israel, a sign that is spoken against.
   Small consolation; a child born to make trouble, and 
to die for it, the First Jew (not the last) to be subject of a 
"definitive solution." He sets up the cross and dies on it; 
in the Rose Garden of the executive mansion, on the 
D.C. Mall, in the courtyard of the Pentagon. We see the 
sign, we read the direction: you must bear with us, for 
his sake. Or if you will not, the consequences are our own.
   For it will be easy, after all, to discredit us. Our record 
is bad; trouble makers in church and state, a priest mar-
ried despite his vows, two convicted felons. We have jail 
records, we have been turbulent, uncharitable, we have 
failed in love for the brethren, have yielded to fear and 
despair and pride, often in our lives. Forgive us.
   We are no more, when the truth is told, than ignorant 
beset men, jockeying against all chance, at the hour of 
death, for a place at the right hand of the dying one.
   We act against the law at a time of the Poor People's 
March, at a time moreover when the government is an-
nouncing ever more massive paramilitary means to con-
front disorder in the cities. It is announced that a com-
puterized center is being built in the Pentagon at a cost 
of some seven millions of dollars, to offer instant response 
to outbreaks anywhere in the land; that moreover, the 
government takes so serious a view of civil disorder, that 
federal troops, with war experience in Vietnam, will have 
first responsibility to quell civil disorder.
   The implications of all this must strike horror in the 
mind of any thinking man. The war in Vietnam is more 
and more literally brought home to us. Its inmost meaning 
strikes the American ghettos; in servitude to the affluent. 
We must resist and protest this crime.
   Finally, we stretch out our hands to our brothers 
throughout the world. We who are priests, to our fellow 
priests. All of us who act against the law, turn to the poor 
of the world, to the Vietnamese, to the victims, to the 
soldiers who kill and die, for the wrong reasons, for no 
reason at all, because they were so ordered—by the 
authorities of that public order which is in effect a massive 
institutionalized disorder.
   We say: killing is disorder, life and gentleness and 
community and unselfishness is the only order we recog-
nize. For the sake of that order, we risk our liberty, our 
good name. The time is past when good men can remain 
silent, when obedience can segregate men from public 
risk, when the poor can die without defense.
   We ask our fellow Christians to consider in their hearts 
a question which has tortured us, night and day, since the 
war began. How many must die before our voices are 
heard, how many must be tortured, dislocated, starved, 
maddened? How long must the world's resources be raped 
in the service of legalized murder? When, at what point, 
will you say no to this war?
   We have chosen to say, with the gift of our liberty, if 
necessary our lives: the violence stops here, the death 
stops here, the suppression of the truth stops here, this war 
stops here.
   We wish also to place in question, by this act, all 
suppositions about normal times, about longings for an 
untroubled life in a somnolent church, about a neat time-
table of ecclesiastical renewal which in respect to the 
needs of men, amounts to another form of time serving.
   Redeem the times! The times are inexpressibly evil. 
Christians pay conscious, indeed religious tribute, to 
Caesar and Mars; by the approval of overkill tactics, by 
brinkmanship, by nuclear liturgies, by racism, by support 
of genocide. They embrace their society with all their 
heart, and abandon the cross. They pay lip service to 
Christ and military service to the powers of death.
   And yet, and yet, the times are inexhaustibly good, 
solaced by the courage and hope of many. The truth 
rules, Christ is not forsaken. In a time of death, some men 
—the resisters, those who work hardily for social change, 
those who preach and embrace the unpalatable truth— 
such men overcome death, their lives are bathed in the 
light of the resurrection, the truth has set them free. In 
the jaws of death, of contumely, of good and ill report, 
they proclaim their love of the brethren.
   We think of such men, in the world, in our nation, in 
the churches; and the stone in our breast is dissolved; we 
take heart once more.

   what we ask:

•  think about it.
    We have discovered that not many Americans like to think 
    of the Boston Tea Party as a precedent. Yet perhaps there 
    is today some propery even less worthy of existence than 
    was British-taxed tea. Think about what happened at 
    Catonsville in terms of the dead in Vietnam, in terms of 
    the draft and the wars like Vietnam already begun.

•  contribute
   Five lawyers have volunteered their services: William 
   Kunstler, noted New York civil liberties attorney; Fr. 
   Robert Drinan, S.J., dean of the Boston College Law 
   School; Harold Buchman of Baltimore; Fr. William Cun-
   ningham, S.J., of the Loyola University law faculty in Chi-
   cago, and Harrop Freeman of Cornell University and the 
   Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

   But there are a multitude of other expenses. We wish to 
   indict the war, not defend ourselves or renounce our 
   action. We want to be able to bring world-respected ex-
   perts to Balitimore to testify, and we want to be able to 
   carry on an educational campaign in regard to our action. 
   Please help.

•  come to the trial.
   It isn't likely that the trial will be lengthy. It would be a 
   joy to have you with us. While the trial date has yet to be 
   set, it will be in Baltimore. Contact the Defense Commit-
   tee for information on dates, travel, accommodations.

•  set up a meeting.
   Or a party—to raise funds and to talk about the Catons-
   ville action. The Defense Committee can help in arrang-
   ing speakers if needed.

•  act.
   Nearly 30,000 Americans have been killed in Vietnam— 
   no one is certain how many hundreds of thousands of 
   Vietnamese. The war has demanded much of those who 
   support it, or dare not question or cannot escape it. For 
   those who oppose murder and murderous institutions the 
   cost will be equally high. We have chosen our way. What 
   others must do their own hearts will tell them.

                 THE CATONSVILLE NINE 
                   DEFENSE COMMITTEE
           300 Ninth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10001
                  (212) 989-7960; WO 4-8367 
    Coordinator: Paul Mayer, Publications: James Forest

an act of conscience