Google+ Followers

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Daniel Berrigan Remembered

--  By Tom Phillips

When I was nine years old, my family visited the famous Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania -- row upon row of headstones, marking the young men who died there, and in subsequent wars overseas.  Wandering through the cemetery, I lost track of my parents -- and suddenly they looked and couldn't find me.  My mother went on a frantic search.  Finally she found me lying in the grass between two graves, with my arms crossed over my chest.  I looked up and said: "Tom Phillips, World War Three."

Growing up in cold-war America, body counts seemed a normal part of life.  Writing the news for radio and TV,  I calmly chronicled the deaths of 50 thousand Americans and millions of Asians in Vietnam.  After work I joined protests against the war.  Still, I wasn't a pacifist.  Like nearly all Americans, I bought the idea that some wars were necessary, notably the Civil War to save the Union, World War Two to save the world from fascist imperialism.

Daniel Berrigan, the radical Jesuit priest who died in April, disagreed.  Back in the Sixties I heard him say -- no principle is worth the sacrifice of a single human being.  

That's too radical, I thought, repeating the usual rationales -- Hitler, slavery, etc.  Now, reflecting on all the graveyards I've visited -- though I'm not an expert on war or history, I no longer assume Berrigan was too radical.