Legendary peace activist Father Daniel Berrigan died at 94 years-old on April 30. He was one of the Catonsville Nine, who took draft files and set them on fire with homemade napalm in an act of resistance against the Vietnam War. The action, along with the trial of the Catonsville Nine, spurred others to commit similar acts against the war.
Berrigan also was one of the people who ignited the Plowshares movement. In 1980, at a Pennsylvania owned by General Electric, where nuclear missiles were manufactured, Berrigan and others broke in and hammered the nose cones of the warheads. The activists took files from the facility and doused them in blood.
Inspired by Berrigan, singer-songwriter Dar Williams penned a song for her 2000 album, “The Green World,” called “I Had No Right.” It recalls Berrigan and the profound and moral act of resistance, which was committed.
“God of the poor man this is how the day began. Eight co-defendants, I, Daniel Berrigan,” the song begins. “Oh, and only a layman’s batch of napalm. We pulled the draft files out. We burned them in the parking lot. Better the files than the bodies of children.”
It was Berrigan’s contention that this “fracture of good order” was a justifiable lawless act in defense of inhumanity. Killing was a far worse disorder. “Life and gentleness and community and unselfishness is the only order we recognize. For the sake of that order, we risk our liberty, our good name,” Berrigan said in a statement in 1968.
For the chorus, Williams sings, “I had no right but for the love of you. I had no right but for the love of you.”
Berrigan recognized he was committing crimes, but in his mind, it was far better to be a peace criminal than a war criminal.
The second verse of the song is inspired by the time Berrigan spent in Vietnam in bomb shelters with the Vietnamese. He was with them as the U.S. military bombed civilians. “They dropped their bombs. Right where my government knew I would be,” sings Williams.
As summarized by Williams, “All my country saw were priests who broke the law.” Berrigan was convicted. He went underground until the authorities caught up with him. He served two years in prison.
“I had no right but for the love of you. And every trial I stood, I stood for you.”
Berrigan was a spirit of selflessness, a humanitarian who had the courage to put his body on the line and time and time again, and he did it for the future, especially the children of next generations.
In a well-known poem called “Some” by Berrigan, he says he and others stood for the cause, the heart’s beat, the children born, and the risen bread.
The life he lived was committed to fighting war, nuclear weapons, and poverty. Dar Williams’ song is a fine way to take a few minutes and pay tribute to his spirit.
Listen to the song by clicking the below player:
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