Civil Disobedience and Anti-War Actions
Mission to Hanoi
In January 1968, Daniel "Dan" Berrigan and Boston University professor Howard Zinn traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam. Representing the American peace movement, they successfully negotiated the return of three American prisoners of war.
Dan recounted his experiences in Night Flight to Hanoi, which includes his war diary and a collection of eleven poems. These firsthand experiences in Vietnam motivated Dan to join his brother Philip, a Josephite priest, and take more direct action back in the United States.
Baltimore Four and Catonsville Nine
Philip “Phil” Berrigan’s efforts to root out racism also underpinned his opposition to the Vietnam War. He viewed the conflict as “a racist attack on poor people of color.” In 1967, Phil and three others poured blood on draft records at the U.S. Customs House in Baltimore.
While awaiting sentencing, Phil joined eight others—including his brother Daniel—in Catonsville, Maryland. Known as the Catonsville Nine, they went to the local draft board on May 17, 1968. The Catonsville Nine burned draft records using homemade napalm, a substance that played a key role in the American bombing strategy during the Vietnam War.
In Dan's statement about their actions he declared:
"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 recognize. For the sake of that order, we risk our liberty, our good name."
“A fugitive from injustice.”
Rather than face severe federal charges, the Catonsville Nine went into hiding in April 1970. Dan and Phil Berrigan were placed on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted List. The FBI found and arrested Phil two weeks later. For his involvement in the Baltimore Four and Catonsville Nine, he received sentences totalling 9 and a half years in federal prison.
Dan evaded capture for the next four months. Despite his fugitive status, he continued to give public speeches and interviews during this time, much to the FBI’s frustration. After his arrest in August 1970, Dan served two years at the federal penitentiary in Danbury, Connecticut.
While Phil was in prison, he sent letters to Elizabeth "Liz" McAlister through Boyd Douglas, a fellow inmate on a work-release program. Douglas became an FBI informant. He accused Phil, Liz, and five others of plotting to kidnap Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and bomb heat tunnels.
The accused became known as the Harrisburg Seven. At trial, they were found not guilty of conspiracy, although Phil and Liz were charged with smuggling letters.