Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Philip Berrigan (October 5, 1923 - December 6, 2002) was an internationally renowned peace activist and Roman Catholic priest. Along with his brother Daniel Berrigan, he was for a time on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list for illegal, non-violent actions against war, and was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Philip Berrigan was born in Two Harbors, Minnesota, a Midwestern working class town, the younger brother of Daniel Berrigan. Their father, Tom Berrigan, was second-generation Irish-Catholic and proud union man. Tom left the Catholic church when church leadership forebade Catholics from joining unions, but Philip remained attracted to the Catholic church throughout his youth.
In 1943, after a single semester of college, Berrigan was drafted into combat duty in World War II. He served in the artillery during the Battle of the Bulge (1945) and later became a Second Lieutenant in the infantry. He was deeply affected by his exposure to the violence of war and the racism of boot camp in the deep South. Philip soon entered a Josephite seminary and became active in the Civil Rights movement. He marched for desegregation and participated in sit-ins and bus boycotts.
Protests against the War in Vietnam
Phillip Berrigan, his brother Daniel Berrigan, and the famed theologian Thomas Merton founded an interfaith coalition against the Vietnam War, and wrote letters to major newspapers arguing for an end to the war.
Soon, Phillip Berrigan began taking more radical steps to bring attention to the anti-war movement. On October 27, 1967, Berrigan and three others poured blood (including Berrigan's) on Selective Service records in the Baltimore Customs House. As they waited for the police to arrive and arrest them, the group passed out Bibles and calmly explained to draft board employees the reasons for their actions. Berrigan stated, "This sacrificial and constructive act is meant to protest the pitiful waste of American and Vietnamese blood in Indochina". He became the first priest in America to be arrested for an act of civil disobedience. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
In 1969, after his release on bail, Berrigan decided to repeat the protest in a somewhat modified form. A local high-school physics teacher helped to concoct homemade napalm. Nine activists, who later became known as the Catonsville Nine , walked into the draft board of Catonsville, Maryland, and burned 378 draft files. The Catonsville Nine, who were all Catholic, issued a statement:
- "We confront the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies, and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country's crimes. We are convinced that the religious bureaucracy in this country is racist, is an accomplice in this war, and is hostile to the poor."
Berrigan was again arrested and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
The Plowshares Movement
On September 9, 1980, Berrigan, his brother Daniel, and six others (the "Plowshares Eight") began the Plowshares Movement when they entered the General Electric Nuclear Missile Re-entry Division in King of Prussia, PA where nose cones for the Mark 12A warheads were made. They hammered on two nose cones, poured blood on documents and offered prayers for peace. They were arrested and initially charged with over ten different felony and misdemeanor counts. On April 10 1990, after nearly ten years of trials and appeals, the Plowshares Eight were re-sentenced and paroled for up to 23 and 1/2 months in consideration of time already served in prison.
Since this action over seventy Plowshares actions have taken place around the world against weapons of war, several involving Berrigan himself.
Berrigan's final Plowshares action was in December 1999, when he and others banged on A-10 Warthog warplanes in an anti-war protest at the Middle River Air National Guard base . He was convicted of malicious destruction of property and sentenced to 30 months. He was released December 14, 2001.
Howard Zinn, professor emeritus at Boston University, has said, "Mr. Berrigan was one of the great Americans of our time. He believed war didn't solve anything. He went to prison again and again and again for his beliefs. I admired him for the sacrifices he made. He was an inspiration to a large number of people."
In one of his last public statements, Berrigan said,
- "The American people are, more and more, making their voices heard against Bush and his warrior clones. Bush and his minions slip out of control, determined to go to war, determined to go it alone, determined to endanger the Palestinians further, determined to control Iraqi oil, determined to ravage further a suffering people and their shattered society. The American people can stop Bush, can yank his feet closer to the fire, can banish the war makers from Washington, can turn this society around and restore it to faith and sanity."
Berrigan was the author of several books, including No More Strangers, Punishment for Peace (ISBN 0345224302), Prison Journals of a Priest Revolutionary (ISBN 0030845130), and Widen the Prison Gates (ISBN 0671216384). In 1996, he wrote his autobiography, Fighting the Lamb's War (ISBN 1567511015), and with his wife wrote The Times' Discipline.
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