Truthdigger of the Week: The Late Daniel Berrigan, Lifelong Activist for Peace
Posted on May 7, 2016
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Reviewing the many obituaries extolling the late Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, I cannot help but think that the words depict the passing of a saint. Berrigan, who died April 30, just days before his 95th birthday, would probably object to that title, just as he refused to be called a hero. And yet, a hero in every sense of the word he was, his friends and followers assure those of us who did not have the fortune to meet him during his long, momentous life.
A Jesuit priest from Minnesota, Berrigan was also “a poet, pacifist, educator, social activist, playwright and lifelong resister to what he called ‘American military imperialism’ ”—just some of the roles ascribed to him in the more than hourlong “Democracy Now!” special posted above.
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And here is his poem about his trip to Vietnam with social activist Howard Zinn, on which the two traveled to Hanoi to retrieve three American prisoners of war from the Viet Cong in 1968, a journey that would forever leave its mark on Berrigan:
“Children in the Shelter.”
Imagine; three of them.
As though survival
and I must have
I picked up the littlest
In my arms fathered
a Hiroshima child from hell.
While “Some” invokes a phrase his close friends quote him as saying often—“Don’t just do something. Stand there.”—and highlights with the repetition of “cause” the importance of protest, “Children in the Shelter” is a vulnerable account of the types of violence committed against innocents that were seared into the poet’s mind during the time he spent in Vietnam. The poem, like the poet, bears witness to horrors committed in America’s name by vividly depicting the moving image of the three children—God’s children and no doubt a symbol of the Holy Trinity. The “littlest,” with rice biblically “breaded” on his face, is miraculously “reborn,” like Christ himself, on the page only to morph from that line to the next into the hair-raising, infernal horror of “a Hiroshima child from hell,” the legacy of America’s sins in Japan repeating themselves mercilessly in Vietnam.
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