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When the Left Liked Conscientious Objection

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The death of Father Daniel Berrigan, well-known for his protests of the Vietnam War, received a notable amount of publicity, especially from liberals who admired him for assisting conscientious objectors and resisting a wartime draft that they viewed as unjust.

The Jesuit priest, who died at age 94, became a controversial name in the 1960s, along with his brother, Philip Berrigan, also a priest. They were the unforgettable “Berrigan Brothers,” leading lights in the anti-war movement. Their most prominent display came in May 1968 when they and seven others entered a draft-board office in Catonsville, Maryland and seized the records of hundreds of young men destined for Vietnam. They removed the files, took them outside, doused them with homemade “napalm,” and ignited them.

The Catonsville Nine went to trial and were convicted and sentenced to jail terms. The Berrigans expressed no regrets for their action. In fact, Daniel would later tell Americamagazine that his only regret was that he hadn’t done it sooner. It would not be the only episode that landed Daniel in handcuffs.

For the record, I am (as many readers know) a staunch anti-communist and Cold Warrior, and yet, I have my share of sympathies and respect as well as criticisms of Daniel Berrigan. That is not my focus today. My focus here is how liberals lined up to applaud Berrigan at the time and at his death for work on behalf of conscientious objection. His death brought encomiums in leading left-wing sources from the New York Times to the Huffington Post to The New Yorker to even People’s World, successor to the longtime Soviet-directed Daily Worker. Not surprisingly, the comrades at People’s World—house organ of Communist Party USA—have long lauded Berrigan’s confrontation with the Evil Empire; that is, with the “Evil Empire” that was the United States of America. Now here was a priest that communists could like!

Read more at Crisis Magazine.

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