It’s terrible for me to live in a time when I have nothing to say to human beings, “Stop killing.” There are other useful projects I could be helpful at. And I can’t do them because everything is- everything is up for grabs. Ours is a kind of primitive situation, even though we would call ourselves sophisticated. We are back where we started. Thou shall not kill. We are not allowed to kill.
Fr. Daniel Berrigan, on the witness stand 1981 Plowshares Eight trial.
I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam April 4, 1967
The Vietnam War may be considered the last time a mass movement pressured the political establishment to end U.S. involvement in a war. Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg (the Pentagon Papers), the Black Power movement, and students were all part of a mission to end the madness and lies of Vietnam. A much-ignored aspect of ending the Vietnam War was the contribution of radical religious leaders. Daniel Berrigan, his brother Phillip, King, and Malcolm X, had the moral courage to expose the lies of war and the price we will pay for it.
The anti-war movement that came out of the radical religious leaders during the 1960s and into the 70s spoke a fiery prophetic truth about our addiction to war and imperialism. These leaders courageously spoke to a nation and wanted it to recognize the linkage of imperialism and militarism to the evils of war, racism, and poverty.
Their beliefs filled with defiant speeches, along with acts of civil disobedience against our countries war-makers, corporate and political. The Berrigan brothers, in particular, spent years in jail for their activism.
Daniel and his brother Phillip, a Josephite Priest, were sent to prison for breaking into a government office in 1968 and burning draft cards for Vietnam. In 1980 the Berrigan brothers entered the GE nuclear facility in King of Prussia, Pa. hammering nuclear nose cones and pouring human blood on them, which led to their arrest and imprisonment. These members of the peace movement reminded us of their conviction in highlighting the economic and human suffering of war.
“A Society Gone Mad On War”
Today, our toxic and irresponsible policies on national security and war-making resemble Vietnam on steroids. These radical religious leaders understood that war had brought nothing but death and suffering. We live in a society were critique on defense, or the military in the mainstream media is virtually non-existent.
In his Beyond Vietnam speech, King courageously stepped out of his role as a civil rights leader to address what he described as the three evils: racism, militarism, and capitalism. In his masterpiece, Malcolm & Martin & America: A Dream or a Nightmare, theologian James Cone wrote when Whitney Young of the Urban League cornered and reprimanded King in public on his Vietnam stance. King replied: “Whitney, what you are saying may get you a foundation grant, but it won’t get you into the kingdom of truth.” Cone continued, “the more he was pressured to keep silent, the more forcefully he spoke out against the war. Anti-war stance and condemnations of U.S. imperialism alienated many Blacks in the civil rights movement, and liberal whites distanced themselves from this message.
At the end of his life, King’s vision and anti-war message and radicalism began to fuse with that of Malcolm X. In moving away from civil rights issues and speaking out against the three evils, especially U.S. militarism, King knew he was signing his death sentence. In 1967 King’s Beyond Vietnam speech, King spoke of the programs that “seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both Black and white.” But instead painfully witnessed these programs “eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war.” King would be assassinated a year to the date after this speech.
The decision King spoke of to recklessly wage war while abandoning and cutting funds to programs that help our countries most vulnerable: food insecurity, housing, education, jobs, and health care have become America’s current nightmare. Our nation has wasted trillions of dollars on wars built on lies that cannot and will not win while neglecting the fundamental human rights of its citizens. The most recent example is the overwhelming bipartisan passage of a $738 billion defense budget while cutting nearly 700,000 people from SNAP. Nothing more could uphold King’s condemnation of the illegal and immoral acts our country has embraced.
“No other nation on the planet makes war as often, as long, as forcefully as expensively, as destructively, as wastefully, as senselessly, or as unsuccessfully as the United States. No other nation makes war its business.”
These powerful words by war correspondent Ann Jones in her book They Were Soldiers could arguably read as Amerca’s obituary. There has to be an abandoning of our addiction to war and violence as solutions to conflict resolution and policy: and an embracement of peace. The message of the Berrigan’s, King, and other fearless anti-war voices reminds us of the crimes and sin of war. It is a message of how we devalue life here at home and overseas, through death, torture, destabilization, and austerity. The ongoing and pointless Trump sagas have predictably deflected the countries attention. It may do us well to focus and scrutinize our political candidates voting records and viewpoints on national security issues as these are real issues with consequences. A presidential election is of more importance as a president has the power to make war or make peace. Warmongers, for instance, should not be considered qualified to serve in the Congress, Senate, or Presidency. And on a day of peace, perhaps less mindless worship and fetishizing incompetent military officers and emulate people of peace. Past and present.