An interview with Philip Berrigan.

AuthorRothschild, Matthew

Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive, interviewed Philip Berrigan in 1996. Here is a snippet.

Q: How many times have you been arrested?

Philip Berrigan: I don't know, well over a hundred, I guess.

Q: It's getting to be like an occupation.

Berrigan: It's a necessity, it's an imperative.

Q: Why?

Berrigan: Because the only way you can get at the state is by dealing with its laws. That's why Thoreau would say, "Dissent without resistance is consent." If you dissent without breaking the law then you are legitimizing the system that allows this kind of latitude. You have to break the law to touch the state.

Q: Do you break the law to be effective or to bear witness? That is, if you knew beforehand that breaking the law would have no appreciable effect on what the government does, would it still be imperative to break the law?

Berrigan: Yes, it would still be an imperative. I guess we do it for both reasons. You try to be a Christian, you try to come from that tradition of the Jewish prophets and then Christ and everything since. That becomes your handbook. "Witness" is the key word. You witness against the injustice, against the atrocity, against the heavy-handedness, and all the rest. We try to make a statement to other people, and we try to say it's your responsibility, too. You have a responsibility to confront the war games--the American killing machine.

Q: What do you mean by the war games and the war machine?

Berrigan: I mean what the Pentagon administers around the world. We have military bases all over the world, and that's purely to protect our portfolio abroad.

Q: Portfolio is an interesting word. Do you mean our investments?

Berrigan: Our investments, and our production, our exploitation of cheap labor and raw materials. We're on the scene to do that, and the military is there to see that it happens. The Pentagon is, admissibly, the most powerful institution in history.

Q: Were you opposed to World War II?

Berrigan: Not at all. I was a G.I., and I fought in Northern Europe. I was an infantry lieutenant. I was very much gung-ho, and I was a good young killer and only woke up later on.

Q: Was it a morally wrong war? Were you wrong to participate in it?

Berrigan: Very much so. Wrong to participate in all wars.

Q: All wars?

Berrigan: Yes, all wars. That was total war. We lost seventy million dead through that war. If that's necessary to bring a monster like Hitler down, what more can be said about us?

Q: How do you respond to...

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