The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Speaking Truth to Power

Fred A. Wilcox • 26 October 2005

The late Philip Berrigan was a World II veteran, Catholic priest, civil rights activist, and a visionary. He was also a pacifist who urged people to "speak truth to power." By this, Philip meant that citizens have an obligation to challenge the United States government's destructive (sometimes psychotic) domestic and foreign policies. Father Berrigan did not believe in writing polite letters to elected representatives, asking them to come to their senses and stop supporting war. He did not believe in pounding drums for political candidates who, once in they gain office, nearly always break their promises to voters. Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, it makes no difference because racism, capitalist greed, and war profiteering, said Berrigan, drive the system.

Before he died on December 6, 2002, Phil Berrigan had spent over eleven years in jails and prisons for his many acts of civil disobedience (he called these actions "divine obedience".) It was, it is, a great honor to have known this peace warrior, and to have co-authored his autobiography, Fighting the Lamb's War: Skirmishes with the American Empire. Were he alive today, I'm sure that Phil would applaud the tens of millions who marched through the streets of New York, London, Madrid, Paris, Seattle, Dublin, and other towns and cities to protest the Bush administration's plans to invade Iraq. A modest man, Phil would take no credit for warning the world that the Iraqi war would end in disaster for the people of that country and for the United States. It was obvious, he would say, that Secretary of State Collin Powell was lying (the Central Intelligence Agency wrote Powell's speech) when he urged the United Nations to support attacking Iraq. It was easy to see that Mr. Bush and friends were lying when they kept warning that the "smoking gun in Iraq" might one day become "a mushroom cloud in America." And it was depressing to see how easily the America media, including the The New York Times and The Washington Post, turned into cheer leaders for an illegal preemptive strike against a sovereign nation.

The most remarkable thing about Fr. Berrigan is that, like Martin Luther King, he refused to give up on nonviolence. Jailed, threatened, insulted, thrown into solitary confinement, excommunicated, Philip maintained his sense of humor and his determination to treat even his enemies with love and respect. Nevertheless, he understood and supported liberation struggles in Vietnam, Palestine, and the North of Ireland. In 1980, Phil flew to Ireland with his brothers Daniel and Jerry. The Berrigan brothers were planning to visit IRA prisoners who were protesting against the British government's refusal to treat them as prisoners of war.

"Our tour of the North," writes Berrigan, "was supported by staff members of the IRA, young men and women who had been in jail for their opposition to British rule. All were deeply committed to the movement, and had suffered greatly for their beliefs. Wherever we traveled, our hosts introduced us as nonviolent revolutionaries. Ireland does not have a great tradition of nonviolence, and I suspect some people thought we were rather naïve, unschooled. Our experience in the North helped us understand that victims of violent oppression find it difficult to appreciate nonviolence."

Authorities denied the Berrigans' requests to visit Long Kesh and the women's prison at Armagh, and the brothers returned home wishing they could have done more to show their support for the prisoners.

"The world watched in horror," wrote Berrigan, "as Margaret Thatcher allowed Bobby Sands and nine more hunger strikers to die…Power always blames its victims. Mrs. Thatcher was sworn to protect British interests in Northern Ireland. False arrests, beatings, torture, assassination, these were not enough; she must transform Bobby Sands and the hunger strikers into monsters.
"Demagogues, megalomaniacs, dictators speak the same Orwellian language. The state is powerful; therefore the state is good.
"Opponents of the state must be jailed, starved, tortured, and killed."

On March 2, 2003, five Catholic Worker activists-Deidre Clancy, Nuin Dunlop, Karen Fallon, Damien Morgan, and Ciaron O'Reily-engaged in a nonviolent action to disarm a U.S. Navy warplane at Shannon airport. These women and men were protesting against the United States military's use of Shannon airport to move troops and supplies into Iraq. According to the protestors, 360,000 US troops, as well as components for cruise missiles, have passed through Shannon since 2002. In the best tradition of nonviolence, the Pit Stop Ploushares were speaking truth to power. By exposing the Bush administration's violations of Ireland's neutrality, they were trying to sound a warning. If allowed to do so, the American empire will plant its military tentacles deep into Irish soil. Once this happens, it will be difficult if not impossible for Ireland to avoid being drawn into the empire's endless wars.

In late October 2005, the Pit Stop Ploughshares will go on trial for speaking truth to power. Let us hope that those who sit in judgment of these resisters will decide to honor their courage and commitment to world peace, rather than send them off to jail.












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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

7 November 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Mary McGurk — Giving Voice to the Abandoned
Anthony McIntyre

It Is Only the Intellectually Lost Who Ever Argue
Marc Kerr

Prospects for the Left in Ireland
Eugene Mc Cartan

Bartering the Infinities
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

The Political Police
Anthony McIntyre

Herrema's Kidnapper Explains Motive
Eamonn McCann

Revenge is a Dish Served Cold
Dr John Coulter

Causes and Effects
Mick Hall

Speaking Truth to Power
Fred Wilcox

The Bush SATaff Goes to Morals School
Mary La Rosa

A View of the H-Blocks
Anthony McIntyre

23 October 2005

Badges? We Don't Need No Stinkin Badges
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A Long Way Down
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A Party of Their Own
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Reid's Sectarian Slur
Eamon McCann

Repeal Anti-Catholic Section of Act of Settlement 1701
Fr. Sean Mc Manus

Nicola McCartney & the Facts About Irish History
Seaghán Ó Murchu

Usual Suspects
Anthony McIntyre

Socialism in Ireland
Francis McDonnell

Turning "Smoke ban" thing into ANTI-DIOXIN movement
John Jonik

From the Classroom to the Grave
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Yet More Voices Against Censorship
Davy Carlin

The Death Fast Enters its 6th Year
Tayad Committee

Setting Up Abbas
Jeff Halper



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