Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Friday, September 07, 2007

"THAT. That's what we're talking about." Pt. 6

WARNING: I know several of you hold Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ in very high regard. Alas, this is one area where our opinions sharply diverge.

While there seems to be much Jesuit-y goodness coming out of Fordham and I have trumpeted as much over at ALB, it would appear there is still some residual lunacy from the Days of Rage.

One sad example: it is now required reading for Fordham freshpersons to plow through play titled The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. (Cynical persons would ask what other great books were shunted aside to make room for this. Not I, you understand, but cynical persons would.)

The Cliffs Notes of the Catonsville Nine is that one fine day in 1968 they marched into the offices of a draft board, grabbed a bunch of files and set them aflame with -- get this -- homemade napalm. Among the nine were Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ and Fr. Philip Berrigan, SJ. My sense is they remembered Jesus admonishing His disciples for wanting Him to call down fire upon the Samaritan village and theorized the problem was not so much with the "fire" part if the equation as much as the "calling down" bit.

Stop and ponder this for a moment: Jesuits making homemade napalm.

For some inadequately explored reason, nobody -- save the judicial and law enforcement mechanisms of the State of Maryland -- seems to have had a problem with this. At any rate, when asked why they had committed such an act, they said it was to stop the flow of soldiers to Vietnam. "We do this because everything else* has failed" chimed in one of the nine. Then they all clasped hands (You troglodyte TLM-types, please shush.) and recited the Our Father.

They were arrested and tried and sentenced. In a rather novel and creative imitation of Christ, the Frs. Berrigan went (not literally) underground, as did three of their acolytes. Another died in a car accident before serving his sentence and the remaining three -- who seemed to have been the ones to actually exhibit a tenuous grasp the whole concept of ::cough, cough:: civil disobedience -- served time in prison.

That's pretty much the whole thing in a nutshell.

There is a website that, albeit being an outright mash note to the Catonsville Nine, offers much detail on the affair. Of course, being an outright mash note thereto means I am disinclined to afford you a link, because I'll be hanged if I help their numbers. If you should so desire it, please feel free to perform the necessary due diligence your own bad self.

However, the entire enterprise is betrayed rather badly, I thought, by said mash-note website when it attempts to set the stage for this event. (Mind you, it tries to sound balanced and dispassionate, but it does so so stiffly and artificially that it's laughable.) What gives it away right at the very start is this glittering diamond of a quote, emphasis mine:

The principles of U.S. [postwar] foreign policy centered on protection of our growing international interests and containment of the perceived threat of communist expansion.**
And therefore, as is inevitable in these sorts of cases, a play was written. Yes, I have read the play and no, I will not spoil anything for you. But it's pretty much what any sentient being'd expect. If you had no idea what to expect owing to, say, a prolonged comatose episode or having been marooned until quite recently, suffice it to say it bears the imprimatur of noted moderate theopolitical thinker Tim Robbins (the Costa Gavras of our time) and the nihil obstat of Beau Bridges.

And it must be read by all Fordham freshpersons.

Why must it be read by all Fordham freshpersons?

Because according to a student, Brian O'Connell, "The fact that [we were] asked*** to read it says to me that the school takes its heritage seriously." Cynics might consider it interesting to test this outlook by asking Fordham freshpersons how well versed they are in matters dealing with, say, St. Ignatius or St. Francis Xavier or St. Paul Miki, etc.

Not I, naturally, but cynics.

The reasons why this play has become, by diktat, required reading appear to me as monumentally specious. One of the reasons offered is that Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ is the greatest Jesuit poet of our generation. Setting aside the issue of Fr. Berrigan's poesy, it would be safe to say that if any other Jesuit shows up, Fr. Berrigan will not be considered the greatest Jesuit playwright.

Also troubling to me is the rather incestuous logrolling involved. It would be tossing things well afield of the bounds of charitable credulity to say a university can view objectively the work of its most celebrated poet when it comes to said poet's dramatization**** of the time he got some people to make a righteous mess of a gummint office and then set a trashcan on fire in a parking lot and then ran away for several months.

It will surprise exactly no one that my views on the Frs. Berrigan et Cie. are, um, However, I am trying not to express them with quite the, er, warmth I would be predisposed to affording them. Being the product of a Communist-impelled diaspora and growing up around the time when these things were happening are not, y'see, conducive to a sympathetic view of these actions or those who seek to ennoble or glorify them. I suspect the least of my brethren might also look askance at the whole enterprise.

The moral of the story? Just because there are many, MANY wonderful, glorious, exciting things happening at XYZ University doesn't mean there aren't antiquated relics still roaming around. Those of us who are strongly considering sending our sons and daughters to such places would be best advised to be aware of these snares, and govern ourselves accordingly.

The prayer for St. Michael the Archangel's intercession seems particularly apt.



* Further research into the matter, including interviews with several historians, shows that this tactic seems to have failed as well. Not mentioned as a dandy solution, oddly enough, was having voted for Barry Goldwater.

** Which is pretty much how it worked out in my family. Castro's "militia" showed up at my late grandmother's house with machine guns to seize it and all the stuff inside (for the people, you see) and she perceived a threat that communism was expanding into her house. Our family then took all the international interests it could carry (figure $40) and fled the impending socialized medicine.

*** Kind of like how the gummint asks you to pay taxes.

**** Important word, that.