A Dialogue Underground

In early July, 1970, I was asked by a group of young doctors and divinity students to visit Lewisburg Federal Prison, where Father Philip Berrigan and David Eberhardt were being held in solitary confinement after they had undertaken a fast to protest a series of alleged harassments and restrictions which many in the Catholic peace movement felt were designed to pressure Daniel Berrigan, then still underground, to turn himself in (NYR, November 5, 1970).

Upon his return from Lewisburg, I met with Daniel Berrigan to tell him about his brother’s medical condition; and soon thereafter, two weeks before Daniel Berrigan’s capture on Block Island, we began a series of recorded conversations which lasted for seven days. What follows is the first of several excerpts from these conversations that will appear in The New York Review; the complete text will be published in September as The Geography of Faith.

R.C.

COLES: You keep mentioning what I suppose we could call the “outside” or “objective” problems—which plague all continents and nations. How about violence and hate and exploitation in what is loosely called the movement? How about the brutishness one can presumably find in the underground, which is presumably made up of people who are escaping from what they conceive to be the violence of the society but which clearly has in it people who do not hesitate to use violence and endanger innocent lives?

BERRIGAN: It seems to me that there are rhythms in everyone’s life which require the kind of passive suffering that John of the Cross speaks about. When the Weatherman phenomenon was growing I had a choice of going forward with that development, and somehow making an adjustment and being at the side of the people who were preparing for violence and becoming less and less concerned with nonviolence. Or I had the option of standing aside, and I chose to do so because I couldn’t accept that kind of approach, that violence. And I felt it important to tell those students going in the Weatherman direction what I felt, even if it meant they would no longer want to talk with me—which would be sad. I hope that one day sanity and compassion and community will assert themselves over all of us, the violence-prone in the movement and the violence-prone who run countries and order bombers to drop bombs and men to shoot at men.

C: Do you think that day is near at hand?

B: I am not so pessimistic about some of the students as I am about some of our politicians. I know some young people who have been Weathermen. They have gone through great personal anguish and tried to change this society, without much success, which they cannot forget. When they were picked up by the police they were not underground, but they were picked up in communes which they were forming for students and for working people and they were doing what the Panthers had …

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