‘Activists say war not a moral answer to inequalities in the world’
TEHRAN - International Day of Peace is observed annually on September 21. On the occasion, the Tehran Times conducted an interview with Ron Jacobs, author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies, to discuss the antiwar activities of Catonsville Nine, the late Father Daniel Berrigan, and other peace-loving activists.
In what follows, the full transcription of the interview has been presented:
Q: Mr. Jacobs, how has Father Daniel Berrigan personally changed your life and worldview?
A: When I was thirteen years of age, Daniel Berrigan and eight others, including Daniel’s brother Phillip, burned several hundred U.S. government files in protest of the U.S. war on the Vietnamese. The files were taken from offices of the United States Selective Service System—the agency that inducted young men into the U.S. military. For me and many others, this action took the meaning of moral witness to a new level. As a young adolescent whose father was in the U.S. military and had just been told he was being sent to Vietnam within a year, the fact of the war was deeply personal. Not only was my father being sent there, but the seeming endlessness of the war made it seem quite likely I would be told to go within the next five years, too. I was already questioning the horrors of the war and the meaningless slaughter. The actions of the Berrigans and friends showed me that my moral compass was not wrong. It was the military my father was in that had the doubtful moral ground.
Q: Do you think his actions had an impact on the Vietnam War and other wars triggered by the U.S. later on?
A: I like to believe that the actions of Father Berrigan and other activists made the U.S. war machine less murderous. However, the evidence does not suggest that. Instead, the antiwar protests of the Berrigans and others seem to have created a desire to hide the atrocities of U.S. wars from the public, thereby diminishing the protests against them.
Q: What role has the Catonsville Nine played in inspiring antiwar activists?
A: Despite the efforts of U.S. war propaganda, the community of committed antiwar activists in the United States remains steadfast in their belief that war is not a moral or reasonable answer to the inequalities of today’s world. The questions regarding U.S. imperialism and racism that were raised in the trial of the Catonsville Nine remain essential questions antiwar activists use to guide their thoughts and actions. By the way, if your readers are interested, the trial was turned into an award-winning play by Father Berrigan titled The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. I believe it is a drama which, like some of the works of Bertolt Brecht, never age and should be performed much more than they currently are. These are works of moral inspiration, something quite lacking in the modern world.
“The Catonsville Nine was successful because they challenged the very morality of the Vietnam War,” Ron Jacobs says.Q: How has the movement changed during the years?
A: The antiwar movement has ebbed and flowed over the years, depending on the magnitude of U.S. involvement in wars around the world. The peak was certainly in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the war in Vietnam was killing thousands every week. It came back in the 1980s during the U.S. wars against popular movements in Central America, then again in 1990-1991 during the beginning of the U.S. war on Iraq. Most recently, the movement against the 2003 invasion of Iraq saw millions in the streets around the world. The movements in the 1980s and afterwards seemed to be more geared towards influencing the U.S. Congress and certainly less anti-imperialist in their analysis than the movement against the U.S. war on Vietnam was by the time the Catonsville Nine took action. This seems to have created a situation where the bulk of the antiwar movement was assimilated into the U.S. Democratic Party and has become deadly silent despite the continuation of the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe.
Q: Do you regard Catonsville Nine as a successful movement?
A: The Catonsville Nine was successful because they challenged the very morality of the Vietnam War. The fact of clergy taking an illegal and dramatic action against what they considered an extremely immoral war forced thoughtful Catholics and Christians across the United States to take a good look at the actions of their government. In turn, it convinced many of them to oppose those actions.
Q: What's your take on Obama's wars and interventions? Do you believe that "the struggle continues"?
A: Obama’s wars are part and parcel of the ongoing U.S. imperial project. As I noted earlier, the primary thing the U.S. government learned from the antiwar protests in the 1960s and 1970s was to keep as much information regarding its wars from the U.S. public. Another thing it learned was to minimize U.S. casualties. These two phenomena define Obama’s drone wars, interventions, and the continuation of Washington’s wars that were already in progress when he assumed office. Regarding the second question, I wish I could say that the struggle continues. However, while there is a small antiwar sentiment that continues to exist in the U.S., the sad truth is that most residents prefer to ignore the ongoing occupations and killing going on in their name. Given that both mainstream presidential candidates in the upcoming U.S. elections sound considerably more bellicose than Barack Obama, I wonder if this apparent apathy will disappear should the winner of that election ramp up any of the current wars.