On May 17, 1968, nine Catholic activists (who became known as the Catonsville Nine) went into the Selective Services Offices in Catonsville, Maryland, removed 378 draft files, took them to the parking lot in wire baskets, dumped them on the ground, poured homemade napalm over them (an incendiary used extensively by the U.S. military in Vietnam), and set them on fire as an act of protest against the Vietnam War. They then prayed and spoke with reporters until arrested by Baltimore Police.
The nine were tried in federal court in Baltimore in October 1968 in a highly publicized trial. They were found guilty of destruction of U.S. government property and sentenced to a total of 18 years’ in prison. During the trial large demonstrations occurred outside the Federal Courthouse against the defendants.
The Nine were:
• Fr. Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest
• Fr. Philip Berrigan, a Josephite priest (who later left the priesthood)
• Br. David Darst, a De La Salle Christian Brother
• John Hogan
• Tom Lewis
• Marjorie Bradford Melville
• Thomas Melville, a former Maryknoll priest
• George Mische
• Mary Moylan
This act of civil disobedience intensified protest against the war–especially the draft, and prompted debate in households across the nation, as well as stirred angry reaction on the part of many around the country. It also propelled the nine Catholic participants – specifically Daniel and Philip Berrigan – into the national spotlight.
The most renowned quote from this action is that of Fr. Dan Berrigan, who so eloquently stated during their trial: “Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.”
For a list of events surrounding the anniversary see this LINK.
To see actual footage of the action see this LINK.
To read the transcript of the trial see this LINK.
There are books available on this action and a 45-minute documentary is posted on YouTube
Listen to an excellent song dedicated to the Catonsville Nine called War No More at this LINK.