At the height of the Vietnam War in 1968, seven men and two women walked into a Selective Service office in Catonsville, Maryland. Moving past stunned clerical workers, the activists removed 378 A-1 Draft files from a cabinet, took them outside to a parking lot, poured homemade napalm over them, and set them on fire. While the files burned, the peace activists held hands and recited the Lord’s Prayer.
Shortly afterward, police officers arrived and arrested the Catonsville Nine. The 9 Roman Catholic activists were Philip Berrigan, Daniel Berrigan, David Darst, John Hogan, Tom Lewis, John Melville, Marjorie Melville, George Mische, and Mary Moylan. They did this to stop the flow of soldiers into Vietnam and “because everything else [had] failed.”
Be it your conscience, a Higher Power or some other moral code, I believe we have a responsibility to act in the face of injustice that supersedes the laws of the land. During the trial of the Catonsville Nine, Father Daniel Berrigan read a statement, which read, in part:
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 we are sick at heart our hearts
give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children
The Catonsville Nine are heroes for putting what is right above what is easy and doing what is just above what is legal.