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Catonsville Nine

The Catonsville Nine were nine Catholic activists who burned draft files to protest the Vietnam War. On May 17, 1968, they went to the draft board in Catonsville,[1] in the U.S. state of Maryland, took 378 draft files, brought them to the parking lot in wire baskets, dumped them out, poured home-made napalm over them, and set them on fire.[2]


  • List of the Nine 1
  • History 2
  • Aftermath 3
  • The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (play) 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
    • Notes 6.1
    • Sources 6.2
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

List of the Nine

The Nine were:


George Mische and Father Phil Berrigan were prime organizers of the Catonsville Nine. The organizing process was very democratic, with interminable meetings and "who's in, who's out" handraisings.

Fr. Philip Berrigan and Tom Lewis had previously poured blood on draft records as part of "The Baltimore Four" (with David Eberhardt and James Mengel) and were out on bail when they burned the records at Catonsville. (The first documented action against draft files is reputed to have been by Barry Bondhus in Minnesota, who, along with other family members, carried human waste into a draft board and defaced draft records.[3])

The Catonsville Nine were tried in federal court October 5–9, 1968. The lead defense attorney was FBI had to try to find them. Father Dan Berrigan caused considerable embarrassment to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover by popping up and giving sermons and then fading back into the "underground".

Fr. Daniel Berrigan wrote, of the Catonsville incident: "Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children..." The whole of his statement is in The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.

Large demonstrations occurred outside the Federal Courthouse on Calvert St. during the trial. The trial came soon after the events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago where considerable violence took place. The Nine's trial, with religious people involved, made the overall peace movement a bit harder to dismiss since protesters in Chicago consisted of younger, student and SDS, Weather Underground, and youths with long hair.

Both the judge, Roszel C. Thomsen, and the prosecutor, Stephen H. Sachs, realized the historic proportions of the event but allowed little leeway to the defendants arguments. In these early trials of such actions the government always overcharged and always tried to keep the trials to "nothing but the facts," i.e., did the Nine destroy files or did they not? The Nine, on the other hand, often referred to a higher law that they were following—God's moral law—as well as such precedents as the Nuremberg war crimes trials after 'World War II. They called several expert witnesses. At one point, prosecutor Sachs quipped that "the government is not a balloon attached to the consciences of the Nine."


Fr. Daniel Berrigan was convicted and sentenced to prison to begin on April 9, 1970. According to Anke Wessels, director of Cornell's Center for Religion, Ethics, and Social Policy, "On the very day he was scheduled to begin his prison term, he left his office keys on a secretary's desk in Anabel Taylor Hall and disappeared."[5] Cornell marked Berrigan's impending imprisonment by conducting a weekend-long "America Is Hard to Find" event on April 17–19, 1970,[6] which included a public appearance by the then-fugitive Berrigan before a crowd of 15,000 in Barton Hall.[7] On August 11, 1970, the FBI found and arrested Berrigan. He was released from prison in 1972.[8]

The "Nine" inspired many other anti-draft and anti-military actions in the 1960s and 1970s, including the D.C. 9, Silver Spring 3, Chicago 8, Harrisburg 7, Camden 28. Participants sometimes remained at the scene to be arrested, sometimes they departed in order to avoid arrest. It is unknown how many persons were not drafted because of these actions.

As of 2009 the movement had morphed into a continuing movement with an emphasis on nuclear weapons. The so-called "Plowshares" actions, along with the Catonsville Nine and earlier actions, have been detailed online by Jonah House. A book A Chronology of Plowshares Disarmament Actions (1980–2003) was compiled by Arthur Laffin.

The Catonsville Nine and Baltimore Four were the subject of the 2013 documentary Hit & Stay by Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk.

The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (play)

Fr. Daniel Berrigan wrote a play in free verse, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, about the trial. The version performed is usually an adaptation into regular dialogue by Saul Levitt. The play is based on a partial transcript of the trial.

In 1972 a film version of the play was produced by Gregory Peck. In 2009, it was presented on a tour by a company called "the Actors' Gang" of Culver City, Ca., founded by film star Tim Robbins[9]

See also



  1. ^ Catonsville draft board, , 2nd floor at the Knights of Columbus
  2. ^ There exists news footage of this action, shot by Baltimore's WBAL-TV.
  3. ^ "Selective Service Fight". Retrieved September 3, 2012. 
  4. ^ United States v. Moylan, 417 F.2d 1002 (4th Cir. 1969).
  5. ^ Aloi, Daniel (4 April 2006). "Legacy of Activism at Cornell".  
  6. ^ Stuart Lipton and Joseph Masci (April 16, 1970). "Weekend Activity Schedule Set". Cornell Daily Sun 86 (120). Retrieved 2010-10-12. 
  7. ^ Solowey, Fred (April 20, 1970). "Thousands Hail Berrigan and Peace". Cornell Daily Sun 86 (122). p. 1. Retrieved 2010-10-12. 
  8. ^ Associated Press (December 18, 1970). "Grand Jury Indicts Two For Hiding Dan Berrigan". Cornell Daily Sun 87 (63). p. 3. Retrieved 2010-10-11. 
  9. ^ David Eberhardt The Trial of the Catonsville 9The Play— at the writer's personal website


  • The 1971 play The Trial of The Catonsville Nine—Gordon Davidson, Director
  • The 1972 film The Trial of The Catonsville Nine—Gordon Davidson, Director; Gregory Peck, Producer.
  • A documentary film, Holy Outlaw, about Daniel Berrigan—exists only on 16 mm
  • A Documentary about the "Plowshares 8"—In the King of Prussia by Emile d'Antonio
  • A documentary film about the event, Investigation of a Flame, was produced in 2001 by the filmmaker Lynne Sachs.
  • Dar Williams's song, "I Had No Right", from her album The Green World, is about the trial of the Catonsville Nine.
  • Adrienne Rich's poem "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children" makes numerous references to the Catonsville Nine and includes an epigraph from Daniel Berrigan during the trial ("I was in danger of verbalizing my moral impulses out of existence").
  • A 2013 documentary film, Hit & Stay by Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk about the 40-50 raids made by people of conscience against U.S. Draft Boards and The Dow Chemical Company between 1967-1971.

Further reading

  • Berrigan, Daniel. The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. Boston: Beacon Press, 1970.
  • Harrison, Dorothy Lilja (2010). Peace, Be Still. ISBN 978-1-4515-3745-1
  • Peters, Shawn Francis. The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Polner, Murray -Disarmed and Dangerous
  • Lynd, Straughton; & Lynd, Alice (Eds.) (1995). Nonviolence in America: A Documentary History. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
  • Zinn, Howard - A People's History of the United States
  • Mische, George (May 10–23, 2013). "‘The Catonsville Nine’ -- Righting distortion".  

External links

  • Fire and Faith: The Catonsville Nine File
  • DVD on the Catonsville Nine
  • A retreat center that honors the inspiration of Br. David Darst, one of the Catonsville Nine
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