"Coles: I feel myself talking common sense.
"Berrigan: Well, then, subversive common sense. At times I feel this society is becoming a kind of Manichaean madhouse in which so many of us are being frozen, whether it be the Klan or the Mafia or the weathermen or indeed my brother and myself; frozen into definitions which declare us enemies of goodness or irredeemably evil or objects of a manhunt. It seems to me tha the master metaphor in our society these days, always lurking the background, is the metaphor of modern war, whether it be cold or hot. That is to say, our society declares itself good and virtuous in principle and declares others (minorities within the nation and various countries on several continents) to be the enemy. We don't want to 'live and let live'; we want to dominate. In comparison, I was struck recently by the example of a liberal minister in the South who deliberately would seek out Klansmen and try to talk with them, be with them, understand them; and especially he would seek them out when they were in legal jeopardy. He would spend time with them.
"Coles: I know him: Will Campbell. He is an extraordinary man indeed.
"Berrigan: Yes. Once he went to see a Klansman just before he went off to prison. I believe the minister was trying to say that the hunter and the hunted, the respectable burgher and the exiled man or poor man or racially different man have got to look at one another as fellow human beings, as people who care for each other in spite of differences, rather than want to kill each other. One of the things that Christianity at least here and there and now and then can do is to do exactly what Will Campbell did; that is to say, the Christian (if he follows Christ's example) will constantly want to cross over and be with the excommunicated, or be with the stigmatized, or be with the so-called "enemy." In that spirit, Howard Zinn and I decided we were going to Hanoi for the sake of both sides. We didn't believe that enmities could be arbitrarily and intransigently decreed. We felt we had an obligation to meet people being called our foes and come to know them, even if Lyndon Baines Johnson said they deserve from us only thousands of bombs. We went to Vietnam not as enemies of America, nor as enemies of the Vietnamese; we went to the Vietnamese as fellow human beings who abhor violence, be it committed by large nations or small nations, our nation or other nations. I think the same spirit out be demonstrated by all of us toward the Panthers and toward the weathermen. When we became pursuers, people on a collective manhunt, we enter into a moral stalemate, which is destructive to lives, and just as important, destructive to our spiritual substances.
"Coles: Christ eagerly challenged us in many ways, and one important way was this: he asked us to forsake a pharisaic view of human nature which is flat and single-minded, which constantly sets up niches and categories, tote sup sums, adds, subtracts, looks at people with a view to checking them off, labeling them, oh so strictly defining them. Christ said no; he insisted that there are dozens and dozens of possibilities in all of us, so we simply cannot be fitted into an accountant's language, even a theological accountant's language. He declared that anyone can be saved; and He reminded us that there is an ineffable and mysterious quality to how salvation comes about. When Christ emphasized free grace, He emphasized (through the example of His own life) that growth comes through suffering, that pain and hardship and even exile are not necessarily things to be avoided, and that disapproval, even profound rejection, by the majority of the powerful ones in a society can be quite compatible with spiritual growth, He was attacking the notion that a particular elect has the right to spell out what we think or do and indeed define our destiny. Needless to sy, one era's outcasts can become the next era's heroes, as history ha shown, including Christian history. Christ and His followers, however despised and scorned and ignored by Pharisees and generals and prominent officials of one kind or another emerged as, after all, people who were growing, who were blessed, who were the sign of an age, who were becoming born again. Now I would suggest that many of us who struggle clinically with patients have got to think about such matters. We, too, see people who look down upon themselves and often enough have been looked down upon by others. If we concentrate only on the negative side of such people, they seem almost hopeless or as we would have it, incurable. Again, we ought to remember that what matters is not the letter, but the spirit, not what a generation's smug, self-satisfied Pharisees say, but what the forgotten and forsaken might become.
"Berrigan: Speaking of elites (and man's history has been marked by successive struggles against various elites) one of the results of the Manichaean impasse we've been discussing is not merely that a lot of helpless people are destroyed or lost to their potential, but that it becomes more and more difficult to judge the judges. Who is to examine the FBI and its leadership and its ethos? How lawful and ethical and Christian was Lyndon Baines Johnson? I remember at the time of our trial, in one very hot exchange, the judge kept insisting again and again that no American could for any reason break a law and expect immunity from the consequences. And one of our defendants said quite simply, "And your statement, Your Honor, applies also the President?" And at that point there was a great disarray. The judge could only say I quote exactly as I remember: 'Well, you understand, it's hard to apply what I said to his case.' And the response of the defendant was, 'And that is what this trial is about.' I think that the poor are held legally accountable for just about everything they do, whereas the powerful get away with murder and sometimes (I fear) literally do. Indeed one wonders whether some of our powerful politicians and generals will ever be called to account for their various mistakes and crimes. The crimes our so-called statesman commit are veiled, denied, paid for in the blood of thousands of innocent men, women and children of this and other nations. So it goes what is called 'politics.' We fostered the so-called Nuremburg Rules or Principles against the Nazis, but who is to stop us and ask us whether our leaders also don't need to be 'evaluated' by some high court. For those who belong to the radical religious community, I don't care whether it is located in the East of West, whether it is Christian or Buddhist, there is a constant insistence that man stands before the transcendent eye of God as he stands before the judgment of his community, no matter what range of power he holds; and furthermore, whatever judgments are rendered, they are not retributive so much as (in purpose) redemptive. Mercy is the point. We are trying to say even to those who in the name of law or in the name of power commit the most awful actions against others we are declaring those people redeemable too, simply because they also stand under God's laws. Nor can such 'distinguished' people exempt themselves, in the name of whatever 'position' or 'resources' they have come upon, from the fact that all men are naked finally, that all men need to be saved perhaps ultimately from their ego, their self-idolatry.
"Coles: People like you are considered by many people 'way out,' and 'irrelevant' to the lives of millions and millions of Americans our so-called middle class people, our white lower middle class. Your sympathies are so different from theirs that one hears it argued you are condemned by your acts and ideas to the smallest and most parochial of audiences because the vast majority of people are loyal to America, loyal to American traditions, support the President, and want us out of Vietnam, yes, but as winners not losers. The distinction between the two groups: one is small and heretical; one is large and generally conformist and in agreement with thing as they are.
"Well, I have worked for five years with so-called lower middle class white families in Boston and its suburban towns and I started doing my work long before subjects like "the white backlash' or the patriotic activities of the 'hard hats' became front-page news. I started going my work because I was interested in how lack children who were bussed from a ghetto got along with white kids in suburban schools or in lower middle class schools within the city limits. Actually, I've always been interested in what white children think about black children. (In the South I worked with children of both races.) In an y event I think many of us do these white working class men and women a grave injustice. Some politicians who claim to speak for the 'ordinary man,' the 'forgotten American,' can be condescending and arrogant in the way they ehort the very people they claim to speak for. It is true, one can go to a home a policeman's home, a fireman's home, a blue-collar worker's home, a white-collar worker's home and hear all kinds of prejudicial remarks, all kinds of narrow loyalties espoused, hatreds espoused; but one can hear other things too. One can hear a sense of outrage at the inequalities in our society, a sense of bitterness at the way workers are treated by corporations, a sense of hurt and pain that reflects the ethical concern and moral outrage people feel and carry with them all through their lives and have to push aside in their struggles to make the next dollar. Yes, people die; they forget or forcibly push aside their better selves, become disenchanted, lose, hope, turn into the caricatures that our politicians portray and pander to and try to egg on, all so that votes will be gained, power secured. But what gets ignored in all of this is a whole range of ideas and beliefs so many of our people have, but don't easily talk about in public. I have heard policemen and firemen and construction workers and factory workers and gas station attendants and bank tellers and postal clerks rail against lying and tricky politicians, and the exploitation of people at the hands of insensitive and thoughtless corporations. I have heard those same men recall the struggles they remember their fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers having under an oftentimes unfair social and economic and political system. When we talk about 'silent Americans,' those are some things a lot of Americans keep under their hats, keep silent about, because they are afraid to talk openly about 'controversial' issues. I have yards (miles it seems) of tapes to prove that what is 'silent' in them is a good deal of social criticism, a good number of canny observationsa bout who owns and runs this society, a good amount of latent idealism. What I said about that Klan member applies to millions and millions of Americans who also might be different, might speak and act differently, were this a differently organized and inspired society.
"Berrigan: So many people in America have given up in recent decades because their possibilities had never really been pointed out to them and encouraged. I think what we witness today is an constant effort the poisonous tone is set from above to declare that certain people are such and such, whether they be called middle Americans or Panthers. If they are only such and such, they are forbidden the change that is possible to them. To call people a 'silent' group is to condemn them to accept the state of silence, which means they'll never expect a rational or courageous or enlightened speech from their leaders.
"Coles: This is a democracy, yet I am sure some of our politicians feel most comfortable when most citizens are indeed silent an dobliging and unquestioning and willing to take this one's explanations or someone else's 'policy.' We need others to confirm our own moral ambiguities. We need others to confirm our power.
"Berrigan: I have wished recently I might be able to establish some contract with the Weathermen, who are also underground. I would want to do so in an effort to declare (across all sorts of distances and differences) my solidarity with at least a certain side of them, the side appalled by the lies and deceits so many of us fearfully and uncritically accept. The Weathermen have been stereotyped as subhuman, as irredeemably violent, as animals on the run. I would be trying to find out what has brought them to their present situation, what has occurred to them in their community since they went underground, and whether or not they have wanted to reconsider some of their past (and inflammatory) statements with regard to other human beings reconsider their openly declared disrespect for human life. I suspect that the weathermen are not all of a piece, do not lack great moral and spiritual conflicts, and may well be trying to grow and change. Similarly with the Panthers. I often wonder whether some of our comfortable, middle class 'critics' put themselves through the agonized self-criticism I have seen young radicals and young blacks resort to.
"Coles: Well by no means do all radicals question themselves and their assumptions so carefully and by no means do all middle class 'critics' lack a capacity for self-scrutiny and yes, agony. (Some of them are 'agonized' if nothing else!) But when you talked about the Weathermen, I thought of Will Campbell and his work with the Klan.
"Berrigan: Exactly. I suppose to do so, to reach out to those one may strongly disagree with is to challenge the paramilitary view of man as either conformists or else traitorous. I think we must continually break through the various barriers which forbid us access to our brothers those who are potentially at least our brothers, and in whose life and death, love it or not, hate it or not, we are involved. One must resist at all costs those rigid dualisms: all good, all bad. Christ saw us as redeemable and how often he turned his heart to social outcasts! Christ saw us as both more and less than we appear to be. The rich and powerful man can be a hypocrite and fraud; the poor and scorned man can be honest and decent. Those who judge others, let alone attack others in the name of various slogans, must be placed upon them the scrutiny of the Christian eye: Cain may be wearing the skin of Abel in order to cause further bloodshed in the world."