Monday, August 9, 2010

Jesuit Priest Daniel Berrigan Traveled To Hanoi During The Vietnam War With Notorius Communist Howard Zinn

Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J. (far left) and Howard Zinn (overcoat)
Howard Zinn was the quintessential scholar activist at the time of his death at age eighty-seven in Santa Monica, California on January 27, 2010.  He had been the target of a quarter-century long FBI surveillance operation.  Just four years after his return from World War II in 1945, the FBI opened its investigatory file on Dr. Zinn (hereafter referred to as the Zinn Files).  The 423-page report monitored his activities as special agents and unscrupulous informants throughout the country recorded his growing influence in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.  His residences, phone numbers, attendance at meetings and numerous public utterances were recorded and filed.  His spouse, Roslyn Zinn, also came under FBI scrutiny. The Zinn Files were declassified and released on July 30, 2010.  Reflecting embryonic McCarthyism before Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s Wheeling address,  (entitled "Enemies from Within") it established early on a “Communist Party: Counterintelligence Program” dossier.  The FBI repeatedly accused Howard Zinn of being a Communist Party member from 1949-1953.  Special Agent Edward Scheidt requested on March 9, 1949 that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover investigate the “communist” Howard Zinn.........
He journeyed with Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan, later of Catonsville IX glory, on a rescue mission to Hanoi in February 1968.  They secured the first release of American prisoners of war who were shot down over North Vietnam.  
They were Air Force Major Norris Miller Overly, Air Force Captain John David Black and Navy Ensign David Paul Matheny (Howard Zinn On War, 49-51; Zinn Files memorandum to Hoover, February 16, 1968). This peace mission was coterminous with the epic Tet offensive that presaged the withdrawal and defeat of U.S. forces in 1973. 
Link (here) The People's Historian and the FBI Zinn Files by Peter N. Kirstein is professor of history at St. Xavier University.
Link (here) to Peter K. Kirstein's follow up post listing his disagreements with me. 


Henry said...

Isn't it funny how the peace movement is always associated with the Communists? Maybe because the peace movement is really not about peace, but communism.

TonyD said...

I saw Howard Zinn speak about a half dozen times.

At this point, I'm never surprised when I hear someone dismiss important Biblical values with "that's just someone religious speaking". And, on other occasions, when I've heard good policy dismissed with "that's just a conservative Republican speaking".

I'm not quite sure how God's values have come to be associated with Communism, Democracy, Republicans, or Democrats. All of those organizations reflect a very non-omniscient perspective.

Why do we keep mistaking God's values for our judgment?

Anonymous said...

No question Fr. Berrigan got carried away back in those heady days with his admiration of communists and the communist ideal. As far as this trip goes, is this the one where he had the experience of carrying the bodies of napalmed vietnamese children in small boxes that effected him so?

I suppose peace movements associate with communists because it is closer to the Christian ideal -sharing things in common and eschewing wealth and so on - at least in theory, than free-market capitalism.

Zinn was always one-sided and arrogant in his approach I thought - which lionized him on the left but relegated him to fringe off the mainstream.

Old Dan certainly led Hoover on a merry chase for awhile there didn't he? On the FBI's most wanted - like old Bin Laden - funny how they can't catch that guy with all their technology and $ and all....

I agree TonyD - God does not belong to a political party but...isn't that where the rubber meets the road with the strength of say the fundamentalists or the catholic workers? What they share in common is a refusal to compartmentalize their religion.

Anonymous said...

Your title for this entry is a howler--like one of the those sensational 1950s McCarthyite movies or books. Please note:Zinn was NOT a commie. Do you actually read the article for which you provided the links?

I never much liked Zinn's kind of advocacy history writing but I don't think the William Bennett/Lynn Cheney celebratory approach is valid either. That's not real history.

I am grateful for Fr. Berrigan's faithful service to the Faith and the cause of peace,

TonyD said...


I've spent a fair amount of time around Fundamentalists (none around Catholic Workers.) They were very Republican. As a result, their judgment was distorted. Somehow the Republican values became equated to Christian values. Very disappointing.

There was a similar issue a few days back on this blog. Some Jesuits were concerned about changes to the "credit hour" laws. We tend to confuse societal laws with God's laws - and take a position.

Anonymous said...

I believe the most telling "communist ideal" co-terminus with the 1968 Tet offensive was the USMC troops' unearthing of mass graves of 500 Vietnamese civilian beneficiaries of the communist ideal as represented by the NVA and VC.

There were at least 10,000 other such communist ideal incidents, not counting the tens of thousands they murdered after they broke the Paris Peace Accords and the US vietcongress aided and abetted the rape and murder several hundred thousand in Vietnam, Republic of.

Anonymous said...

It is said that the minister of Berrigan's community had to keep huge quantities of cash in the safe in order to bail him out after his many arrests. What a liability to community life.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I heard MLK Jr. was quite a liability to freedom and justice as well--all that bail $ and trouble.


Peter N. Kirstein said...

I am struck with the sense that many of the comments fall into the stereotypical trap of condemning one for being communist and then adding to that a general description of antiwar activists as communist. Perhaps if one studied communism, one might have a more nuance approach and if one was truly religious, whatever that means, one would admire those clergy and laypersons who courageously sought social justice and peace. One should not require obedience to the state or to accept the criminal actions and immoral racist conduct of a state where they exist. One should be less concerned about ideology and more concerned about actions: such as the heroic ones taken by Dr Zinn and Fr. Berrigan.

Joseph Fromm said...

Dear Peter,
Thank for the illuminating article linking Communism, Liberation Theology and the Pacifist Movement.


Joseph Fromm said...

Peter N. Kirstein in his latest post has outlined a few questions for me.

1.Good Jesuit, Bad Jesuit gratuitously and disgracefully refers to the late Dr Zinn in its title as a “Notorious Communist” and deliberately omits that portion of my article in which that affiliation is denied.

Answer: I use the term notorious, because Dr. Zinn fits the definition
1. widely and unfavorably known:
2. publicly or generally known, as for a particular trait:

2.It also altered my article by changing “communist” to “communist.” It is customary to indicate when an emphasis is added to a quoted document. Mr Joseph Fromm changed plain test to italicized text to emphasize his disapproval of communism which he has perhaps never studied or analyzed.

Answer: I always italicize any word in quotes as a way for people to more easy read my posts.
I have studied Communism my whole life. I reject every bit of its disastrous premise and out comes.
It is at its very core is anti-reason, anti-human and most importantly anti-God.

Read Peter's full post at

Jesus, Mary and Joseph


TonyD said...


1. This is your blog. You can call someone notorious, italicize text, and disapprove of communism if you feel so inclined.

2. Dr. Zinn joked about being called a communist - he was quite clear that he was not a communist. I heard him criticize communism and communist states. Would you be surprised to hear that a person or organization can be attacked and mischaracterized for saying things that go against powerful interests?

As for Communism -- a group of Catholics who understood God's values could create an effective Communist society. Or an effective Socialist society. Or an effective Democratic society. Our souls do not depend on our society's organization.

Joseph Fromm said...

Tony D.
Thanks for your comment. You are correct a person Salvation is independent of the governmental structure one finds oneself in. However, the Communist reign of terror over the past 100 years at all points around the globe is demonic. Socialism support of abortion and its war against the family is also demonic, both forms of government seek to deny the sacraments to the faithful, in effect erasing the results of Christian charity and the civilization of Christendom.

Tony we may have to agree to disagree.


TonyD said...


I don't think we particularly disagree.

On the religious issue, which is the important one, we seem to have a similar perspective.

I'm not too worried about perspectives on Communism - except to the extent that they displace real Church teaching.

TonyD said...


Now that the readers have become a very small group, I'd like to add a few observations. These observations are not specific to Communism.

Communism may be called good. Communism may be called evil. Communism may be called both good and evil. Communism may be called neither good nor evil. Communism may be called any blend of those characteristics.

Communism must be categorized in these ways - depending on the observer, the aspects observed, and the will of God. That is, all those seemingly contradictory categorizations are correct for specific people.

So the categorization of the categorization made by a person may be good. Or may be evil. Or may be some blend of those characteristics. This categorization, too, depends on the particular person and God's judgment.

Thus, the search for "truth" and "facts" is often misguided. This loss of "certain knowledge" is more than offset by an understanding of "higher things".

TonyD said...


I'd like to add an additional thought. On one hand, my explanation above was deliberately abstruse. But there is one implication worth clarifying.

The "golden rule" can be used to measure ones understanding of God's laws. To the extent that a person interprets the "golden rule" to be exclusively about their own values (eg. "the truth") they are misunderstanding God's law. Conversely, to the extent that they interpret the "golden rule" to be about others' values, they are understanding God's law. (And sometimes one must adopt others' values. Judgment is involved. I hope that no one reading this was hoping for simple rules to follow.)

Further, as one becomes more of a "vessel" one becomes more open to receiving divine revelation.

I should add that this is not a recipe for any short-term happiness. Or any "improvement" in society. In fact, the "loss of self" is a very real cost -- and hard to understand until it is experienced.

Peter N. Kirstein said...

Communism is good. In fact it is an ideal system because it opposes capitalism which is the true "demonic" system. I do refer principally to its devolution as theory as opposed to its excesses as state capitalism after 1917. Also even "communist" nations had some positive virtues: they contained American power and its monstrous imperialism for roughly fifty years and defeated German national socialism in the 1940s,

Abortion is a tragedy but very much ingrained as part of womens search for equal justice. To deny a woman the right to terminate her pregnancy would be offensive to the notion of justice, the right to privacy, and the right to be left alone. Women cannot be forced to give birth against their will. It is unseemly to demand this but I recognise the competing moral visions here. I care more about the post-birth person as opposed to the pre-birth fetus as controlling the fate or actions of an individual. I teach at a Roman Catholic university but will not hestitate to maintain my sense of dignity, morality and academic freedom.

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