Father Dan and Obama: A Tale of Contrasts

On Monday, Democracy Now presented a wonderful tribute to Father Dan Berrigan, a Jesuit priest who passed away over the weekend at the age of 94.

Berrigan was a longtime peace and social justice activist who inspired the growth of the global Plowshares movement calling for the abolishing of nuclear weapons in the early 1980s after breaking into the General Electric factory in Prussia King Pennsylvania with a group and sabotaging the warheads.

In 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, Father Dan and his brother Philip and other antiwar activists including liberation theologians Thomas and Marjorie Melville were indicted after breaking into a draft board office in Baltimore. In a symbolic act, the Catonsville nine poured blood over and napalmed the files, stating:

We shed our blood willingly in what we hope is a sacrificial and constructive act. We pour it on these files to illustrate with them and with these files begins the pitiful waste of American and Vietnamese blood 10,000 miles away....We charge that America would rather protect its empire of overseas profits then welcome its black people, rebuild its slums and cleanse its air and water.

Georgetown University theology professor Chester Gillis said of Father Berrigan that "if you were to identify Catholic prophets in the 20th century, he'd be right there with Dorothy Day or Thomas Merton."

Berrigan's career presents a stark contrast to America's 44th president, Barack Obama Jr., a Nobel Prize winner who was also in the news this week for his comments at the White House correspondents' dinner about drones.

Comedy Central's Larry Wilmore told Obama he heard he had been hanging out with NBA players like Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, which he said, makes sense, because "both of you like raining down bombs on people from long distances, right."

Obama replied that no doubt some innocents had been killed but that the rate of civilian casualties was lower than in conventional war.

Obama's blasé defense is contradicted by a new book just published by Jeremy Scahill and Glen Greenwald, The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Program, which documents that over a fifteen month period, nearly 90 percent of people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.

Previous studies such as Living Under the Drones by a team of Stanford and NYU researchers, and Andrew Cockburn's book Kill Chain: The Rise of the High Tech Assassins present similar conclusions, pointing to faulty intelligence and a video game mentality among some drone operators, which is contributing to the heavy "collateral damage."

According to a rare outside observer, the New York Times journalist David Rhode, held hostage in Northern Waziristan between November 2008 and June 2009, life for the local population under the threat of drones was "hell on earth." From the ground, he said,

It is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death. Drones fire missiles that travel faster than the speed of sound. A drone's victim never hears the missile that kills him.

As much as George W. Bush, Obama has been the anti-Berrigan in many other aspects of his presidency. He has bombed Iraq and waged war in Libya without congressional authorization as part of a NATO mission that killed hundreds of civilians and destabilized the country.

Obama also chose war over peace in Afghanistan where his troop surge bred further violence and actually empowered the Taliban.

His administration has backed a right wing coup in Honduras, paramilitary violence in Colombia, provided record billion dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia including cluster bombs used to kill innocents in Yemen and poured over $2 billion in military aid into Mexico under the ill-conceived Plan Mèrida.

Despite eloquent campaign pledges to cut down on nuclear weapons earning him the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama caved in to right wing pressure and lobbying by Bechtel Co. which gained control over privatized nuclear weapons labs, and initiated a trillion dollar nuclear modernization program.

This at a time, when the U.S. has been pushing NATO expansion towards the edge of Russia and encircled China military as part of the pivot to Asia strategy portending the growth of a new arms race.

Defenders of America's 44th president would say that while Berrigan is a prophet like Martin Luther King Jr., Obama is a politician beholden to interest groups and playing the political game.

However Obama had considerable popular support following his 2008 election for implementing a more progressive foreign policy, but demobilized his political base and governed from the top down.

His campaign was sponsored by Lester Crown and his son Henry, the CEO of General Dynamics (GD), the largest weapons manufacturer in the world which had developed cruise missiles, Abrams tanks, combat vehicles and the F-16 along with target identification equipment capable of intercepting communications on an insurgent's cell phone, and Obama once worked for the CIA.

Father Dan and King Drone represent a tale of two contrasts, one of whom sold their soul for the highest power in the land, the other who fought against injustices his entire life.

It is Father Dan who should be remembered by future generations as a great man who strove for a more peaceful world, even if he did not win any Nobel Peace Prizes.

Jeremy Kuzmarov teaches at the University of Tulsa and is author of Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Massachusetts, 2012).