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The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era 1st Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199827855
ISBN-10: 0199827850
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Editorial Reviews


"In 1967, the respected Vietnam historian Bernard Fall warned that Vietnam 'is threatened with extinction [under] the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size.' This remarkable study brings to life the courageous activists who sought to prevent this horrifying outcome with a principled act of civil disobedience, exploring the complex circumstances and consequences with rare sensitivity and insight." --Noam Chomsky

"Peters offers a rich and engrossing study of nine passionate activists who displayed their disgust with the war in Vietnam by destroying draft registration files in the Baltimore area. The book vividly depicts the lives of these men and women; who they were, what they did, why they did it, and the notable trial that followed their arrest. The Catonsville Nine is a valuable contribution to social and legal history; and an absorbing study, too, of the psychology, politics, and theology of protest and non-violence." --Lawrence Friedman, Marion Rice Kirkwood Professor of Law, Stanford Law School

"The definitive account of 'arguably the single most powerful antiwar act in American history.' Well researched and well told, it reads like a thriller, with all the pain, drama, and power of the 1960s anti-war movement--but it's far more important than any thriller. Peters deftly takes us through the epic tale and trial of ordinary activists determined to do what they could to help end the U.S. war in Viet Nam, how they broke new ground in symbolic nonviolent civil disobedience, and sparked a movement that indeed helped end the war. Like Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters, The Catonsville Nine makes movement history come alive and pushes us to carry on their mission for the abolition of war once and for all." -- John Dear, activist and author of Living Peace, Jesus the Rebel

"Combining a novel's readability with in-depth historical research, Peters recounts the genesis of the Catonsville Nine and the protest." --Publishers Weekly

"[A] mammoth historical account . . . The Catonsville Nine tells in detail the story of the nine activists, why they acted, what happened to them and the impact of their witness against the Vietnam War. Meticulously researched, it reads like a thriller with a compelling message about the power of ordinary people to make a difference in changing the world . . . Peters' superb account will touch and inspire everyone who cares about peace. It lifts up nine people and their colleagues who gave all they could to end a horrendous war. Their Christian witness exemplifies the nonviolent resistance of Jesus who engaged in civil disobedience in the Jerusalem temple and was arrested, imprisoned and executed. May their story live on, and the witness for peace continue." --National Catholic Reporter

"[A] a comprehensive account of this high-profile event in the antiwar protest movement of the 1960s and '70s, along with an examination of its aftermath and legacy. This readable history, based on eyewitness accounts, archival documents, and previously unreleased FBI files, recounts how the protesters came together, follows them through the storming of the government offices, chronicles their dramatic trial, describes the flight underground by the Berrigans and some other members of the group after the guilty verdict, and the group's time in jail." --Boston Globe

"Peters has contributed a thorough account of each individual and the events before and after their their ritual napalming of draft records. It is required reading in the growing literature about American religious responses to the Vietnam War." --The Journal of American History

"Peters offers up a compelling hybrid, a masterful work of history and group biography . . . The Catonsville Nine helps us understand and re-evaluate the social justice movements of our recent past. It expands the traditional view of this important anti-war action, favoring heroic acts and ideas over heroes. Considering the current levels of polarization and political helplessness-a decade of endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, new civil rights issues like racial profiling and marriage equality, and politicians who seem to have no real solutions-this book couldn't come at a better time." --Baltimore City Paper

"Peters has produced an original, balanced study in which the Nine are depicted neither as heroes nor charlatans . . . Objective, well-written and highly interesting from a variety of angles, The Catonsville Nine stands out for two very definite reasons: it provides the most detailed and sustained account of the five-day trial itself (October 7-11, 1968) that we possess, with all its rituals, theater, and standing ovations, and it tells us what we have always wanted to know about the forgotten Catonsville Seven who have never received their due: Tom Lewis, John Hogan, Tom and Marjorie Melville, George Mische, Mary Moylan, and Brother David Darst." --HNN.com

"A well-researched tale...Peters' compelling narrative renders the Catonsville Nine not as saints nor as villains, but as human beings who could no longer be silent in the face of injustice and war. They risked everything and, by doing so, gained much more than they ever could have lost. It is a story older than Antigone but, when told as masterfully as Peters does here, it is a story that never grows old. Nor should it." --Counterpunch.org

"Peters shows himself to be a thorough, detail-oriented and entertaining author and historian . . . But it is not Peters' straightforward retelling of the events and characters in the story that make this particular book stand out. It is his painstaking attention to detail that keep the reader engaged. It is his research and writing that make 'The Catonsville Nine' seem like a firsthand account of the planning, execution, trial and aftermath of that fateful protest . . . For the American church history and politics enthusiast, Peters offers a solid account of this interesting story of the Vietnam era. But with his ability to entertain with details and anecdotes, Peters also grabs the attention of those only vaguely familiar with and interested in anti-war protests of the late 1960s. It is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone interested in American history." --Catholic News Service

"[An] assiduously researched history . . . Peters records with a historian's rigor and the compassionate curiosity of an investigative journalist. Yet even in this prosaic telling, the Catonsville draft-file burnings stand out as a poetically holy and politically relevant act. He covers the drama in the courtroom, the daily street demonstrations-pro and con-and the nighttime gatherings at St. Ignatius Church, where heavy-hitters of the peace movement like Dorothy Day and William Sloan Coffin praise the Nine for their 'desperate offer for peace and freedom.' Many Baltimoreans are less generous. 'I think they ought to lock 'em in the can and throw away the key,' says a popular disc jockey. Amid such a vivid reconstruction of events, the reader feels the chaos and hope of that period." --America Magazine

"Peters has written a complex, gripping account of what led up to the event, the raid itself, and its aftermath. One by one the participants are brought to life-an artist, a nurse, three former missionaries, an Army vet who had become a peace movement organizer, a teacher who belonged to a Catholic religious order, plus the Berrigans. It wasn't just the Catonsville Two. The book becomes much more than the story of the Berrigans and includes much more than Vietnam. Finally, the impact of the Catonsville action is evaluated. Not only were vital records destroyed, but many were inspired to refuse participation in the war . . . I knew all of the nine and so come to the book with more than a bystander's curiosity. The narrative renews my compassion for who we were and why we put so much on the line, in my case a year in prison for helping burn draft records in Milwaukee. Even for an insider, the book has its surprises." --Sojourners

"In addition to being an excellent work of history, The Catonsville Nine is a thought-provoking book that forces one to contemplate just how far an individual should go to fight for his or her vision of justice. It is written in a clear and well-thought-out manner, and the author's passion for the topic is evident. The reader gets the sense that Peters is digesting the facts he is presenting along with the reader. This subtle narration gives the book an inviting feel and allows it to avoid the drabness that too often plagues works of history."
--VVA Veteran

About the Author

Shawn Francis Peters teaches in the Integrated Liberal Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of When Prayer Fails, Judging Jehovah's Witnesses, and The Yoder Case.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (June 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199827850
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199827855
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.4 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #983,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bill Lueders on September 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Shawn Francis Peters grew up hearing about the Catonsville Nine. That's because he grew up in Catonsville, a sleepy suburb of Baltimore, where in 1968 a group of religiously motivated protesters destroyed files at a Selective Service center.

This action, intended as a militant rebuke of the Vietnam war and U.S. foreign policy in Central America, sent shock waves through the nation, especially given that it included the participation of two Catholic priests, brothers Phil and Daniel Berrigan. A good many people were appalled; others felt challenged to ramp up their own activism.

Peters, now an instructor at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, had a different reaction: He was intrigued.

For Peters, who was 18 months old when the protest took place, the saga of the Catonsville Nine was part of the ethos of his hometown. When he was in high school, his highly successful baseball team acquired the nickname, "The Catonsville Nine." The irony was intentional.

"One of my father's favorite jokes was to look up from as newspaper box score of one of my Catonsville High School games and express mock disapproval over my association with a group of wild-eyed radicals who had brought disrepute to our quiet town," Peters writes in his preface.

Of course it's never easy to deconstruct a person from his or her past. But it's not too much of a stretch to think the Catonsville Nine played some role in the fact that Peters went on write provocative works about the intersection of law and religion. His three previous books are Judging Jevovah's Witnesses, about the wave of persecution in the U.S.
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Format: Hardcover
At a time when Americans are beginning to question the actions and policies of our leaders more, The Catonsville Nine re-presents a shining example of how it was once done. Shawn Peters explores the motivations of the characters and the progress of this gripping story, up to and after the protest at the draft board in Catonsville, pulling together a complete and even-handed treatment of the topic. There are some seldom-seen photos that bring the characters and story back to life.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's now 44 years since nine Catholic peace activists entered a draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, filled two wastebaskets with several hundred draft files, and burned the papers with homemade napalm in the parking lot. It would have been a news event no matter who had taken part, but the involvement of two Catholic priests, the brothers Daniel and Philip Berrigan, made the headlines even bigger.

The event was one among thousands of protest actions aimed at America's role in the Vietnam War, already several years old and destined to continue another seven years, but for many people -- me among them -- the Catonsville raid was a turning point in our lives. It also triggered passionate debate about the limits of peaceful protest. Could the destruction of property be called nonviolent?

The prime movers of the Catonsville Nine were Phil Berrigan and George Mische. Earlier in his life, Mische had worked for US-funded groups fostering labor movements in the Caribbean and Latin America. Phil had fought as an infantryman in World War II where his courage and leadership qualities won him a battlefield commission. As Shawn Francis Peters's book makes clear, even as a priest engaged in the civil rights and anti-war movements, Phil remained very much the infantryman he had been years earlier. Dismayed that the peace movement was having no discernible impact on events in Vietnam, he became convinced of "the uselessness of legitimate dissent." In his frustration, he opted for firing the cannons of civil disobedience.

US troops were mainly draftees; few young men had a longing to go to war in a country that posed no threat to the US and whose borders most Americans couldn't find on the world map.
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This book was hard to put down. The author does a terrific job of combining factual information and lots of background information about not only the members of the Catonsville 9, but others involved with the case. Also looks at how this one event tied to larger social justice issues of the time. It reads like a good historical fiction, but it's all fact. I highly recommend!
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What a treat!
As a Catonsville resident with vivid, yet very incomplete, memories of the Catonsville Nine demonstration, I felt I "should" read Professor Peter's book. I did not expect to get hooked from the preface on!
The portraits of the diverse group of peace activists are vivid and compelling as are the depictions of their motives and subsequent actions. Dr. Peters deserves distinct accolades for his impartial treatment of lead demonstrator Phil Berrigan and Chief Clerk the Draft Board, Mary Murphy, whom Berrigan disparaged. I found Mary Moylan and Marjorie Melville, the women of the Nine, especially fascinating and appreciate the comprehensive treatment and respect they are accorded in this fascinating tale that is more than history. With not a touch of the polemic, Shawn's treatment makes his description as relevant to 2012 as it was to 60's and 70's.
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