On May 17, 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, nine men and women entered a Selective Service office outside Baltimore. They removed military draft records, took them outside, and set them afire with napalm. The Catholic activists involved in this protest against the war included Daniel and Philip Berrigan; all were found guilty of destroying government property and sentenced to three years in jail. Dan Berrigan fled but later turned himself in.
The Trial of the Catonsville Nine became a powerful expression of the conflicts between conscience and conduct, power and justice, law and morality. Drawing on court transcripts, Berrigan wrote a dramatic account
of the trial and the issues it so vividly embodied. The result is a landmark work of art that has been performed frequently over the past thirty-five years, both as a piece of theater and a motion picture.