Filmmaker Lynne Sachs released this award-winning documentary in 2001. Investigation of a Flame depicts the efforts of nine peace-promoting demonstrators to awaken America on May 17, 1968, when they obtained selective service records from a Maryland draft board office and incinerated them with napalm that they had made themselves. The objectors, led by brothers Daniel and Philip Berrigan became examples for other protesters to follow. Becoming martyrs was not the objective of the unconventional display of disagreement with the war and mandate of young Americans partaking in the devastation; however, the bravery displayed by the nine seemed to have been unparalleled at the time.
This 45 minute film includes interviews with six members of the pioneers from the 1968 expression, including the Berrigan brothers, John Hogan, Thomas Lewis, and married couple Marjorie and Tom Melville. Their protest was an expression that has often been described as “poetic” and “visionary.” The film also includes commentary by historian Howard Zinn, who evaluates what effects the stunning display of non-cooperation produced.
Who were they? The names of the 9 people who participated in the non-violent, direct action were: Philip Berrigan, Daniel Berrigan, David Darst, John Hogan, Tom Lewis, John Melville, Marjorie Melville, George Mische, and Mary Moylan. Of them, three were priests, one a nurse, and one an artist.
What did they do? Three of the group entered the Selective Service office in a Knights of Columbus building in Catonsville, Maryland. They went past three employees who questioned their actions, but continued their mission. They retrieved A-1 draft records from filing cabinets and took them outside to the other participants. Hundreds of records were put inside wire baskets, covered in homemade napalm, and set aflame.
Where is Catonsville? Why is the location of the protest, Catonsville, such an important detail? It is a quiet suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. People do not tend to associate demonstrations with suburbs.
Was it a chaotic disturbance? No. The Catonsville 9 prayed quietly while the draft files were burning. Members of the group also explained why they used a video camera throughout the protest.
How long did this event last? In less than 15 minutes the police arrived, the county firefighters extinguished the blaze, and the Catonsville 9 were escorted into a police vehicle.
Trial and Sentencing Just 6 weeks after their demonstration, their trial began. It sparked Anti-War Protests at War Memorial Plaza and over 200 people attended the trial. The defendants were received with a standing ovation lasting 2 minutes. Two witnesses were called by the prosecution; both were employees from the office from which the draft records were seized. The defense did not call any witnesses, although, they were granted permission to share their reflections from the event. They stated that they did burn the files, but were not guilty. They also stated that they believed the war was immoral and responded “out of respect for a higher power.” The demonstrators were found guilty on every charge. The sentences ranged from 2 to 3.5 years depending on level of involvement and leadership of the protest.
Significance This short, organized, and calm expression of civil disobedience received national coverage and stirred the American public. Thousands went to Baltimore in support of the protesters, and the trial was broadcast each night on all network television stations.
“This poetic essay offers the perfect antidote to PBS: there is no omniscient narrator talking down to the viewer, reciting facts and explaining what to think, yet the story is perfectly clear. Brothers Phil and Dan Berrigan, who led the protest, appear both in the present and in archival footage, a mix that makes their commitment palpable, while images like a newspaper going in and out of focus remind us that shifting contexts alter our understanding of complex events.” Fred Camper, Chicago Reader
“These people were not Yippie fist-shakers. All but one of the men wore suits. Investigation of a Flame captures the heartfelt belief behind the Nine's symbolic action of civil disobedience that sparked other (actions) like it across the nation. Sachs cannily avoids the usual documentary dance of talking heads and file footage by interspersing impressionistic shots. (The film) provides a potent reminder that some Americans are willing to pay a heavy price to promote peace.” Lee Gardner, Baltimore City Paper
“This is a documentary about the protest events that made Catonsville, Maryland, an unpretentious suburb on the cusp of Baltimore, a flash point for citizens' resistance at the height of the war. Sachs found assorted characters still firm to fiery on the topic. She came to admire the consistency of the mutual antagonists in an argument that still rages (today).” Francis X. Clines, The New York Times
Director Sachs herself describes the documentary as "an anatomy of a moment."
The Lynds understanding of nonviolence emphasizes these characteristics, but also emphasizes that nonviolence is the vision of love as an agent for fundamental social change.
"Whole house" inside wire maintenance plans covering a home's entire communications connections--cable, satellite and telephone--would be exempt from local hourly service charge regulation under a plan the FCC is considering.
Sep 06, 1999; "Whole house" inside wire maintenance plans covering a home's entire communications connections--cable, satellite and...