Thursday, May 10, 2018

Three responses to Steve Sachs' execrable "Conviction, courage and dishonor among 'Catonsville Nine'"

Don't compare Catonsville Nine to racists

Catonsville, Md--5/5/18--Margarita Melville, San Quintin, Baja California, stands next to the Caton
Margarita Melville stands next to the Catonsville Nine marker. Ms. Melville and Joan Hogan Harder unveiled the sign outside the Catonsville Library. She was one of nine activists who burned draft cards outside the draft board office on May 17, 1968 to protest the Vietnam War. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)
I attended the dedication of the historical marker in Catonsville (“Once prosecuted, now honored, Catonsville Nine get a memorial marker,” May 5) and found it moving that Maryland dedicated a monument to a powerful antiwar event that sparked many others into resistance to the Vietnam War. The history of those times and the misguided war in Vietnam is worth remembering. I also read the objection to the veneration of the Catonsville Nine by Stephen H. Sachs (“Former U.S. attorney: conviction, courage and dishonor among 'Catonsville Nine,'” May 5) who argues that “the Nine” ignored the rule of law in a way analogous to murderous racists in the Jim Crow South who expected to have murder charges “nullified” by all-white juries of their peers. On that point, Mr. Sachs goes too far.
These were people prepared to face the consequences, who waited for the law to arrive, moved in part by respect for the law. Antiwar activists had gone to court to argue the illegality of the Vietnam War based on the U.S. Constitution Article 1, Section 8, but the judicial branch (Supreme Court) always punted the issue back to Congress and the executive. When law failed to stop an unconstitutional war, they acted to protect some young men from being drafted into that. The question of “jury nullification” occurs when a jury believes that breaking the law is justified to prevent a greater harm. It is not a wacko concept. So, the historical marker is significant, if only to raise again these issues, in the current context, when our nation holds nuclear weapons at its disposal that are protected by “rule of law."
Yes, they are, but some will test that rule when it comes to such weapons like Trident submarines at the Naval Submarine Base in Kings Bay, Ga., equipped with dozens of nuclear warheads. Seven activists, one of them from Baltimore, calling themselves the “Kings Bay Plowshares,” sit in a Georgia jail right now and will be appealing to jurors to acquit them for their deeds, which they see as necessary to prevent nuclear war. Such antiwar activists and the “Catonsville Nine” should in no way be equated with racists depending on all-white jurors to nullify their crimes of murder. Mr. Sachs owes them an apology for that.
J. Stephen Cleghorn, Baltimore
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an hour ago on 5/9/2018
Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | 

Fifty years later, Stephen Sachs is still out-of-tune while beating the drum against nine of the most courageous individuals in peace and justice history.  This is from someone who, to the best of my knowledge, did nothing to speak out against an imperial war in Vietnam.  The U.S. tried to dissuade the Vietnamese people from running their own country, and used the draft to bring in cannon fodder who are still suffering consequences decades later if they are alive.

  He has the gall to suggest the Catonsville Nine acted with “dishonor.”  I am not a psychologist, but a peace and justice advocate who knew five of the nine.  It seems Sachs has a very guilty conscience, as instead of prosecuting Dow Chemical for producing napalm he went after the burners of paper.  

  Sachs is also guilty of sophistry, as he intimates their action “offends both the rule of law and a fundamental tenet of the American democracy.”  Jim Crow was the law in certain parts of the country. Native Americans suffered something close to genocide by supporters of “American democracy.”  And he failed to mention that jury nullification was used to counter-act the Fugitive Slave Law. 

  Possibly he has never watched the classic documentary WINTER SOLDIER which is replete with testimony by veterans about the war crimes committed by U.S. forces in Southeast Asia. Did the former U.S. attorney use his office to prosecute criminal activity by the U.S. military? Lieutenant William Calley was the only soldier convicted of the massacre at My Lai.  Yet he never served a day in jail.  The Nine did go to jail.

  As someone who does nonviolence training, it is my opinion that Sachs is misinformed about “civil disobedience.”  Those of us who engage in challenging government injustice do civil resistance.  As the Nuremberg Tribunals brought out, when your government is engaged in criminal activity, and the Vietnam War was a crime, citizens must challenge their government.  For example, the constitution indicates that only Congress can declare war.  Where is the Congressional authorization for the military to attack several countries in Southeast Asia, including Laos? 

  I have to assume the former prosecutor was aware of the Tiger Cages and other forms of torture used by the U.S. military in Vietnam. Was this applicable under the rule of law?  Where was the reverence and humility and respect in General William Westmoreland and Secretary of War Robert McNamara misinforming Congress and the citizenry about how U.S. forces were winning an unwinnable war?  Surely Stephen Sachs remembers John Kerry’s testimony to Congress: “… how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Sachs owes the Catonsville Nine an apology.


Max Obuszewski is with the Baltimore Nonviolence Center
Date: May 7, 2018 at 3:46 PM
Subject: Dear Editors- I am willing to edit this to taste

This is a response to a column by Stephen Sachs in the 5/6 Sunpapers entitled “Conviction and dishonor” in which he criticizes the actions of the Catonsville 9- a group that burned draft files in `1968.

There was a series of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 9 on May 4th,5th and 6th that prompted his column.

Steve talks about legal issues and the rule of law. Consider for one, that sarcastic saying about the golden rule that “them that has the gold make the rules”? That is to say that often the rule of law that Sachs so slavishly upholds- sometimes entraps those with few means while the rich who can afford lawyers skate free?

That is, the rule of law, although better than anarchy- does not always protect the innocent, nor is it just. Sachs seems to worship this “rule of law”. But what if law protects wrongdoing?

The peace making Catonsville 9 followed the laws of war which prohibit the killing of civilians as well as the higher moral and ethical laws as taught by Jesus and in the Bible- such as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. But Sachs is taking the side of the killers. He was in favor of thje Vietnam War and doesn’t seem to have gotten over it; nor has he learned from it.

He posits that the 9 were not in the tradition of civil disobedience of Thoreau, Gandhi and King. He confusedly states: “They (the 9) faced no personal choice between the demands of government and the demands of conscience. No law of doubtful validity was being applied to them “ This is sophistry of a high order. The 9 did not try to escape- they took full responsibility for their action.

Sachs makes the following misstatement “They did not willingly submit to punishment to bear witness to their beliefs.”

Laws have changed over time- as in the civil rights struggle for equal accommodations- when bad laws upholding segregated facilities were broken to make the change. Does Sachs want the rule of law that upholds Jim Crow? Would he have upheld the rule of law as defined by the British Crown in 1776 when patriots broke laws governing tea?

How about the rule of law under Germany’s Third Reich- where defendants were executed for opposing Hitler’s warfaring; Sachs was right there with these prosecutors- and he is Jewish.

He disparages jury nullification- i e when a jury ignores a Judge’s instructions and acquits defendants. He wonders about juries in the south who let murderous klansmen b go. But did their judges instruct them to convict?

Sachs, in the end, seems to be coming from a lawless, amoral, valueless and unethical position that wants to bless war. If he is not for the peacemakers, he is against them. Sachs’ sophistic arguments negate action for progress and the good. And he is a lawyer.

David Eberhardt of the Baltimore 4 was prosecuted by Steve Sachs for pouring blood on draft files in 1967)

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

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