A Brief History
On November 9, 1965, 22 year old American Roger Allen LaPorte, a former Catholic seminarian, sat down calmly, poured gasoline over himself, and burned himself to death in front of the United Nations in New York in a protest of the Viet Nam War.
LaPorte had dropped out of the seminary, but graduated from Holy Ghost Academy (Tupper Lake, New York) in 1961 and was active in the Catholic Worker Movement. Although fatally burned (he died the next day), LaPorte was able to talk before dying and said he performed his act of protest against “all wars” and not just the one in Viet Nam. He said his act was “a religious action.”
LaPorte’s suicide mimicked that of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc who had performed a similar self-immolation in Saigon in 1963, moving film and still photographs of which were famous world wide. The fame of this particular suicidal protest seems to have triggered something of a copycat effect, and other people world wide ever since have used this spectacular method of suicide to get their message to the public.
Prior to the LaPorte self-immolation, an 82 year old American woman, Alice Herz performed a public self-immolation on a street corner in Detroit, in March of 1965. (She died 10 days later.) Just one week prior to the LaPorte incident, American Norman Morrison, age 31, covered himself in kerosene and burned himself to death in front of the office of Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, at the Pentagon. Morrison, a graduate of the College of Wooster (Ohio, a small but highly regarded liberal arts school), was married and the father of 2 children. Morrison actually took one of his children with him to his fatal protest. A Quaker, Morrison seems to have become more of a folk hero to the war protesters than LaPorte, and streets are actually named after him in the Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Da Nang. Viet Nam even put his image on a postage stamp. In 2007, the president of Viet Nam visited the site of Morrison’s protest and read a poem in honor or the pacifist.
Are these suicidal protesters delusional with a Messiah complex, someone to be pitied? Are they great people of faith, or just mentally ill? Is their sacrifice worth the publicity for their cause? Give us your thoughts on this controversial subject.
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