Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Self-Immolation as Anti-War Protest


“When you own a big chunk of the bloody third world, dead babies just come with the scenery”

Chrissie Hynde, from “Middle of the Road”, by The Pretenders

In November of 2005, the United States used white phosphorus munitions against the people of Fallujah, Iraq. Jeff Englehart, a former marine who spent two days in Fallujah during the battle, said he heard the order go out over military communication that WP was to be dropped. Mr Englehart, now an outspoken critic of the war, says: “I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military jargon it’s known as Willy Pete … Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone … I saw the burned bodies of women and children.” (as reported by Andrew Buncombe and Solomon Hughes: 15 November 2005, The Independent)

On November 3, 2006, on an off-ramp during rush hour in Chicago, Malachi Ritscher immolated himself. News reports have made much of the fact that his death had no immediate impact, since he was not identified for many days, and because the national news did not pick it up for several weeks. He is characterized as a troubled man. These are the words he left behind in his suicide note: “Here is the statement I want to make: if I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world. I refuse to finance the mass murder of innocent civilians, who did nothing to threaten our country… If one death can atone for anything, in any small way, to say to the world: I apologize for what we have done to you, I am ashamed for the mayhem and turmoil caused by my country.”

In March of 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized the use of napalm against the people of Vietnam. Napalm is a burning gel that sticks to the skin, and made flame throwers and incendiary explosives a staple of the US arsenal against Vietnam. A Business Week article (February 10, 1969) termed the chemical “the fiery essence of all that is horrible about the war in Vietnam.”

On November 2, 1965, Norman Morrison immolated himself within sight of Robert McNamara’s window at the Pentagon, to protest the war in Vietnam. Norman did not leave a suicide note. His friend John Roemer described his action as follows, “I don’t know. I don’t know. He fought the war more and more deeply. I mean, when are you one of the Germans?…You have to be mentally different to fly in the face of received wisdom in this country. He played it out in his mind, I think, in terms of being a moral witness”, and, “In a society where it is normal for human beings to drop bombs on human targets, where it is normal to spend 50 percent of the individual’s tax dollar on war, where it is normal…to have twelve times overkill capacity, Norman Morrison was not normal. He said, ‘Let it stop’ “.

The Vietnamese canonized Norman Morrison. Streets were named after him, a postage stamp was printed with his image, poems were written in his memory. The most quoted, by To Huu, includes this stanza:

Where are you hiding? In the graveyard
Of your five-cornered house
Each corner a continent.
You hide yourself
From the flaming world
As an ostrich hides its head in the
burning sand.

Norman was one of several people who chose to become a victim of the fire of the Vietnam War. Others include Vietnamese Buddhist monks, Quang Duc, June 1963, in Saigon; an unnamed monk in Phanthiet, August, 1963; Thich Nu Thanh Quang, in Hue, 1966. Each death galvanized opinion and resistance to the war within Vietnam. On March 16, 1965, Alice Herz, an 82 year old pacifist, immolated herself on a Detroit street corner. She stated in her suicide note, that she was protesting “the use of high office by our President, L.B.J., in trying to wipe out small nations.” And “I wanted to call attention to this problem by choosing the illuminating death of a Buddhist.” A week after Norman Morrison’s death, Roger LaPorte burned himself in protest in front of the United Nations in New York. In May of 1970, George Winne, Jr., burned himself in protest of the Vietnam War on the University of California campus in San Diego. (See Frances Farmer’s Revenge.)

Coverage of the sacrifice of Malachi Ritscher has been obsessively concerned with his sanity. The AP article on his death includes this conclusion, “Mental health experts say virtually no suicides occur without some kind of a diagnosable mental illness.” Our government and its experts expect that rational citizens living rational United States lives understand that the burning of civilians is just part of the scenery, a necessary element of foreign policy. A person who actually takes responsibility for the purposes to which his/her tax monies are being devoted is by definition insane. It is a world turned upside down, in which torture, napalm and white phosphorus are “legal”, and peaceful protest criminal. It is no mystery to me that there are human souls who cannot bear the light of truth, and choose to join the victims of our culture’s madness.

JOE DeRAYMOND lives in Freemansburg, PA. He can be reached at:




More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Qaddafi
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Winslow Myers
Christopher Brauchli
Wonder Woman at the UN
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
Lee Ballinger
Tupac: Holler If You Hear Him
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”
October 20, 2016
Eric Draitser
Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Extreme Unction: Illusions of Democracy in Vegas
Binoy Kampmark
Digital Information Warfare: WikiLeaks, Assange and the US Presidential Elections
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Bogus History Lesson
Bruce Mastron
Killing the Messenger, Again
Anthony DiMaggio
Lesser Evil Voting and Prospects for a Progressive Third Party
Ramzy Baroud
The Many ‘Truths’ on Syria: How Our Rivalry Has Destroyed a Country
David Rosen
Was Bill Clinton the Most Sexist President?
Laura Carlsen
Plan Colombia, Permanent War and the No Vote
Aidan O'Brien
Mao: Monster or Model?