FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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:

McNamara!
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: jderaymond@rcn.com

 

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is still wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Robert Koehler
The Nuclear Status Quo
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
June 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Divest From the Business of Incarceration
W. T. Whitney
Angola in Louisiana: Proving Ground for Racialized Capitalism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail