Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What makes an American family man
choose to burn himself to death
to protest his government's aggressive war policies?
Who remembers?
Who forgets?

Morrison’s sacrifice remembered
By Lady Borton
Link to original story, including photos:

"Yes, of course we know Mo Ri Xon," Vietnamese will say, adapting Norman Morrison’s surname to their monosyllabic language.

Many Vietnamese who were adults during the American War can recount in detail the moment they heard about Norman Morrison’s death. Those who were in school can still remember their grade when they recited To Huu’s poem:

"Emily, my child
Emily, come with me
So that when you’re older, you won’t lose the way.
"Where are we going, Father?"
"To the banks of the Potomac."
"What will we see?"
"Nothing, My Child, only the Pentagon...."

On 2 November 1965, Norman Morrison held his second daughter and third child, Emily, in his arms as he stood below the window of the Pentagon office used by US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Emily was eleven months old.
McNamara described the scene in Errol Morris’ film, The Fog of War (2003):
"Norman Morrison was a Quaker. He was opposed to war, to the violence of war, the killing. He came to the Pentagon, doused himself with gasoline, burned himself to death below my office. He held a child in his arms, his daughter. Passersby shouted, ‘Save the child.’ He threw the child out of his arms, and the child lived and is alive today. His wife issued a very moving statement: ‘Human beings MUST stop killing other human beings.’
"Norman Morrison’s widow, Anne Morrison, had not known of her husband’s plans. Her first intimation came from a journalist’s phone call. The reporter, who was sensitive enough to choose compassion over professional gain, did not push for quotes. However, the press stories appeared soon enough — from the double banner headline in The [Baltimore] Sun: "Baltimore Quaker With Baby Sets Self Afire, Dies in War Protest At Pentagon" to Newsweek’s acerbic judgment: "Morrison’s macabre act of protest almost included the sacrificial murder of his own baby daughter."
Anne Morrison’s unrelenting personal loss often elicited judgment, and not just from the press. She never knew whether strangers and even friends would consider her husband’s stand an act of muddled madness or spiritual sacrifice. Insurance policies do not cover acts of conscience. Anne’s singular financial and emotional responsibility for three small children left her little time or space for grieving.
Further, the United States had little context for immolation. Alice Herz, age 82, had set herself afire in Detroit on 16 March 1965, shortly after the first US combat troops landed at Da Nang. The media scarcely noticed her protest against the "use of high office by our president, L.B.J., in trying to wipe out small nations."
Better known were examples from Viet Nam itself, particularly Thich Quang Duc’s immolation on 11 June 1963 at a busy Sai Gon intersection.
A US Military Assistance Command Viet Nam (MACV) report listed the supporting group of nuns and monks as between 400 and 500. The bonzes used loudspeakers to announce their demands to the South Vietnamese Government and to the world. The Western media had been alerted that something might happen near Xa Loi Pagoda, but only Associated Press reporter Malcolm Browne showed up. His photograph of Thich Quang Duc in flames — among the war’s most haunting images — had a searing effect on the American public and on the Kennedy administration.
Norman Morrison seems to have kept his act of conscience in private confidence between his own soul and his spiritual source. We do not know what he hoped to achieve, but we do know that his sacrifice had an effect.
In 1995, nearly thirty years after the event, Robert McNamara wrote in his book, "In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Viet Nam":

"Morrison’s death was a tragedy not only for his family but also for me and the country. It was an outcry against the killing that was destroying the lives of so many Vietnamese and American youth.
"I reacted to the horror of his action by bottling up my emotions and avoided talking about them with anyone — even my family. I knew Marg [Robert McNamara’s wife] and our children shared many of Morrison’s feelings about the war.... And I believed I understood and shared some of his thoughts. There was much Marg and I and the children should have talked about, yet at moments like this I often turn inward instead — it is a grave weakness. The episode created tension at home that only deepened dissent and criticism as the war continued to grow."
In April 1995, Robert McNamara told interviewer Brian Lamb:

"She [Anne Morrison] says, ‘To heal the wounds of war, we must forgive ourselves and each other, and we must help the people of Viet Nam to rebuild their country.’... I talked to her on the telephone this morning. We had quite an extended discussion. She is a noble person."
Anne Morrison visited Viet Nam with her two daughters and their husbands in 1999. Her son, Ben, had died from cancer at age sixteen. The family spent a morning with To Huu, the poet who had introduced Norman Morrison and "Emily, My Child" into Viet Nam’s national consciousness.
Mme Truong My Hoa, now vice-president of Viet Nam, was vice-president of the National Assembly at the time. She also met Anne Morrison and her family. During the American War, Mme My Hoa had been a political prisoner in the tiger cages on Con Son Island in South Viet Nam. The cages’ concrete cells measured five by nine feet. Each cage held five prisoners. The cells were open on the top to rain and sun. Guards patrolling overhead threw lime down on the prisoners huddled below.
"The women in our tiger cage made a small altar for Norman Morrison," Mme My Hoa said, referring to the Vietnamese custom of honouring family members who have died. Vietnamese believe that the souls of the departed are accessible to the living and provide a source of support and guidance.
"Whenever we grew discouraged," Mme My Hoa said, "We thought about the sacrifice Norman Morrison had made. We drew strength from him to continue the struggle."
Mme My Hoa gestured to the fine woodwork and the brocade-covered chairs in the National Assembly’s grand guest room. "This is where we meet our highest-level official visitors," she said, turning to face Anne Morrison. "And this is where we meet our closest friends." — VNS

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