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Norman Morrison (December 29, 1933 - November 2, 1965), born in Erie, Pennsylvania, was a Baltimore Quaker best known for committing suicide at age 31 in an act of self-immolation to protest United States involvement in the Vietnam War.
Morrison's individual act of protest can also be viewed in a larger context: that of the phenomenon of acts of self-immolation during the 1960s, one of whichâthe death of monk ThÃch Quáº£ng äá»©câwas famously captured by photographer Malcolm Browne. On June 11, 1963 ThÃch Quáº£ng äá»©c, a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk, burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection. ThÃch Quáº£ng äá»©c was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam's NgÃ´ äÃ¬nh Diá»m administration. Photos of his self-immolation were circulated widely across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diá»m regime.
On March 16, 1965 Alice Herz, an 82 year old pacifist, immolated herself on a Detroit street corner in protest of the escalating Vietnam War. A man and his two boys were driving by and saw her burning and put out the flames. She died of her wounds ten days later. Herz remarked that she had used all the protest methods available to activists: marching, protesting, writing articles, letters.
Filmmaker Errol Morris interviewed McNamara at length on camera in his documentary film, "The Fog of War." McNamara says, "[Morrison] came to the Pentagon, doused himself with gasoline. Burned himself to death below my office." McNamara then posits, "How much evil must we do in order to do good? We have certain ideals, certain responsibilities. Recognize that at times you will have to engage in evil, but minimize it." Perhaps the most detailed treatment of Morrison's death appears in, "The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War", by prizewinning author Paul Hendrickson, published in 1997.
The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Nov 4, 1999. pg. C.14.  Morrison took his daughter Emily, then one year of age, to the Pentagon, and either set her down or handed her off to someone in the crowd before setting himself ablaze. Morrison's reasons for taking Emily are not entirely known. However, Morrison's wife later recalled, "Whether he thought of it that way or not, I think having Emily with him was a final and great comfort to Norman... [S]he was a powerful symbol of the children we were killing with our bombs and napalm--who didn't have parents to hold them in their arms."
In a letter he mailed to his wife, Morrison reassured her of the faith in his act. "Know that I love thee," Morrison wrote, "but I must go to help the children of the priest's village." Robert McNamara described Morrison's death as "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." He was survived by his wife Anne Welsh and three children, Ben, Christina and Emily. Supporters of his actions portrayed Morrison as devoutly and sincerely sacrificing himself for a cause greater than himself. In Vietnam, Morrison quickly became a folk hero, his name rendered as Mo Ri Xon. Five days after Morrison died Vietnamese poet Tá» Há»¯u wrote a poem called Emily, My Child, assuming the voice of Morrison addressing his daughter Emily and telling her the reasons for his sacrifice. North Vietnam named a Hanoi street after him, and issued a postage stamp in his honor. Possession of the stamp was prohibited in the US due to the US embargo against North Vietnam.
On May 9, 1967, as part of the start to the 1967 Pentagon camp-in, demonstrators held a vigil for Morrison, before occupying the Pentagon for four days until being removed and arrested.
Morrison's widow and two daughters (his son had died of cancer years earlier) visited Vietnam in 1999, where they met with Tá» Há»¯u, the poet who had written the popular poem Emily, My Child. Anne Morrison Welsh recounts the visit and her husband's tragedy in her monograph, Fire of the Heart: Norman Morrison's Legacy In Vietnam And At Home.
On his visit to the United States in 2007, President of Vietnam Nguyá» n Minh Triáº¿t visited a site on the Potomac near the place where Morrison immolated himself and read the poem by Tá» Há»¯u to commemorate Morrison.
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