On November 9, 1965, at the age of 22, Roger Allen LaPorte set himself on fire in front of the United Nations building in New York City to protest the Vietnam War. He was a former seminarian and a member of the Catholic Worker Movement. Despite his burns, he remained conscious and able to speak at the hospital. When asked why he set himself on fire, La Porte replied, “I’m a Catholic Worker. I’m against war, all wars. I did this as a religious action.” La Porte died the next day.
At least eight Americans set themselves on fire in public places to protest the war. Rhode Island College Students for a Democratic Society created and displayed a memorial of their acts in the RIC quad in 2006 as part of Diversity Week:
“to remind the audience of the extent to which people from all cultures and religious backgrounds have gone when committed to resistance to war and repression. The message of our display is in no way an endorsement for self-immolation. In a healthy democratic society, it should not be necessary for people to be driven to this extremism in order to have their pleas heard. It is nonetheless inspiring to consider what these actions reveal about human nature and its yearnings. They bear witness and are a testament to the extent to which the emotion known as compassion can move people. The majority of these people were devoutly pacifistic and religious Americans, who, feeling utterly frustrated with their efforts to halt escalations of the Vietnam conflict, decided on this action as their last plea for peace.”
So sad. So wrong that a corrupt society and a corrupt state forced this conscientious action on a brave young man. I salute his action although I don’t agree with it.
Good Riddence horse dick
Good to have this memorial, so sad. The fact of military draft at that time was on every young man’s mind. I was in high school and that was the topic of the day that young men had no choice about going to war. At least this extreme protest didn’t end our Waring Culture but did end the draft.
Roger and I were in the seminary together. He frequently stayed at my parents home and while there saw Catholic Worker literature which led to his living in a CW house.
Last month I was in Saigon and was taken to the American War Museum. As I entered the building my eyes were immediately drawn to a portrait of Roger. He is enshrined as a national hero! I was overwhelmed with memories of being with him in his last hours. His friendship I continue to treasure and his may his prophetic legacy enlighten future generations.
Sounds interesting. Maybe I could interview you about Roger on the podcast this year around the anniversary of his death?
Ironic that the freedom to engage in such a self-immolation protest is secured by soldiers about whom it must be said, though you may not like them or want to be them, ” you want them on that wall, you need them on that wall.”