50 years ago Roger Laporte immolated himself


On November 9, 1965, at the age of 22, Roger 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

It is hard for most people to comprehend such an act of self-destruction putatively for a higher cause.Obviously Laporte like many Americans was appalled at the fire engulfing ordinary Vietnamese at this time—all supported by US tax dollars and a misguided militarist adventure. Laporte obviously was a highly sensitive person who deeply felt the unmerited suffering of those he considered family. Laporte looked around and saw virtually no rejection of the US appalling assault on the Vietnamese which took over 1 million civilian lives. His own catholic church was virtually mute. we will never know what his thinking was even though we shudder at his actions.

Yet Laporte was not alone.
Two years earlier On June 11, 1963, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, immolated himself at a Saigon intersection to protest Buddhist persecution by its Catholic president and US proxy Ngo Dinh Diem.

There were others too.

On March 16,1965 an 82 year old Jewish-American pacifist Alice Herz went the same route.

The most shocking was the self-immolation of Norman Morrison a 31 year old Quaker from Washington, D.C. Standing outside the office of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Morrison handed his 1 year old daughter Emily to a bystander he torched himself. His wife said that [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.”

That amazing Catholic pacifist Fr.Charlie McCarthy wonders why Laporte has been forgotten.

Thich Quang Duc, is revered by Vietnamese Buddhists as a bodhisattva (saint), the intersection where he set himself afire has a monument and park dedicated to him and his intact heart is preserved as a relic of the spirit of compassion in a glass chalice. Alice Herz, who was also a refugee from Nazi Germany, has a plaza named after her in Berlin. Shingo Shibata, the Japanese philosopher, established the Alice Herz Peace Fund in her memory. Norman Morrison has a road named after him in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang. In Hanoi a street is named after him and the Government of Vietnam has issued a postage stamp in his honor. An HBO film about him has been made and poems and books have been written about him. Roger LaPorte’s charred dry bones lay in the ground of section 1, row 11 of Saint Alphonsus Cemetery in Tupper Lake, NY. —long dead, long gone and long forgotten.

McCarthy’s rationale:

By political and ecclesial necessity and arrangement the warriors, dead or alive, are fawned over, but the billions of non-warriors they maimed and destroyed must be kept out of sight, out of mind and out of memory, lest they reveal the immensity of the evil the honored warriors and their honorable puppet masters, have done to fellow human beings, who did them no harm and who intended to do nothing harmful to them. In other words the non-warrior victims of the warrior heroes must be expunged from history, must become as if they never existed, or if they existed were of no worth. The victorious warriors and their controllers, who carefully manage the memory of the past, so as to assure that in the future the young will experience being used as violent and lethal warriors as nobly heroic, must drown them in the vastness of time. The non-warrior victims of the honored and obedient warriors and their sting-pullers are, on the other hand, consigned to historical oblivion as unworthy of being remembered, as they were unworthy to continue life. To such a community of the dead has Roger Laporte been consigned—“unwept, unhonored and unsung.”


  1. 1

    Why didn’t the Apostles immolate themselves after witnessing the supreme injustice of all, namely the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth? They should have, as a protest against this unspeakable injustice. And the answer is NOT that Jesus rose from the dead physically. If he did, and if he commanded them not to immolate themselves but to go out and proclaim the good news and rejoice when you are persecuted, and not to despair, since “I have overcome the world” and have overcome death, then we would clearly see that self-immolation was an act of despair, and not hope in the resurrection of Christ.

    So, either a) Jesus rose from the dead, in which case self-immolation is an outright rejection of the good news, an act of despair, or 3) Jesus did not rise from the dead (as Kung, Ted and others argue), in which case self-immolation is a last ditch effort in the face of total despair. But then you’d have to wonder why the Apostles didn’t self-immolate.

  2. 2

    who let the dog out

  3. 3
    mushafta Says:

    And shortly we’ll be doing the Don Cherry glorification of war again.
    Where does it end? No major reflection ever takes place on what was accomplished at Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Syria and the list goes on.

    Billions of dollars spent, millions of lives lost, and no change from command center. Onward to more war!

  4. 4
    Molly Sutkaitis Says:

    Yesterday, at a storytelling circle,one of the participants spoke about a time in her life when, as a mother of young children she thought of taking her own life. The children were taken from her. I’m glad she got help in time. The balance of the mind was disturbed because obviously she was unable to manage on her own. The father of the children was not there to help her. I think anyone who contemplates suicide or who actually commits such an action has found themselves unable to cope with the challenges that life brings. May they rest in peace. Date: Mon, 9 Nov 2015 16:41:23 +0000 To: mollysutkaitis@hotmail.com

  5. 7

    Dennis: You are a good poster boy for what is wrong with this world. Instead of articulating a sound argument, you reduce your opponent to a sub personal level. This happens in the middle east all the time: some Arabs calls Jews pigs, some Jews call Arabs garbage, and there is no progress toward reconcilation and mutual understanding. The irony is that pigs and dogs do not discuss, re-evaluate, look at the evidence, modify their opinions in light of new evidence; instead, they just utter an unintelligible growl.

    • 8
      wmgrace Says:

      It seems clear, in my humble opinion, that the inherent value of, and the courage displayed in a comment made using a real name or identity far exceeds the “value” and “courage” of an anonymous comment. (Is there any true worth at all in anonymous comments?) So although we may not all agree in this instance with Dennis’ choice of words you can’t deny that the comment in itself, in its own essential realness or validity, easily surpasses by definition the pseudo-importance of any lengthy or concise remarks coming from anonymous origins.

    • 9

      the comment was aimed at you, with your infernal yapping

  6. 10
    mushafta Says:

    Francesco, you have proven time after time that your only purpose here is to mock and antagonize.

    Your use of logic and rational argumentation has no thread of compassion or relevance to real issues. I have no idea what your real motivation is other than to ridicule people, but I suggest you try and get help or use your time more constructively because you are clearly here to do more harm than good.

  7. 11

    My purpose is not to mock, but to challenge the poor reasoning and inconsistent reasoning. That’s not harmful, but a service, a spiritual work of mercy.

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