Justice  /  Comment

Why Would Anyone Kill Themselves to Stop A War?

In the past 3 months, two people in the US have taken or risked taking their own lives in an attempt to change US policies on Palestine and call for a cease-fire.

While on a Veterans for Peace trip to Vietnam in 2014 and while on another VFP delegation in March 2018, our delegation saw the iconic photo of a well-known Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc who set himself on fire in June 1963 on a busy street in Saigon to protest the Diem regime’s crackdown on Buddhists during the early days of the American war on Vietnam. That photo is seared into our collective memories.

The photos show hundreds of monks surrounding the square to keep the police out so that Quang Duc could complete his sacrifice. The self-immolation became a turning point in the Buddhist crisis and a pivotal act in the collapse of the Diem regime in the early days of the American war on Vietnam.

But, did you know that several Americans also set themselves on fire to attempt to end U.S. military actions during those turbulent war years in the 1960s?

I didn’t, until our VFP delegation saw the portraits displayed of five Americans who gave their lives to protest the American war on Vietnam, among other international persons who are revered in Vietnamese history, at the Vietnam-USA Friendship Society in Hanoi. Though these American peace persons have fallen into oblivion in their own nation, they are well-known martyrs in Vietnam, 50 years later.

Our 2014 delegation of 17—six Vietnam veterans, three Vietnam-era vets, one Iraq-era vet, and seven civilian peace activists—with four Veterans for Peace members who live in Vietnam, met with members of the Vietnam-USA Friendship Society at their headquarters in Hanoi. I returned to Vietnam in March 2018 with another Veterans for Peace delegation. After seeing one particular portrait again—that of Norman Morrison—I decided to write about these Americans who were willing to end their own lives in an attempt to stop the American war on the Vietnamese people.

What distinguished these Americans to the Vietnamese was that, as American soldiers were killing Vietnamese, there were American citizens who ended their own lives in order to try to bring the terror of invasion and occupation for Vietnamese citizens to the American public through the horror of their own deaths.