Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
On the evening of Nov. 2, 1965, a 31-year-old pacifist named Norman Morrison doused himself with kerosene and set himself on fire outside Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's office at the Pentagon. Morrison, protesting the war in Vietnam, carried his baby daughter with him, but as the flames began to engulf him, he set her down. The child was unhurt. Morrison died of severe burns. Two days later, The Post tried to make sense of it. An excerpt from Nov. 4, 1965:
By Leroy F. Aarons and William J. Raspberry
Washington Post Staff Writers
The threads of pacifism and religion were woven throughout the life of Norman R. Morrison.Morrison was the 31-year-old Baltimore Quaker who burned himself to death Tuesday before a horrified crowd at the Pentagon.
These threads were evident even in his college application which included a statement from one of his references that Morrison "was interested in the pacifist movement."
Talks with family, friends and teachers yesterday revealed a picture of a man who wanted to be a minister since childhood, who was a pacifist in high school, and who was obsessed with the horrors of the Vietnam war.
Hours before his death, Morrison discussed human immolation with his wife, Anne, who never knew of his plans. During lunch, he referred to an article reprinted from a Paris newspaper giving a priest's account of the napalm bombing of a Vietnam village.
"I have seen my faithful burned up in napalm," the priest was quoted. "I have seen all my villages razed. By God, it's not possible. ... They must settle their accounts with God."
Then Morrison left with his year-old daughter Emily and headed for Washington.
Yesterday a group of friends gave this explanation for Morrison's action in a press conference at the Stony Run Friends Meeting, where he had been executive secretary:
"Norman saw these policies (in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic) as evil. He found it necessary to protest them, but must have been discouraged that the protests seemed unheard.
"We believe that Norman's action yesterday must have been motivated by a desperate search to find the way to be heard by the American people and by their leaders. We pray that all people will be able to see beyond the act to the essential message." ...
Friends recall that twice before he had expressed the intention of destroying himself as a dramatic gesture against Vietnam policies, but was dissuaded.
This series is available at www.washingtonpost.com