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Norman R. Morrison 1933-1965: A Light Cuts Through the Fog of War

November 20, 2012 at 9:15 am by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights

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Norman R. Morrison 1933-1965: A Light Cuts Through the Fog of War
commentary by nancy a heitzeg

“The life is mightier than the book that reports it. The most important thing in the world is that our faith becomes living experience and deed of life.” 

`Norman Morrison, 1965 (notes from a lesson for an adult class at Stony Run Meeting)

Forty seven years ago to this day. At dusk. The Pentagon. In front of McNamara’s window. Norman R. Morrison handed his off his infant daughter Emily and set himself a blaze.

“The Quaker did it one rush hour evening, in gathering dark. No Buddhist monks were present to feed peppermint oil on the flames and keep down the smell of burning flesh. The fire shot ten to twelve feet into the air- so said a Pentagon guard who tore to an alarm box to call the fire department… The flames, people said, made an envelope of color around his asphyxiating body. The sound of it, one witness said, was like the whoosh of small-rocket fire.”

Morrison left behind a wife, Anne, and in addition to Emily, two small children. The day after his death, a letter arrived.

“Dearest Anne, please don’t condemn me. For weeks, even months, I have been praying only that I be shown what I must do. This morning with no warning I was shown…at least I shall not plan to go without my child, as Abraham did. Know that I love thee but must act for the children in the priests village. Norman”

Words have never been sufficient to explain the Morrison sacrifice, and so here at home, thirty years of silence sealed the date in mute grief and horror. Only The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War and In Retrospect finally call for an accounting, later offered by Anne Morrison Welsh herself in Fire of the Heart and Held in the Light.

In Vietnam, there was no such moratorium. The magnitude was immediately clear. Morrison was at once at folk hero. A street in Hanoi bears his name – Mo Ri Xon. A stamp in his honor. Seven days after his death, revolutionary poet Tố Hữu penned the words that claim Emily as their child, words still recited by Vietnamese school children even today.

Forty seven years later, our words remain insufficient. So they will be few here.

Just enough to remember, to honor great sacrifice.

Just enough to again say Peace in the face of endless war.


Emily, My Child
by Tố Hữu
Emily, come with me
So when grown up you will know the way
and not be lost.
Where are we going, Daddy?
To the riverbank, the Potomac.
What do you want me to see, Daddy?
I want you, dear , to see the
Pentagon.
O my child, with your round eyes,
O my child with your golden hair,
Ask me no more questions, darling!
Come, I will carry you.
Soon you will be home again with
Mummy
Washington..
Twilight..
O souls
Living still or having gone before.
Blaze up. Truth, blaze up!
Johnson!
Your crimes are piling high.
All humanity is outraged.
You, the great dollar devil of our world.
You cannot borrow the mantle
Of Christ, nor the saffron robe of
Buddha!
McNamara!
Where are you hiding? In the graveyard
Of your vast five-cornered house
Each corner a continent.
You hide yourself
From the flaming world
As an ostrich hides its head in the
burning sand.
Look this way!
For this one moment, look at me!
Here you see not just a man with a child
in his arms.
I am of Today.
And this my child, my Emily, is the life
of all our Futures.
Here I stand
And together with me
The great heart of America.
To light to the horizon
A beacon
of Justice.
You gang of devils! In whose name
Do you send B-52s,
Napalm, and poison gases
From the White House,
From Guam Island,
To Viet Nam?
To murder peace and national freedom,
To burn down hospitals and schools,
To kill people who know nothing but love,
To kill children who know nothing
but going to school,
To kill with poisons fields covered with
flowers and leaves all the four seasons,
To kill even the flow of poetry, song, music
and painting!
In whose name
Do you bury our American youth in
coffins?
Young men, strong and handsome,
Able today to release the power of nature
To bring happiness to men!
In whose name
Do you send us to thick jungles
Full of spike pits, of resistance swamps?
To villages and towns which become elusive
fortresses,
Where day and night the earth quakes and
the sky rocks..?
O Viet Nam, strange land
Where little boys are heroes,
Where hornets are trained as fighters,
Where even flowers and fruit become
weapons!
To hell, to hell with you,
You gang of devils!
And listen, O my America!
To this anguished voice,
the never-dying voice,
Of this son of yours, a man of this century.
Emily, my darling!
The night is falling..
Tomight I cannot take you home!
After the flames have flared
Mummy will come and fetch you.
Will you hug her and kiss her
For me?
And tell her:
Daddy s gone gladly, don t be sad!
Washington..
Twilight..
O souls
Still living or having gone before!
Now my heart is at its brightest!
I burn my body.
So the flames may blaze
The Truth.

November 7, 1965
(Translated by Tran Van Chuong and F.G.)

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