Honoring Norman Morrison

[Circleville Herald, March 16, 2009]

Jesus gave himself—body, mind, spirit—to the world and its problems, and he is asking us to do the same. Quaker Norman Morrison

November 2, 1965 Norman Morrison drove himself to the Pentagon and sacrificed himself in fire in protest of U.S. escalation of the Vietnam War. Norman died within sight of then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s office. As a young man of 11 years, I remember the Quaker Meeting I attended with my parents being especially solemn as we held Norman and his family, held the war itself in our prayerful silence.

Anne Morrison Welsh, Norman’s wife, writes in Held in the Light: Norman Morrison’s Sacrifice for Peace and his Family’s Journey of Healing that “so much of what our country was doing in Vietnam felt deeply wrong to us.”

Anne received the next day Norman’s last letter to her, mailed just before his courageous witness at the Pentagon. Norman asked Anne to tell his children he loved them and “Know that I love thee but must act for the children in the Priest’s village.”

The Priest’s village was Duc Co, annihilated by U.S. high explosive and napalm. Norman and his wife had discussed Father Currien and the deaths of so many in Duc Co the morning of November 2. Norman had asked “ What can we do that we haven’t done?”

Father Currien’s parishioners pulled him from the wreckage of the church, hit by the first U.S. bomb at 6:05 p.m. They took cover under the flooring of the presbytery as U.S. planes returned again and again to Duc Co. Father Currien notes: “I had to abandon some wounded and dying. I gave them absolution. I tried to keep alive those who were still alive.” In the morning, the Father guided forty-two women and children to neighboring Pleiku. The Father told the reporter “ I have seen my faithful burned up in napalm. I have seen the bodies of women and children blown to bits. I have seen all my villages razed. By God, it’s not possible!” The Priest railed at the Americans in English, then calmly said “They must settle their accounts with God.”

Anne Morrison Welsh wrote that the “vision of napalmed bodies and wailing children in Vietnam must have accompanied Norman to the Pentagon.”

One million civilians have died in Iraq. Two million are refugees. U.S. planes have killed thousands of civilians in Afghanistan. U.S.-supplied white phosphorus burned children in Gaza. 5,000 Americans are dead, many, many times that number seriously wounded in body and spirit. We are responsible for the actions of our nation. The role of faith is to prophesy, to call out and speak truth to power, as Jesus and the prophets did, as Norman Morrison did.

March 19th, the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war, the Circleville Quakers, Veterans for Peace, People for Peace and other citizens will gather for peace and justice , 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. at the Pickaway County Courthouse. Act for peace, join us, write your legislators, President Obama, tell them war is not the answer.

Brad Cotton
On behalf of the Circleville Friends Worship Group ( Quakers)