Norman Morrison — “…"please don't condemn me”

In November, 1965, when the Vietnam War was barely registering in American conscience, Norman Morrison left home with his infant daughter, Emily, drove 40 miles to the Pentagon in Washington DC. In view of the office of Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, who wasn’t in his office, Morrison doused himself with kerosene and ignited it with a match. The flames shot more than 10 feet into the air.

A bystander grabbed Emily before she was burned, but Morrison died. It’s impossible to say whether his act of self-immolation did anything to shorten the war (a war which, incidentally, was never declared), but it certainly grabbed the attention of the world, just as the self-immolation a South Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, had done in 1963.

The first and most famous moment of self-immolation as agitprop was that of Thích Quảng Đức in 1963. Under the rule of Ngo Dinh Diem, South Vietnam largely advanced the agenda of the country's Catholic minority and discriminated against Buddhist monks. In one of the most dramatic instances of individual protest, Quảng Đức doused himself in gasoline in the middle of a Saigon street and lit himself ablaze.

Afterward, four more monks and a nun set themselves ablaze protesting Diem before his regime finally fell in 1963. Rather suddenly, setting oneself on fire became a political act. As the American presence increased in Vietnam in the mid- to late 1960s, more and more monks committed self-immolation, including thirteen in one week. It even took place in the U.S., right outside the Pentagon, when Norman Morrison, an American Quaker burned himself to death while clinging onto his child as a mark of his rejection of the Vietnam War. (His child survived, and Morrison was revered in Vietnam for his purported martyrdom.)

Eventually, more than a thousand companies were producing their own encased postage stamps, which were used until the end of 1941, even though a zinc 1-øre coin was eventually issued in the interim.