1965 November 9

Vietnam War Protester Sets Himself On Fire


In New York City on this day, a 22-year-old member of the Catholic Worker Movement, Roger Allen LaPorte, set himself on fire in front of the United Nations building in protest at the Vietnam War. When asked why, he responded: “I’m a Catholic Worker. I’m against war, all wars. I did this as a religious action.” LaPorte died the following day. In 1963, before the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam, a number of Buddhist priests in Vietnam set themselves on fire to protest the repressive actions of the South Vietnamese government, which the U.S. supported.

The Catholic Worker movement is a social action organization devoted to assisting the poor and to pacifism. The group’s most famous member was Dorothy Day (1897-1980). Day was an active feminist supporter of women’s suffrage, and was arrested, jailed and brutalized in jail for her participation in protests. See November 15, 1917 and December 2, 1917.

The Vietnam War created a number of civil liberties crises. They include (1) the lack of a Congressional Declaration of War as required by the Constitution (June 3, 1970); (2) threats to freedom of the press in the Pentagon Papers case (June 30, 1971); (3) spying on the anti-war movement by the CIA (August 15, 1967); (4) threats to freedom of expression, for example high school student protests (February 24, 1969); censorship of television programs (February 25, 1968); and directly and indirectly some of the events that led to the Watergate Scandal (May 9, 1969; January 27, 1972).

Learn more about the Catholic Worker movement: http://www.catholicworker.org/

Learn more about the anti-Vietnam War movement: Thomas Powers, The War at Home: Vietnam and the American People, 1964–1968 (1973)

Learn more about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement: William Miller, Dorothy Day: A Biography (1982)

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