Fifty Years Ago Today…

On November 2, 1965, American Quaker Norman Morrison took his own life in an act of protest that continues to mystify the world today. This event bears special significance for us here at Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre, since Morrison’s actions are the subject of our production of RE:UNION, written by HHG artistic director Sean Devine.

The life and death of Norman Morrison was a subject of deep study and reflection in our company and our home for many years. We developed an ongoing correspondence with Morrison’s surviving family, and several other people who knew him personally. We defended his actions when confronted with audience members that expressed outright condemnation and anger, and empathized with those who were dumbstruck that a man could willingly sacrifice so much. Norman Morrison was a human being, after all, entitled to the same mercies and sympathetic flaws as all of us.

It was said that ony the many poets who wrote about Morrison’s act had the imagination or compassion to truly understand what he did that day in Washington. Here, we offer up one of the many poems that touched us.

Of Late – by George Starbuck

“Stephen Smith, University of Iowa sophomore, burned what he said was his draft card”
and Norman Morrison, Quaker, of Baltimore Maryland, burned what he said was himself.
You, Robert McNamara, burned what you said was a concentration
of the Enemy Aggressor.
No news medium troubled to put it in quotes.

And Norman Morrison, Quaker, of Baltimore Maryland, burned what he said was himself.
He said it with simple materials such as would be found in your kitchen.
In your office you were informed.
Reporters got cracking frantically on the mental disturbance angle.
So far nothing turns up.

Norman Morrison, Quaker, of Baltimore Maryland, burned, and while burning, screamed.
No tip-off. No release.
Nothing to quote, to manage to put in quotes.
Pity the unaccustomed hesitance of the newspaper editorialists.
Pity the press photographers, not called.

Norman Morrison, Quaker, of Baltimore Maryland, burned and was burned and said
all that there is to say in that language.
Twice what is said in yours.
It is a strange sect, Mr. McNamara, under advice to try
the whole of a thought in silence, and to oneself.

ca. 1960s, USA --- Norman Morrison is best known as the Quaker who in 1965 committed self-immolation outside of the Pentagon in protest of the Vietnam War. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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