Roger Allen LaPorte
|Roger Allen LaPorte|
July 16, 1943|
Geneva, New York
Bellevue Hospital, in New York City, New York, U.S.
Roger Allen LaPorte (July 16, 1943 – November 10, 1965) is best known as a protester of the Vietnam War who set himself on fire in front of the United Nations building in New York City on November 9, 1965, to protest the United States involvement in the war. A former seminarian, he was a 22-year-old member of the Catholic Worker Movement at the time of his death.
Born in Geneva, New York, he was active in public speaking and debate clubs winning awards. His parents divorced after Roger graduated from high school. Before joining the Catholic Workers, he had attended a seminary in Vermont and hoped to become a monk. He, however, withdrew from the seminary early and attended (and graduated) from Holy Ghost Academy, Tupper Lake, New York in 1961.
On June 11, 1963 Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection. Thích Quảng Đức was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam's Ngô Đình Diệm administration. Photos of his self-immolation were circulated widely across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diệm regime.
On March 16, 1965 Alice Herz, an 82-year-old pacifist, immolated herself on a Detroit street corner in protest of the escalating Vietnam War. A man and his two boys were driving by and saw her burning and put out the flames. She died of her wounds ten days later.
The Morrison self-immolation at the Pentagon was front-page news as Catholic Workers gathered for an antiwar demonstration on Union Square in New York City on November 6, 1965, which LaPorte attended shortly after joining the Christian-anarchist sect. Dorothy Day, the leader of the Catholic Workers, addressed the crowd. "I speak today as one who is old, and who must endorse the courage of the young who themselves are willing to give up their freedom," Day said. "This very struggle was begun by courage, even in martyrdom, which has been shared by the little children, in the struggle for full freedom and human dignity."
A young Catholic Worker named Tom Cornell had in 1960 become known for burning his draft card at actions and had repeated the act several times, including for national television cameras during the 1962 Strike for Peace. Another Catholic Worker, David Miller, in October 1965 became the first draft-card burner to be arrested under a new federal law banning the practice. Immediately following Day's speech on Union Square, Cornell and four others burned their draft cards on the platform. New York hecklers shouted, "Burn yourselves, not your cards."
Three days later, in front of the Dag Hammarskjold Library at the United Nations in New York, La Porte composed himself in the position of the Buddhist monks of Vietnam, doused himself with gasoline, and set himself aflame.
La Porte died the next day at Bellevue Hospital from second- and third-degree burns covering 95 percent of his body. Despite his burns, he remained conscious and able to speak. When asked why he had burned himself, La Porte calmly replied, "I'm a Catholic Worker. I'm against war, all wars. I did this as a religious action...all the hatred of the world." At the hospital, Catholic Workers sang "This Little Light of Mine."
Dorothy Day responded to the tragedy with an article in the Catholic Worker newspaper entitled, "Suicide or Sacrifice?" "It is not only that many youths and students throughout the country are deeply sensitive to the sufferings of the world," she wrote. "They have a keen sense that they must be responsible and make a profession of their faith that things do not have to go on as they always have–that men are capable of laying down their lives for others, taking a stand, even when the all-encroaching State and indeed all the world are against them."
A writer in the National Catholic Review wrote that while the Catholic Workers had been important to the Church, they displayed "a sort of built-in rejection of complexity that I hope was not operative in LaPorte's death."