Political Suicide - Voting By Other Means

   The famous military analyst Clauswitz once wrote that war is politics continued by other means.  Consequently, political suicide may be considered voting by other means.

   Political suicide is not new.  During the Buddhist crisis in South Vietnam in the spring of 1963, a monk immolated himself in downtown Saigon in protest against the government's favoritism of Catholicism.

    Malcolm Browne, an Associated Press photographer on assignment in Vietnam, was forewarned of the suicide.  He caught it on film and the horrifying image appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world.

    Attempts were made to downplay the significance of the suicide.  Browne was accused of disloyalty by allowing himself to be used in a propaganda ploy.  Madame Nhu, the official hostess of the South Vietnamese government, sister-in-law of the bachelor president Ngo Dinh Diem, and wife of the head of the secret police, called the burning a "barbeque" and offered to light the match for the next one.

    After the New York Times criticized Madame Nhu in an editorial as being callous, Madame Nhu replied in a letter, "When unworthy people dare to make a farce of religion, should those respecting religion play the game of the sacrilegious or should they denounce them for what they are?  If one has no courage to denounce, if one bows to madness and stupidity, how can one ever hope to cope with the other wrongs of humanity exploited in the same fashion by Communists?

    "I may shock some by saying 'I would beat such provocateurs ten times more if they wore monks robes,' and 'I would clap hands at seeing another monk barbeque show, for one can not be responsible for the madness of others."

    This was from the wife of one of the highest government officials talking about one of her countrymen.  In fact, the vast majority of South Vietnamese were Buddhists.  In 1963, the Buddhists were labeled "communists" in order to negate the meaning of their sacrifice.  Today, suicide bombers are called terrorists, not communists.

    In August a second Buddhist monk burned himself to death in Saigon on the day before Jacqueline Kennedy delivered a baby prematurely.  These suicides prompted President Kennedy, whose newborn son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, died after two days (even Presidents could not save 7 month premature babies in 1963) to set in motion the wheels that resulted in the overthrow and murder of South Vietnam's President Diem and his brother Nhu.  It would take 12 years, over 50,000 American dead, millions of dead Vietnamese and billions of wasted dollars before the United States reached the same conclusion as the Buddhist monks who killed themselves in 1963.


Norman R. Morrison

    The Vietnamese were not the only people killing themselves in desperation over the situation.  On November 3, 1965, a 31 year old Quaker named Norman R. Morrison burned himself to death outside the Pentagon, 100 feet from Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's office.

    Mr. Morrison, the executive secretary of the Stony Run Meeting, had been grieving for months about the United States involvement in the Vietnam war.  Mr. Morrison was married and the father of three children: Ben, 6 years old; Tina, 5; and Emily, 1; who was with her father when he ignited himself, but she escaped unharmed.

    Mrs. Morrison had heard her husband express his distress over a Catholic priest's account of a bombing in a North Vietnam village, the Quakers disclosed.  However, they said Mrs. Morrison had told friends she had no idea that her husband was considering self-immolation.

    The priest's story was reprinted from a Paris newspaper, according to close friends of the family.  They said Mr. Morrison had frequently read and heard first-hand accounts of suffering in Vietnam, and was deeply moved.

    Mr. Morrison was born on Dec. 29, 1933, in Erie, Pa.  He was graduated from the Chautauqua High School, in Chautauqua, N.Y., in 1952.

    For the next four years, he attended the College of Wooster, in Ohio, majoring in religion.  Upon graduation, he received a bachelor's degree and a high school teaching certificate in history and social studies.

    He attended the Western Theological Seminary, now the Pittsburgh Presbyterian Seminary, for one year in 1956.  The next year, he attended the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

    After five months of travel in Europe and the Middle East, he returned in 1958 to the Pittsburgh Seminary, and in 1959 received a bachelor of divinity degree.  That year he became a Quaker.  He joined a Friends Meeting in Pittsburgh and soon after moved to Charlotte, N.C. to help organize a Friends Meeting.

    There he also taught the Old and New Testaments in the East Mecklenburgh High School in 1961 and 1962.

    He and his family moved to Baltimore in 1962 to take up his work as executive secretary of the Stony Run Meeting.  Mr. Morrison wrote:

    "The Church of the Spirit is always being built.  It possesses no other kind of power and authority than the power and authority of personal lives, formed into a community by the vitality of the divine human encounter.

    "Quakers seek to begin with life, not with theory or report.  The life is mightier than the book that reports it.  The most important thing in the world is that our faith becomes living experience and deed of life."


   Maurice Ploscowe

   Maurice Ploscowe, the son of a judge, was the Republican candidate for United States Congress from the 20th district on the West Side of Manhattan in 1976.

    The district, running the length of the island from the Inwood in the North to West 26th Street in the south, included the offices of the New York Times, ABC News and CBS News.

    Ten days before the election in November, Maurice Ploscowe killed himself by jumping from the terrace of his Central Park West apartment.  The front page story of his death in the New York Times was the first mention of his name in the paper that year.

    In other words, Maurice Ploscowe, the Republican candidate for Congress, literally had to kill himself to get covered in the New York Times.  The motto of that paper is "All The News That's Fit To Print."  It ought to be "All The News That Fits, We Print."  And the Times has the audacity to call itself the newspaper of record for the nation.

    In essence, the New York Times imposed a one-party state on the 20th District in Manhattan.  And Ploscowe's name will not now be found in the 1976 election returns for Congress.  After he died, the Republican County Committee of New York County appointed a replacement candidate to fill the vacancy caused by his death.

The September 11 Attackers and Palestinian Suicide Bombers

    The Buddhist monks in Vietnam, Norman R. Morrison and Maurice Ploscowe had education and relative wealth in common. In those more genteel times in the 1960's and 1970's, the suicides killed only themselves.

    It is also an inescapable conclusion that their suicides were a waste, inasmuch as the Buddhist monks and Morrison failed to prevent the bloodbath and became the Vietnam War, and Ploscowe's death certainly has not made American elections any fairer or press coverage any more even handed.

    Clearly, they all felt despondent about the drift of affairs, and time has proven them right.

    The suicide bombers of the September 11 attacks and the few biographies of the Palestinian bombers that I have had an opportunity to read points in the same direction.  Political suicides are generally well educated people of some means.

    History clearly shows that the political suicides of the past were merely making moral statements which had virtually no impact on the issues they gave their lives to protest.

    The ringleaders of  September 11 attacks come from the same mold.  Well educated often wealthy and intensely religious, the one difference is they decided to use their suicides as a catalyst to kill other people.  The interesting thing is that of the 24 hijackers, logistics men and helpers: 15 are Saudis, 2 are from the United Arab Emirates, 1 Egyptian, 1 Lebanese, 2 Moroccans, 1 Yemeni, 1 Algerian, and 1 resident of London..

    Suicide is a desperate act.  Political suicide is a sign of a desperate political situation.  The people who kill themselves are generally powerless, trying to send a message to the more powerful.

    The message of September 11 is that it is time to finally defuse the situation in the Middle East.  The recent vote of the Likud Party not to support a Palestinian state ever on the West Bank of the Jordan is a clear sign that a significant minority of the Israeli people has been sabotaging all attempts to make an accommodation with the Palestinians.

    In 1948, when the United Nations supported the creation of Israel, it also called for the creation of an Arab state.  From the murder of Count Bernadotte to the assassination of Itsak Rabin, there have been Israeli gunmen willing to kill anyone who wanted to make peace with the Palestinians who lived in the land of Israel before the mass arrival of the Jews from Europe and the United States after the end of World War II.

    The time has come to think the unthinkable and say the obvious, that it is Israel and not the Palestinians who are standing in the way of a peaceful solution to the Middle East problem. 

    Retaliation has a specific meaning in international law, a meaning that the Israelis have never recognized. For the past 50 years, Israel has followed the philosophy of killing 10 Arabs for every dead Israeli.  Seeing as Israel is the military superpower in the region, it has been able to defeat the Arabs in every war, to assassinate people at will, and to destroy other countries and massacre innocent people, all with American arms (since 1967, it was French arms before that) and financed with western money.

    The Israeli policy has been to terrorize the Arabs and threaten them with extinction unless they agree to accept second class status in the land that was once theirs.  Not surprisingly, they do not want to accept Israel's generous offer.

    Finally, the Arabs have found a way to retaliate, to kill 10 or 20 Israelis for every one of theirs, suicide bombers.  It is time for the rest of the world to straighten up and listen.

    Anyone who does not agree with this analysis should read ARAFAT a Political Biography by Alan Hart.  It was written in 1984, but it is just as valid today as it was when it was written almost 20 years ago.  Ariel Sharon's policies have not changed one iota in the past 20 years.

    And for those of you who have neither the time nor the inclination to read Hart's biography of Arafat, ask yourselves this question, why are the book stores filled with books about the Israeli political leaders, with whole sections devoted to the Palestinian "problem", but there is not a single biography of Arafat who has been a major world figure for over 30 years.

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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf