I tend to be suspicious of martyrs whose suffering may be needless and useless in attaining the ends of that suffering. But I do find heroic the suffering of the Quakers imprisoned after the March on the Pentagon in 1967. In protesting the Vietnam War, some of these Friends refused to eat or drink and were fed intravenously as a consequence. Others refused to wear prison clothing and were thrown naked into freezing, cramped cells. Norman Mailer has written about them in his book, The Armies of the Night (1968, pp. 287-288, New York: Signet):
Did they pray, these Quakers, for forgiveness of the nation? Did they pray with tears in their eyes in those blind cells with visions of a long column of Vietnamese dead, Vietnamese walking a column of flame, eyes on fire, nose on fire, mouth speaking flame, did they pray, “O Lord, forgive our people for they do not know, O Lord, find a little forgiveness for America in the puny reaches of our small suffering….”
The prayers are as Catholic as they are Quaker, and no one will know if they were ever made, for the men who might have made them were perhaps too far out on fever and shivering and thirst to recollect, and there are places no history can reach. But if the end of the March took place in the isolation in which these last pacifists suffered naked in freezing cells, and gave up prayers for penance, then who was to say they were not saints? And who to say that the sins of America were not by their witness a tithe remitted?
~ submitted by Richard Russell
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