Margaret Killjoy: In the Land of Burning Children or: Aaron Bushnell in Context

Feb 26, 2024

Yesterday an active-duty Air Force soldier named Aaron Bushnell self-immolated in front of the Israeli Embassy. His last words were “Free Palestine.” Of the cops responding to the scene, some pointed guns at him while others sought to extinguish the flames; the image of a cop pointing a gun at a man on fire is the most American thing I have ever seen.

On June 11th, 1963, a Buddhist monk named Thích Quảng Đức set himself on fire in Ho Chi Minh City (then Saigon). In South Vietnam, Buddhists were an oppressed majority, ruled by a Catholic minority—the Buddhist flag was banned, Catholics were chosen for all the better jobs, and protesting Buddhists were being murdered in the streets or sent to concentration camps. 

So Thích set himself on fire and calmly burned in front of hundreds of spectators on a public street. There’s a film of it, and I’m not big into “watch people die on film,” but some moments in history are worth seeing. He didn’t cry out; he just sat in lotus position, engulfed in flames. Afterwards, the cops tried to take his remains, but thousands of angry protestors took him back, and they re-cremated him for a proper funeral. His heart didn’t burn. It solidified in the fire. Today it is today a sacred relic. I have no explanation for this.

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