Self Immolation Post 2

My research efforts have continued on in a quest for the original printing of the Malcolm Browne’s iconic “Self Immolation” photograph. This brought me to the photo within the World Press Archive, presented as a winner of their First Place News Photo of the Year for 1963. The caption reads, “Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc sets himself ablaze in protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government.” The photo is accredited to Malcolm Browne and provided by The Associated Press. From there, I was able to establish through an article in The Guardian printed on February 20, 1999 that Browne revealed the photograph to The New York Times who chose not to print it on the grounds that it “was not fit for the coffee table.” I then came across a link to Life Magazine printed on June 21, 1963, ten days after the event, which ran images depicting Duc ablaze in the streets of Saigon. Interestingly enough, the photographs ran were not Browne’s original, but revealed an arguably more gruesome scene, showing not only a close up of Duc on fire, but his charred, lifeless body after the flames were finished.

In addition to the images revealed in print as well as the World Press caption, I was able to find thirteen articles total (through ProQuest) that either discussed the event itself, or the politics surrounding the Buddhist crisis and Diem’s brutal rule in South Vietnam. The articles were published by several highly circulated papers including:  The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post. This discovery also led me to David Halberstam, a reporter who authored many articles by The New York Times while in Vietnam, specifically during the summer of 1963 during which he himself witnessed the immolation of Duc. I have also ordered and begun reading Halberstam’s book The Making of a Quagmire, which chronicles his reporting and American and Vietnamese relations during the war. Chapter 8 of his book is dedicated entirely to the Buddhist crisis, and reveals Halberstam’s interpretation of how the American public and particularly Washington reacted to the demonstration. Halberstam cites this moment in history as Washington’s realization that Diem’s government may or may not be worth endorsing further.

Rachel Millsap


World Press Photo Caption

The Guardian Article

Life Magazine: Revealing photographs of Duc ablaze Saigon 1 Saigon.3 Saigon.4 Saigon.5 Saigon.6 Saigon.7 Saigon.13 Saigon.12 Saigon.11 Saigon.10 Saigon.9 Saigon.8


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