To further my research I began to look closer into the relevancy of today’s society in terms of self-immolation. In turn, I found out that recently a man had set himself on fire on the national mall. Very little appears to be known, but it does seem to have a link to protesting the government. Sources report that the man saluted the capitol, doused himself in gasoline, and used his lighter to set himself ablaze. There were a few people on scene, one of whom was Javier Soto, a photographer that caught pictures of the man. Once he had been set himself on fire, a few joggers ran to help him and put out the flames with their shirts. Eventually, the man was taken in a helicopter to the hospital where he died later that day. His identity and motives are still unknown, but it does appear to be following in the footsteps of past protesters using fire to prove their point. Unfortunately, this story did not get much media attention due to other events around the same time such as a woman getting shot outside the capitol.
I will need to wait and find out more information as it is released in order to fully relate it to my research into the relevancy in today’s society. However, if it is politically backed then it really brings the point home so to speak. This was a planned event that took place on federal property during a government shutdown. The implications behind this could prove the relevancy of this photo to today. This is especially true because in some of the reports of this story the writers mentioned Thic Quan Duc, the buddhist monk. This is different simply because it is a U.S. citizen on federal property. It’s not a middle eastern fruit salesman protesting a corrupt regime in some nation that many Americans can’t pronounce correctly. This is here at home. I’m excited to see what new information comes out in the next weeks in regards to this story so as to relate it to my research.
After researching more about the history and practices of self-immolation I decided to take a closer look at the events and proceedings of the Buddhist monks on June 11th, 1963. In an interview with Time Magazine, Malcolm Browne described the events leading up to the immolation, and the ceremony itself. He had decided to attempt to get on good terms with the Buddhist monks because he felt they would be the “movers and shakers in whatever turned up next.” This being said, they notified him and authorities that they would be doing something big. Most wrote this off as a bluff and went on with their lives. However, Malcolm believed it to be true. On June 11th, Browne showed up to the pagoda that the monks were beginning their proceedings. They essentially did a funeral march to the middle of Saigon. This was with full funeral chants and everything. Browne was able to take pictures through the entire thing. Upon getting to a main square, they stopped and circled up. A car had pulled up with two young monks and one older monk. The younger monks douse him in gasoline and leave. The older monk then strikes a match and drops it into his lap. He was immediately engulfed into flames. As we’ve discussed in class, Browne describes how Thich Quang Duc didn’t move an inch. He talks about how he wasn’t sure when the monk even died because there was no change until his body was consumed. During the immolation, the rest of the Buddhist monks were wailing and mourning the loss of their friend. Throughout this, other Buddhists were blocking fire trucks and authorities in order to make the self-immolation run smoothly. Pictures were taken of the entire thing, and available in the link provided.
This interview really illustrates what type of auto-cremation this was. It was an extensively planned and organized event. It wasn’t a rush of emotion thing such as many of the previous ones I’ve researched. This was calculating and for a specific purpose in order to achieve a political end. Knowing this, I can understand how it relates to today’s society with more clarity. This lessens the relativity to more spur-of-the-moment self-immolations such as many of the current ones in the Middle East. It also means, I’ll have to dig deeper to see if any can truly relate from today’s society.
My research efforts this week have been a twofold. I have been in contact via email with Ken Crouse, the photographer who took the image “Saigon Evacuation”, and he was able to give me very unique insight and perspective regarding Americans at the time the Buddhist monk immolation image circulated. Crouse recalled the spirit of Americans during the early 1960’s as being politically trusting of their government, and cited Browne’s image as perhaps one of the turning points from a trusting U.S. society, into a skeptical one. Another interesting point Crouse mentioned in his email was the idea that the average American living in 1963 was so far removed from both South Vietnam and specifically the Buddhist culture; the immolation seemed foreign, beyond comprehension. I think this also speaks volumes as to why the image may have taken so long to circulate and appear in print. Aside from political pressures and perceptions about America’s perceived success in Vietnam, perhaps newspapers, specifically the New York Times, chose not to run the image for fear of confusion the photograph could drum up in the minds of the average American. Crouse’s email interview will be carried throughout my paper in various ways, the majority of his information will aid me in my discussion regarding the average American perception, and the lack of understanding about the war and culture of Vietnam.
I have also found very helpful information regarding the details of the actual event that took place on 11 June 1963 from William Prochnau’s Once Upon A Distant War. According to Prochnau, the event symbolized what was wrong with American involvement in Vietnam, and furthered the idea that Diem was not governing according to the best interest of the citizens, and was not someone the U.S. wanted to endorse any further. Prochnau also gives explicit detail about the burning itself, including how long it took for Thich Quang Duc to burn to death: a total of five minutes. The details Prochnau provides regarding the actual event will be useful within the first few paragraphs of my paper, to not only provide a background, but give the audience the impression of the brutal scene that unfolded in front of Browne’s camera lens. The details regarding the symbolization of the image will be used in the middle section of my paper, when I begin to analyze how the photograph haunted Diem’s reign, and how the U.S. government could not ignore the crisis unfolding in South Vietnam any further. Also important to note for this week’s research efforts is the letter I have sent in to the Free Library of Philadelphia in hopes of receiving a paper copy of the image appearing in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 12 June 1963, reportedly where President Kennedy saw the photograph. This would show me how the photograph appeared in the first news source I have seen to have ran the image shortly after the event. I hope to hear back within the next few weeks.
Article that cites the Philadelphia Inquirer as having ran the image, and also states it was the newspaper that Kennedy saw on his desk the following day:
Prochnau, William. Once Upon A Distant War. New York: Vintage Books, 1996. 304-09. Print.
Edit – here you go Rachel: 1963_Minister_Protest
Last week I searched into the relevancy of the act of self-immolation in the world today with a focus on America’s interest. This of course brought up the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia which began the Arab Spring revolution. Again, a self-immolation happened in Tunisia March of 2013 as well as in Saudi Arabia in May of the same year. All were in protest of an over-dominating government oppressing the lower classes.
This week while doing research into the relevancy of self-immolation in today’s society,I had come to find out that this is much more common in today’s world than previously realized. In eastern Asia, Tibetan monks are known to commit self-immolation frequently. This is especially true in China. On July 20th, 2013 an 18 year old Tibetan monk set fire to himself in protest of what he felt was an oppressive Chinese government. This is surprising to me, but not so much as when I found out the news source was proud that it had been five whole weeks since this had happened. Upon further analysis, I found that there have been roughly 120 Tibetan monks light themselves on fire since February 2009.
I’d like to move my research towards finding a definitive number of how many self-immolations happened during the Vietnam conflict in protest of the oppressive anti-buddhist regime. I feel it would put the situation into perspective of exactly how oppressive the South vietnamese government was to those belonging to this religious group. It would put into perspective that aspect and point in time of the conflict. Also, I’d like to move on to researching the beginnings of self-immolation. Knowing the history of this act and how it pertained to that specific point in time, I can move on to further understanding how it relates to today’s society in both America and Vietnam.
I have begun reading the book authored by Malcolm Browne (the photographer of “Self Immolation”) titled Muddy Boots and Red Socks, which chronicles his entire time spent in Vietnam, as well as his own commentary behind the political choices made, and the journalistic styles at the time. The book has provided interesting detail that seems to outline a struggle experienced between Browne and David Halberstam and other journalists reporting events occurring in Saigon. Browne makes clear he and Halberstam saw the war more cynically than other journalists, noting that most of the reporters of the time period were writing under the impression that Vietnam was another World War II or Korea, a war that they seemed to view as black and white. A war in which the United States was justified in fighting, and was deemed a worthy cause. This answers my previous question as to why the New York Times declined to run the original photograph of Duc ablaze in the streets of Saigon. Many of the journalists overseas at the time did not see the war as a negative for America, and thus their writings and overall coverage was far too skewed to show the repercussions of Diem’s brutal rule, an image that Browne himself had managed to capture on film.
I have also discovered an article on Buddhism Today’s Archive that states Browne’s original photograph was ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 12, 1963, just one day after the event. I attempted to navigate the archives of the Philadelphia Inquirer with no avail, and instead will have to look at the microfilm of the paper from June 12, 1963. The coverage of the photo, including the page it appeared on, the caption under it, and the story that accompanied it, will reveal to me the ways in which the event was reported to the public, so far as I know, in the only news source that revealed the image just one day after it was taken. I have also purchased William Prochnau’s book Once Upon a Distant War which is a third party account and review of the reporting done by Halberstam and the battles he faced as a foreign correspondent. I am hoping the book solidifies what Browne and Halberstam argue themselves, in the dramatic differences between journalistic approaches and political views at the time, and the ways in which this directly influenced the information presented to the American public.
Buddhism Today Article:
Amazon Links to Books:
While searching for information on the background of this photo, it came to my attention that a very similar act was done in 2010. In Tunisia, an oppressive government was exerting force onto it’s citizens. As an act of defiance and pleading much the same as the one that occurred in Vietnam in 1963, Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in protest of an oppressive and unfair regime. This in turn began what we now call the Arab Spring Uprisings that still continue today. The power of this act still resounds much the same as when Thich Quang Duc did it in order to bring attention and protest similar regime actions.
In finding out this information, it brings to attention the relevancy of actions taken 50 years ago in Vietnam. It brings the action a little closer to home for those of us who were not around to experience the situation of Vietnam and how it related to the lives of Americans during that time. Finding the relation makes the point a little more personal as we are experiencing a similar time for our government and in our personal lives. It shows us how we can still relate to it today.