"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Since the Sixties in America, a whole lot of individuals have set themselves on fire in protest.

Images of Maxwell Azzarello engulfed in flames have since gone viral world wide. Set himself on fire Outside the Manhattan courthouse where Donald Trump's “hush money” trial is occurring. It got here only months later Aaron BushnellA 25-year-old active-duty airman live-streamed his self-immolation on the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., chanting “Free Palestine” again and again.

Journalists have called him self-immolation. “extremely” And “amazing”and is obsessed “Problem” or “to cool” Last messages of the dead. People have also commented on the decline in mental health of those involved.

But viewing these protests as extreme demonstrations of self-harm undermines the political claims that motivate them. In fact, there may be a protracted and infrequently forgotten history of protest self-immolation in America.

my very own researchPublished in 2018, it shows that a whole lot of Americans have demonstrated their political dissent by immolating themselves in public. Each of them had a special purpose, meaning and critique based on their final works.

Understanding American self-immolation requires patient and difficult reflection on the role of emotions and mental health within the political process.

American self-immolation

After the Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức in 1963, self-immolation became a recognized protest tactic Burned himself to death in Saigon, South Vietnam. American photojournalist Malcolm Brown Caught the spectacle In an extensively reproduced image.

The protest against religious repression by the South Vietnamese government also demonstrated Vietnamese opposition to the growing US military intervention within the region.

Thích Quảng Đức set himself on fire in Saigon in protest against the federal government's anti-Buddhist measures.
Granger – Historic Photo Archive / Tragedy Stock Photo

The first American political suicide occurred in March 1965. Alice Herz, an 82-year-old peace activist and refugee from Nazism, set herself on fire in Detroit to protest the US military's strategic bombing of Vietnam. Oh Letter sent to his daughter that he did it “not out of despair, but out of hope for mankind”. Herz wrote: “I have chosen the fiery death of the Buddhas.”

Herz's life and death quickly disappeared from the headlines because public awareness of the war in Vietnam was limited on the time. Despite Herz's lifelong commitment to peace and civil rights, people refused to acknowledge the politics behind his suicide and he was quickly dismissed as someone who was showing senility and dementia.

Although largely forgotten in America, Herz's decision to point out solidarity with the Vietnamese monks resonated just as she had hoped. Crowds of individuals in Hanoi stood for a moment of silent prayer upon hearing the news of his death. Poets set songs and recitals honoring her lifelong commitment to pacifism, children learned about Herz in class, and a street in Hanoi was named after her.

Nine months later, the 31-year-old Norman Morrison Set himself on fire outside the Pentagon. By now the conflict in Vietnam was widely known, and Morrison's protest was higher understood by the American public. Journalists made a connection between the situation of his protest and his criticism of the US military. reported his death On the front page of newspapers across the country.

This was followed by a wave of self-immolation. 9 Nov 1965 aged 22 Roger LaPorte Set himself on fire outside the United Nations constructing in New York. Two days later, a bereaved mother “dismayed at reports of casualties from Vietnam”. Self-immolation By searching local news reports in Indiana, I even have found Hundreds of cases of individuals burning themselves by self-immolation within the Sixties and Nineteen Seventies, often as a protest against the continuing war in Vietnam.

In fact, such was the fear of self-immolation in protests through the war that the police were equipped with special fire extinguishers and asbestos gloves, which they feared would kill anti-war hippies.

The politics of protest suicide

Many acts of self-immolation are provoked or triggered. Personal crisis. But in such protests, observers often look only at suicide, and search for emotional and mental health reasons to clarify the strangeness, avoiding the popularity that political disagreements fueled these last acts. Activates This makes some self-immolations more legitimate than others.

In 1996, Cathy Change, an American political activist and performer, set herself on fire on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania to protest “the current government and economic system”. The New York Times responded with an article reflection “The Mad and Christian Life of a Troubled Idealist”. The death of change continues to be considered a less authentic protest than, for instance, Tunisian street vendors Muhammad Bouazizi.whose self-immolation in 2011 inspired the Arab Spring.

Classifying self-immolation as “just a suicide” can obscure thoughtful politics. Anti-Vietnam War protesters intentionally set themselves on fire in solidarity with the Vietnamese. And civil rights organizer and veteran Willie B. Phillips set himself on fire in Atlanta in 1972 to spotlight the violence against African Americans.

Environmental protesters have also used self-immolation to forcefully present the consequences of climate change. In April 2018, David Buckle Explained In his last testament that “my early death from fossil fuels reflects what we are doing to ourselves”.

Then, in 2022, Wayne Allen Bruce, a 50-year-old climate protester from Colorado, set himself on fire outside the Supreme Court. one friend Tweeted: “This act is not suicide … it is a deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to the climate crisis.”

A sign with a picture of a man wearing glasses with the words.
A marker on the Supreme Court constructing in Washington DC for Wayne Allen Bruce, who set himself on fire to attract attention to the climate change crisis.
NurPhoto SRL / Alamy Stock Photo

If nothing else, self-immolation raises difficult questions. Is suicide an appropriate word to use to instances when many would consider themselves sacrificial martyrs? Likewise, at what point does the motivation for protest suicide shift from a legitimate political decision to the realm of an emotional or mental health crisis?

Ultimately, self-immolation demonstrates the responsibility everyone has to grasp the politics of protest suicide. More importantly, each of us must separate a mental health decision from a political protest decision – even when the protest seems strange.