12. The Burning Monk
In 1963, South Vietnam was seething with discontent, fueled by widespread governmental corruption and a steadily intensifying insurgency. Moreover, the country’s Catholic president, Ngo Dinh Diem, was pursuing discriminatory policies that favored Catholics at the expense of Buddhists, who were 90% of the population. Protests erupted in May, when Diem’s government banned the flying of Buddhist flags – only days after it had encouraged Catholics to fly Vatican flags at an event. Government troops opened fire on protesters flying Buddhist flags, killing and wounding dozens.
On June 10th, 1963, American correspondents were tipped that “something important” would happen the following day near the Cambodian embassy in Saigon. Photographer Malcolm Browne of the Associated Press showed up on the 11th, and as his camera clicked, two monks doused a serene elderly colleague with gasoline, as he sat lotus style. The monk, Thich Quang Duc, then struck a match, dropped it on himself, and maintained his serenity while flames engulfed him. At the time, few Americans knew about Vietnam. After the photo of the Burning Buddhist appeared on newspapers across the country, there was no forgetting that war torn country. As president Kennedy commented: “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one“.