View Full Version : On This Day In 1963, Monk Burns Himself Alive In Protest

06-11-2007, 06:11 PM
On This Day In 1963, Monk Burns Himself Alive In Protest




On this date in 1963, a Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc drove from the Linh-Mu Pagoda in Hue to Saigon, parked his car in a busy intersection, doused himself in gasoline and diesel fuel, and -- with a string of Buddhist mala (prayer beads) clutched in his hand-- calmly immolated himself. David Halberstam, then a reporter for the New York Times, recalled the event in 1965:

Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think . . . . As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.

His act -- captured most famously by Associated Press photographer Malcolm Browne -- stunned the world and hastened the demise of Ngo Dinh Diem, the corrupt South Vietnamese president who was then engaged in a nationwide crackdown against Buddhists and political dissidents. In a letter written just before his death, Thich Quang Duc explained that his sacrifice was intended as a call for Diem “to be kind and tolerant toward his people and [to] enforce a policy of religious toleration.”

Diem’s regime was somewhat less than sympathetic to these pleas. Madame Ng Dinh Nhu -- Diem’s sister-in-law and the “First Lady of South Vietnam” -- dismissed the act as irrelevant and ineffectual. “They only thing they have done,” she observed with a wave of her hand, “they have barbecued one of their monks.” She added that Duc’s death was not even “self-sufficient” because he had to use “imported gasoline.” Madame Nhu was also quoted as urging the monks to continue their protests. “Let them burn,” she said, “and we shall clap our hands.” Less than four months later, Ngo Dinh Diem and Ngo Dinh Nhu were killed in a coup, and Madame Nhu -- the “Dragon Lady” -- was driven into exile.

Later that day, in the country that supported Diem’s brutal dictatorship and would soon initiate war against the Vietnamese, Alabama Governor George Wallace momentarily blocked federal officials from escorting Vivian Malone and James Hood into Foster Auditorium, where they were to register for classes at the state’s flagship university. After reading a speech denouncing federal intrusion into the rights of racist whites, Wallace stepped aside and allowed the desegregation of the University of Alabama to proceed. Wallace did not light himself on fire, though part of him must have wanted to burn something -- a cross, perhaps, if nothing else.