Abstract: There are important parallels between the 1963 case of the self-immolation of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức and the recent case in British Columbia (2021) of a father who was forced against his will by the court and the state to facilitate the pharmaceutical “sex reassignment” of his teenage daughter. Both cases speak to the desperation of people whose rights were trampled by an invasive all-powerful state and who were ignored by an indifferent and corrupt establishment-beholden media.
A STRANGE AND DISTANT MEMORY.
“[Civil Disobedience] seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”Martin Luther King Jr.
The story of Thích Quảng Đức and the now infamous photograph taken by Malcolm Browne of his shocking act of self-immolation during the Vietnam War, has fascinated me from the first moment I saw it.
The photo (see below) shows Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk, who lit himself on fire as part of a planned political protest at a busy Saigon road intersection on June 11, 1963. It was truly one of the most visually and emotionally stunning media events of the 20th century. Then-President John F. Kennedy, who would only live another five months himself, said of the photo:
No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world.
Unfortunately, the Vietnam War would produce many other startling photographs before it was over.
While many disturbing images came out of the Vietnam War, there was something unique and disturbingly surreal about the Quảng Đức image and what it represented. Unlike few other images in human history, the image of Quảng Đức sitting calmly in the middle of an inferno of his own creation caused much of the world to stop and look. Other now-famous images from that era, almost without exception, portrayed things being done to somebody, in this case it was somebody doing something terrible to himself.
The impact of this photo globally was overwhelming. For a moment people all around the world simultaneously put their hands on their mouths and went silent. What brings a man to do something so horrific to himself and yet with such apparent calm lucidity?
One of the few reporters that bothered to attend the event, David Halberstam of the New York Times, wrote
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.
Why would somebody light themselves on fire for a political cause? What could possibly justify such an extreme act of self-destruction? Who was this person and what motivated him?
In order to understand the case of Thich Quảng Đức and how it relates to the case I am involved with today in British Columbia, you must understand the political landscape upon which it transpired.