The Immolation of Quang Duc


In 1963, after suppressing internal revolts, President of South Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem was widely seen as a totalitarian. Though he depended largely on US aid, Diem refused to be counselled by them on his handling of the war, which was leading to genocide. In June, Buddhists revolted at Hué and Saigon, which Roman Catholic Diem used military force to disperse.

On the 21st, the monks showed their anger by a rally in Saigon. A 73-year old Thich Quang Duc sat crossed legged in the centre of a human circle. A monk poured gasoline on him. With a look of serenity, Quang Duc struck a match at 9:22 AM. As flames engulfed his body, he made not a single cry or a muscle. In his will he wrote to President asking him to be kind and tolerant towards his people.

Journalist Malcolm Browne’s photographs of his self-immolation were seen on the front pages of newspapers worldwide — except on the New York Times, whose editors deemed the photos too graphic to be put on the front page. John F. Kennedy noted that “no news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one”. One won the 1963 World Press Photo of the Year. Although Diem’s decline and downfall had already begun, the self-immolation is widely seen as the pivotal point. Diem was later assassinated. After Diem’s death, America tried to influence their puppet leaders entirely – they could not risk another Diem – thus plunging the entire region into disaster.