Suicide vs Genocide: Rest in Power, Aaron Bushnell

February 27th, 2024 - by Belén Fernández / Al Jazeera Columnist


Bushnell’s extreme act of protest has put Western corporate media to shame.

Suicide vs Genocide:
Rest in Power, Aaron Bushnell

Belén Fernåndez
/ Al Jazeera Columnist

(February 26, 2024) — On Sunday, February 25, 25-year-old active duty member of the United States Air Force Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in the US capital of Washington, DC, in a one-airman revolt against the US-backed slaughter currently being perpetrated by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip.

Over the past 143 days, Israel has killed nearly 30,000 Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave. In video footage recorded prior to and during his self-immolation, Bushnell states that he will “no longer be complicit in genocide” and that he is “about to engage in an extreme act of protest – but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonisers is not extreme at all”.

To be sure, Palestinians have long been accustomed to, well, burning to death at the hands of Israeli weaponry, ever since the state of Israel undertook to lethally invent itself on Palestinian land in 1948. The Israeli military’s use of skin-incinerating white phosphorus munitions in more recent years has no doubt contributed to the whole Palestinian “experience”.

After pertinently observing that US complicity in the genocide of Palestinians is “what our ruling class has decided will be normal”, Bushnell plants himself directly in front of the Israeli embassy gate – in full US military fatigues – and proceeds to douse himself with flammable liquid. As he rapidly burns to death, he repeatedly shouts: “Free Palestine”, while security personnel order him to get “on the ground”. One particularly helpful individual points a gun at the blaze.

In the aftermath of Bushnell’s self-immolation, the New York Times announced: “Man Dies After Setting Himself on Fire Outside Israeli Embassy in Washington, Police Say” – a rather strong contender, perhaps, for the most diluted and decontextualised headline ever. One wonders what folks would have said in 1965 had the US newspaper of record run headlines like: “Octogenarian Detroit WomanDies After Setting Herself on Fire, Police Say – An Event Having Nothing Potentially To Do With Said Woman’s Opposition To The Vietnam War Or Anything Like That”.

Speaking of Vietnam War-related self-immolations, recall renowned US historian and journalist David Halberstam’s account of the 1963 demise in Saigon, South Vietnam, of the Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc: “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… I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered even to think”.

And while such an intense and passionate form of suicide is no doubt bewildering to many, genocide should be all the more appalling; as Bushnell himself said, self-immolation is nothing “compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine”, where people know all too well how quickly human beings burn.

In Bushnell’s case, the US political-media establishment appears to be doing its best to not only decontextualise but also posthumously discredit him. Time Magazine’s write-up, for example, admonishes that the US “Defence Department policy states that service members on active duty should ‘not engage in partisan political activity’” – as though actively abetting a genocide weren’t politically “partisan”.

Furthermore, the magazine specifies, US military regulations “prohibit wearing the uniform during ‘unofficial public speeches, interviews’”, and other activities.

Perhaps Bushnell’s ashes can be tried in military court.