Hundreds mourn US airman who self-immolated at Israeli Embassy in protest of Gaza war

A woman writes on a sheet as hundreds of people, including Jews, gather in front of the Israeli Embassy to collectively mourn the US airman Aaron Bushnell, 25, an active-duty member of the US Air Force, who died after setting himself ablaze in protest of Israel's ongoing war in Gaza on February 26, 2024, in Washington, DC. People lay flowers, light candles and write on the sheets as they pay their respects.

(Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Aaron Bushnell Is the Latest Victim of Madmen Arsonists

More about why the U.S. Air Force airman did what he did may come to light. But what he said in the video that captured his final moments is sufficient. He could "no longer be complicit in genocide."

Aaron Bushnell just couldn’t take any more.

He couldn’t bear to see any more people eviscerated and incinerated by American bombs dropped by Israelis on innocent Palestinians.

So, in his Air Force uniform, he walked determinedly to the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. and set himself on fire.

What can we say about a young man who would do that to protest his government’s acts of cruelty and genocide?

It is important we say nothing before quoting his own calmly spoken, final words to the world.

“I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force and I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest. But compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal. Free Palestine!”

What can we say about a young man who would do that to protest his government’s acts of cruelty and genocide?

You can see Aaron’s last minute of life in this video, blurred out after he strikes the match.

In it, he shouts, “Free Palestine” six times. The last five are combined with screams of agony before he falls silent.

A voice off-camera, shouts repeatedly, “Get him on the ground…on the ground,” which is the correct thing to do when someone is on fire.

People frantically rush in with a fire extinguisher. A police officer or uniformed guard appears and points a gun in Aaron’s direction. Someone calls out “I need a fire extinguisher…a fire extinguisher…another one...I don’t need guns; I need a fire extinguisher.”

Why would Aaron do something this extreme?

More of the “why” may come to light. But what he said in that video is sufficient. He could “no longer be complicit in genocide.”

Aaron’s motivation is strikingly similar to that of Norman Morrison, a 35-year-old, Quaker activist who set himself ablaze in the Pentagon parking lot below Secretary of War McNamara’s office, November 2, 1965.

In a letter to his wife, Morrison had written, “Dearest Anne, For weeks, even months, I have been praying only that I be shown what I must do. This morning with no warning, I was shown … Know that I love thee but must act for the children in the Priest’s village,” in reference to an article he had read in which a Catholic priest described Vietnamese “women and children blown to bits” from U.S. bombing and napalm.

Madmen arsonists operate on a grand scale internationally but also on a singular, small scale as in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. They as much as lit the match for Aaron Bushnell.

Too many of us in VFP have seen the suffering war creates and it never leaves our memories. All of us agonize over our government’s aiding and abetting the slaughter of innocents.

We prod ourselves, “what is the most, the very best thing, I can do?”

That question moves some to learn the history of Palestine that they’ve too long ignored; some to contact elected officials; some to join a public protest; some to go on fasts; some to block roads or congressional offices and go to jail. But it never feels like enough.

Some may perceive fasting to the death or self-immolation as crazy and extreme beyond measure. Others see it as entirely appropriate because the horror protested is itself insane and extreme beyond measure.

Few who care deeply will have the courage to fast to the death or do what Aaron Bushnell did. But in addition to whatever inadequate things we already do, we can, we must, do two more things.

The first is to consciously let people who are pained and grieving at what our government does know that they are not alone. We should not assume our colleagues and comrades know we are aware of their anguish.

Secondly, we can resolve that we will move beyond simply reacting to bestial policies.

We could call our policymakers “madmen arsonists” because they go around the globe setting fires much faster than we can extinguish them.

These policymakers, swaddled in privilege, take their orders from those who profit from death and suffering. We know who they are: the people who run Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics and their fellow merchants of death, and the people who finance what the merchants do.

These madmen arsonists operate on a grand scale internationally but also on a singular, small scale as in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. They as much as lit the match for Aaron Bushnell. The fire that killed Airman Bushnell was simply the “collateral damage,” as it’s so callously called, of the ongoing conflagration in Palestine.

Our firefighting will never keep up with arsonists who operate on a global scale. We are long overdue to learn the fire prevention skills needed to halt them.

Fire prevention in this context means prohibiting the lobbying, advertising, vote buying, campaign funding, and actual legislation writing that corporations do behind constitutional shields given them by the Supreme Court, like free speech and protection.

Until we strip corporations of their shields, they will continue to amass economic and political power to govern us, to set fires large and small, while we run frantically for fire extinguishers until we are exhausted, penniless and gone.

Veterans For Peace is learning the necessary fire prevention skills we need as we continue fighting fires set by the madmen arsonists. It is simply our responsibility to do both at the same time.

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