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  • Will Irvine

Opinion: Remembering Aaron Bushnell and a Legacy of Self-Sacrifice

CW: Violence

WILL IRVINE (HE/HIM)


On February 25, on a Twitch stream broadcast to the world, an active-duty member of the US Air Force stood outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC. “Today,” he said, “I am planning to engage in an extreme act of protest against the genocide of the Palestinian people”. 


The man, Aaron Bushnell, poured gasoline over his body and lit a match. As he stood, engulfed in flames, he repeatedly chanted “Free Palestine”, and declared his intention to “no longer be complicit in genocide”. After being extinguished by police officers, he was taken to hospital, where he died of his injuries. A police officer aimed his firearm at Bushnell as he stood dying, a clear symbol of a regime whose only answer is violence. 


Bushnell’s sacrifice forms part of a legacy of self-immolation as political protest. During the West’s war on Vietnam, several Buddhist monks burned themselves alive in protest of the US-backed regime’s treatment of religious minorities. In 2011, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolated in response to widespread government oppression, triggering the Arab Spring. 


Media has attempted to paint Bushnell’s sacrifice as a symptom of a mental health epidemic, rhetoric that will no doubt be familiar to those familiar with the USA's cultural attitude to violence. 


The truth is simpler than that. Bushnell was clear and deliberate with what he did. His sacrifice was not the delusion of a madman, but the final act of a desperate man who was located in the nucleus of the American imperial project. In the words of the late Sinead O’Connor, “it is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society”. 


Salient is proud to remember Aaron Bushnell and all that he stood for. 


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