Historic Unedited Photos They Don't Want You To See
Publication: Historical Archives. Posted by
Historic Unedited Photos They Don't Want You To See
A Vietnamese monk burns himself to death to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the government
Outside of Vietnam, not many knew of the Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc. That would all change in 1963, however, due to a form of protest that ended his own life, while changing the lives of millions across the world. While many people know the photo, not many (especially younger people) know much about Duc himself.
Duc was just seven years old when he left his home to study Buddhism, traveling around Asia before landing in Saigon. Though much of Vietnam was Buddhist, the President of the country was Catholic, giving preference to those in his religion and demoting many members of Buddhism. President Diem saw to it that Buddhist villages were being converted while taking over the land, and by the end of the 1950s, the Catholic Church had more land in Vietnam than anybody else.
Tensions became much higher when the Buddhist flag was banned from flying on the birthday of Gautama Buddha himself. This caused mass protest from Buddhists, with nine protesters shot and killed. This only made things more tense in Vietnam, and it would come to a boiling point on June 10, 1963.
News stations around the world, including the United States, were alerted that there would be a significant event taking place in Saigon just outside of the Cambodian embassy. Many journalists had felt that the story had become too saturated, not taking it seriously that something of high significance would actually take place. With that, only a handful of reporters arrived to the scene.
One of those reporters was Malcolm Browne, who had worked as a journalist during the Korean War, and then returned to the United States to work with smaller newspapers. He then joined the Associated Press in 1959 and was tasked with being a correspondent in Indochina. He was in Saigon to see more than 300 Buddhists, many of them monks, protesting outside of the Cambodian embassy.
A car arrived on the intersection of Le Van Duyet Street and Phan Dinh Phung Boulevard, with three monks stepping out of the car. Thich Quang Duc was one of those monks, and he calmly sat on the ground with a cushion underneath him. Browne got his camera out to see what was happening, as he knew it was coming. “I knew these monks were not bluffing,” he said. “They were perfectly serious about doing something pretty violent. In another civilization it might have taken the form of a bomb or something like that.”
Browne saw that the two other monks that were in the car with Duc grabbed a jerry can filled with gasoline from the trunk. The photo shows Duc being doused in gasoline by the monks as a circle of other monks formed a wall around him. What happened next is known as self-immolation, or, the act of setting yourself on fire.
Duc pulled out the matchbook and placed it on his lap, causing himself to catch fire. “Everybody that witnessed this was horrified,” Browne said. “It was every bit as bad as I could have expected.”
While everyone had a stunned look on their face, with some reacting, Duc was not among them. Instead, he sat silently and remained calm while he burned to death. After a short time, Duc was dead, and monks carried out his body in a coffin. Before dying, Duc wrote a letter that said “I respectfully plead to President Ngo Dinh Diem to take a min of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally.”
Browne knew that as he witnessed this event that it would be an important one for the world. “The main thing on my mind was getting the pictures out,” he said. “I realized this is something of unusual importance and that I’d have to get them to the AP in one of its far flung octopus tentacles as soon as possible. And I also knew this was a very difficult thing to do in Saigon on short notice.”
Browne then found a passenger that was flying to Manila, and gave him the film so that he could spread it via radio. The photo started popping up on the front page of newspapers everywhere, all without Browne knowing due to being isolated in Saigon from the media. Even his employers weren’t able to notify him that his photograph was being seen by millions.
Some major publications didn’t print the photo, saying that it was too grim to show. For the many that did see it, however, it prompted a major response. Even President John F. Kennedy said “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one,” upon seeing the photo.
Browne received high recognition for his photo, including a Pulitzer Prize and the World Press Photo of the Year. As for the world’s response, there was backlash against the United States because of President Diem’s regime as Kennedy had sponsored Diem. Later in 1963, a coup would be formed to overthrow Diem, leading to his assassination.
This opened the door for the widespread growth of the Vietnam War. South Vietnam was unable to form a government after Diem’s assassination, and the instability allowed the Viet Cong’s numbers to grow exponentially. The number of United States troops also grew to offset, causing a war that would last until April 30, 1975.