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Self-immolation of Buddhist monk by Malcolm Browne, Saigon, Vietnam, 1963.



Image: Self-immolation of Buddhist monk by Malcolm Browne, Saigon, Vietnam, 1963.

Although it's not quite combat photography, the image above completely changed the political landscape of Vietnam in 1963. At the time, the Vietnamese government, headed by Ngô Đình Diệm, had adopted a policy of systemic persecution of Buddhists. Thích Quảng Đức was a Buddhist monk who lit himself on fire, using gasoline and match, on a street corner in Saigon in protest. His actions were caught on film by American photographer Malcolm Browne (1931-2012). American journalist David Halberstam wrote: "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 human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly... As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him." Browne's photograph won not only the World Press Photo of the Year award in 1963, but a Pulitzer Prize as well. More importantly, after the photograph was distributed on the AP wire, many countries exerted extreme pressure on the Vietnamese government to end discrimination against Buddhists, and the Diem regime was overthrown in a coup several months later. Diem himself was promptly assassinated. Thích Quảng Đức is revered by Vietnamese Buddhists as a bodhisattva, or one who has attained enlightenment.

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