Nonviolent Action: The Ultimate Sacrifice

CJ Hinke

I have long been awed by the level of commitment required for any idealist to make the ultimate sacrifice for their cause, the offering of one’s very life. Where does one acquire such steadfast, unbending resolve?

Suicide bombers do so to acquire the glories of martyrdom and their mission is anything but selfless; they wish to harm as many others as possible by their own deaths. The collective causes which have inspired self-immolation, on the other hand, have been almost exclusively composed of nonviolent protest action such as mass demonstrations, sit-ins and strikes. The Latin verb immolo (immolare, immolavi, immolatus) itself means a sacrificial offering and self-immolation becomes a public tactic of persuasion to change.

I seek to examine the selfless sacrifices of those who set a poignant example against injustice, an example so far-reaching it is impossible for anyone to ignore. This is a no-compromise action; there is no going back. While some of us call these radicals crazy and others call them saints, their message is as pure as their commitment to their cause.

Oxford sociologist Michael Biggs reviews 569 politically-motivated self- immolations from 1963 to 2012, 75 percent in India, Vietnam and South Korea, the remainder in Europe and North America. Dramatic suicides have changed people’s minds and averted further killing and violent injustices in numerous historical situations.

There have also been a far greater number who immolated due to more personal and social reasons such as unemployment, loss of income, taxation, pensions, austerity measures, eviction, government corruption, marital upheaval, healthcare, oppression, gender, inequality, human rights and dignity, to name just a few. Some of these burners also hoped to bring about changes in the wider society. While the mentally ill may commit suicide, the reverse corollary, is untrue. We must respect such loss of life as personal decision.

Death by fire has often historically been the capital sentence for heretics and dissidents of all stripes, including those accused of treason and homosexuality. Other perversions, however, were tolerated and ignored.

The Roman historian Strabo first recorded the self-immolation of the Indian gymnosophist Kalanos, three centuries before the turn of the millennium during the rule of Alexander the Great followed by the śramaṇa known as Khegas in the reign of Augustus at the turn of the Christian era.

The earliest Western mention of death sentences by immolation occurs in Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico at the turn of the first millennium and continued into 11th century France. Execution by burning grew out of favour in Europe in the 18th century long after the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions committed more than 2,000 people to the stake in the single decade 1480 to 1490.

These executions for heresy and apostasy were considered a religious ritual of public penance called auto-da-fe, meaning “act of faith”. Although precise numbers are not known, more than 300,000 were accused of heresy by Spain and at least 31,912 were executed by fire, including those of other beliefs such as Jews and Zoroastrians. In the Americas, autos-da-fe were employed by the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico, Brazil and Peru against dissident Catholics as well as indigenous populations and by the Portuguese in Goa.

In mediaeval Tamiland, present-day India’s Tamil Nadu, royal retainers, nobility, bodyguards and servants, often joined their departed kings on funeral pyres.


Even today widows in India who have had the misfortune to outlive their spouse sometimes throw themselves (or are thrown) onto the funeral pyres of their dead husbands. This ancient practice, thought to have its origin in the Rig-Veda, is called sati. Sati was first recorded in the Punjab from evidence dating from the fourth century BCE by Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, as well as Nikolaos, Plutarch, Aelian, Cicero, Propertius, Valerius, and later, Arab traveler Ibn Batuta in 1325, even later Christian travelers.

The practice persisted through Mughal India, although it was officially outlawed by the British in 1829. Sati may well have had its roots in the practice of jauhar, women’s collective self-immolation in time of war. Jauhar is an act non-Brahmins reserved for royal women to deny rape as a spoil of war to victorious enemy soldiers.

Although sati is illegal, suttees are often celebrated as satimata, Satī mothers. Their pyres are venerated as sati sthal  and become places of pilgrimage and worship. A chunari ceremony is performed at the pyre 12 days after the suttee’s death. She is considered the most virtuous of wives and, of course, her ashes are forever mixed with her husband’s.

Sati was not limited to Hindus where there was some rivalry over which wife loved the husband best and would have the privilege of burning; Muslim plural wives also cast themselves upon their husband’s pyre. It was considered most inauspicious that a widow remarry and many suttees were still quite young. Even his queens immolated themselves upon the pyre of the Raja of Tanjore and the sati of the youngest queen of King Pāṇḍu is recounted in the Hindu Purāna scriptures and the Mahābhārata epic.  Satī, also known as Dākṣāyaṇī, is both a Hindu goddess, first consort of Śiva,  and an act commemorating her sacrifice. Satī set herself on fire through her yogic powers when her father, Dakṣa, snubbed her husband Śiva.


Some philosophers regard self-immolation as a means of subjugating women in the pre-colonial period. Brides with insufficient dowries are also often set alight.

40 Jews lived in Blois, a village on France’s river Loire, in 1171. On May 26, 31 or 32 were publicly burned by Theobald, Count of Blois and son-in-law of Louis VII, on false accusations of “blood libel”, killing Christian children to use their blood in Passover matzot and wine. In fact, villagers had borrowed from the accused Jews who refused to pay a ransom or forgive uncollected debts as it was feared Jews would be persecuted elsewhere by the same means. They refused amnesty by conversion. No Jew has lived there for 800 years.

Midwives, healers and other sorts of witches and rebels were often commonly publicly burned at the stake throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, including women who killed their employers or husbands or committed adultery. Financial crimes such as counterfeiting also incurred capital punishment by fire. Execution by burning was successfully transposed from England to the New World and was the death of witchcraft and slave rebellion and is still employed in Africa.

However, others choose their own deaths. Self-immolation as radical public protest is first recorded in 17th century France.

In Russia’s Raskol rebellion in the mid-17th century, a Moscow-based, government-sponsored change standardised Orthodox liturgy and rituals to be more closely aligned with the Greek Orthodox patriarchate. This change made Russian Orthodoxy the official state church. These changes were opposed by a mass of peasant ‘Old Believers’ who used the schism to oppose feudal oppression. Some old clergy were executed or exiled for their refusals, heretics were tortured and burned alive at the stake and dissenting nobles were imprisoned and starved to death. Historian George Vernadsky notes the Old Believers were persecuted by the government because “their opposition to authority was potentially the nucleus of a widespread revolutionary movement.”

Small groups of followers of Kapiton, an apocalyptic religious ascetic hermit, began to burn themselves in 1665 and 1666 throughout northern Russia. Organised by an Old Believer priest named Domentian (who did not join the suicides), some 1,700-2,700 burned themselves in a Berezovka River hermitage in Siberia on January 6, 1679 rather than submit to Russian soldiers intending to stop their illegal movement. Groups of 1,000 to 2,500 self-immolated in three separate incidents. 20,000 raskolniki dissenters self-immolated in the 1670s and 1680s. Individuals and small groups continued to self-immolate for 200 years after the failure of their movement.

Between 1855 and 1875, entire villages of a radical sect of ‘Old Believers’  called the soshigateli celebrated ognenniye kreshcheniya (огненные крещения), or “baptism by fire”. Groups of 15 to 100 burned themselves in large pits or dry buildings filled with brushwood. No less than 1,700 immolated from a population numbering up to 20 million Old Believers. Old Believers continued to be persecuted through the Russian Revolution up to the outbreak of World War II in 1941.

In 1786, in Austro-Hungary a man protested against the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II’s abolition of several religious holidays by creating a pyre near a tree where he had hung a crucifix and image of the Virgin Mary.

Even in the 20th century, extrajudicial killings were carried out by burning, such as the ‘necklace’ of rubber tyres used in South Africa. In Brazil, drug traitors are subject to the same fate, there called microondas, ‘the microwave’.

Fear of fire is genetic throughout species. Thus death by burning fills us with horror. Historical executions by burning were often intended to be instructional torture and keep the victim alive and in pain for as long as possible to serve a cautionary lesson to the populace.

However, human combustion using an accelerant most often results in a prompt death by shock, destruction of the peripheral nerves and asphyxiation. The Vietnamese engaged Buddhist philosopher monk, elder and world teacher, Thich Nhất Hạnh, is revered as an EarthSaint. He observed to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967, “To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance. There is nothing more painful than burning oneself.”

[Image: Tom Lasseter/McClatchey’s]
[Image: Tom Lasseter/McClatchey’s]

If one is unlucky enough to survive, however, one can look forward to a life of excruciating and debilitating pain and permanent disfigurement. It may be seen as an abiding act of great cruelty that the Chinese government has placed firefighters and numerous fire extinguishers around Tiananmen Square to put people out.

In Buddhism, self-immolations arise from the 23rd chapter of the Mahāyana Lotus Sūtra (SaddharmapundarÊka, the Sutra of the Lotus Blossom of the Marvelous Dharma) as a bodhisattva ideal of perfection on the path to Buddhahood, sacrificing oneself as a selfless act for the good of others. The sutra, attributed to the historical Buddha, recounts the story of Bhaiṣajyagururāja, the Buddha of healing and medicine known as the Medicine King. His self-immolation is said to have spread “the light of the dharma” for 1,200 years through many kalpas and extended to the ten directions.

Buddhist history is full of the self-immolations of monks both in India and China. The third Indian Maurya Dynasty emperor, Aśoka (304-232 BC) burned himself after raising a pillar, still standing, at the place of the Buddha’s birth in Lumbini, present-day Nepal.

The Buddha’s father, King Sudhodhana, married two sisters. Maya, the Buddha’s mother, died seven days after his birth at Lumbini. Siddhārtha was raised by his maternal aunt, Prajāpatī, who formed the first female order of bhikṣuṇī following the Buddha’s enlightenment. Apocryphally, rather than see her son, the Buddha, die, Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī and 500 bhikkunis touched the sun and moon and gleamed with flames. However, it is likely this story is mythology. 

Many of the Buddha’s direct bhikṣus, however, desired to predecease their teacher and were recorded as spontaneously immolating in meditation, achieving agnidhātu or fire-radiance samādhi.

The flames were said to have arisen from their minds and consumed their bodies following the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa. A contemporary eulogy reads, “In the void he burns, making a heap of ashes.” In almost every case, such auto-cremations were public acts of transformation, some with thousands of onlookers.

The first self-immolations in China were those of fèn wǔ (burning shamans) praying for rain, recorded in 90 CE. However, the Buddhist monk Fayu burned himself in 396. Records from the fourth-century onwards indicate numerous Chinese monks auto-cremated as well in the 19th-century while chanting the 23rd chapter of the sutra, often during periods of religious persecution, through at least six Chinese dynasties.

In Japan, a Taihô law of 702 forbade self-cremations by monks. However, the first recorded self-immolation was that of Ōshō, a Lotus Sutra devotee, who offered his body to the sutra near a waterfall on Mt. Nachi. In 1026, a nun burned herself in Toribano, outside the Heian capital. And in Edo, an ascetic immolated in 1597.

The earliest immolation in Tibet took place due to a religious debate between Chinese and Indian Buddhist adepts in the ninth century. A second occurred in Lhasa’s Jokhang temple before the sacred statue of Jowo Rinpoche in the 11th century. A Chinese monk also self-immolated in the early 20th century to further Buddhadharma and another in 1948 to protest against Communist persecution of religion.

The Chinese even have a name for it: 捨身求法 shě shēn qiú fǎ, to abandon one’s body, or letting go of one’s self, in search of Buddha’s truth. Note that there is no connotation whatsoever of ‘suicide’, as in ending one’s suffering or pain. 燒身 shao shen means ‘burning the body and 自焚 zì fén ’self-burning’. Sheshen is selfless and suicide selfish.

It would be impossible to compile an accurate list of political self-immolations in modern times, equally impossible to commemorate them by name.

At least nine foreigners self-immolated in protest of the American war on Vietnam, inspired by the immolation in Saigon of Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức, abbot of the Phước Hòa pagoda, on June 11, 1963. They were Jewish, Quakers and Catholic Workers. Quảng Đức himself may have been inspired by self-immolations in 1920s and 1930s Vietnam to protest against French colonial rule in Indochina. In any event, he chanted the Lotus Sutra every day as his monastic practice and was said to have done so as he burned.

At least 80 other Vietnamese monks, both male and female, nuns and laypersons also followed his example to give the gift of dāna-pāramitā for peace throughout Vietnam. More than 100 self-immolations were recorded by The New York Times and The Times during the ‘Vietnam years’ between 1963 and 1971. Following the assassination of South Vietnam’s first president, Ngô Đình Diệm, in 1963, at least 14 Buddhists burned themselves in protest.

Image: Malcolm Browne/Associated Press
Image: Malcolm Browne/Associated Press

It was said Malcolm Browne’s photo was on Kennedy’s desk the next morning. The President “supposedly exclaimed ‘Jesus Christ’ when he saw the image of the burning monk.” [Biggs] It is unlikely any Vietnamese bonze could otherwise get such a quick audience with a US president.

On Vesak, the presumed birthdate of the historical Buddha (May 16-the full moon day), a 33-year old Buddhist nun in Thay Nhất Hanh’s Order of Interbeing, elementary schoolteacher Nhất Chi Mai, self-immolated in Saigon to protest the war.

I offer my body as a torch
to dissipate the dark
to waken love among men
to give peace to Vietnam
the one who burns herself for peace.

Nhat (Phat) Chi Mai
Lễ Phật Đản [Buddha’s birth], May 16, 1967
Tu Nghiem Pagoda, Saigon

In the United States, an 82-year old Jewish immigrant, author, Quaker and peace activist Alice Herz self-immolated in Detroit near the Wayne State University on March 16, 1965. After her internment by the Nazis, she immigrated to the US in 1942. Both she and her daughter were refused US citizenship because they would not swear to defend the nation by arms.

Alice Herz was author of hundreds of articles and a dozen books on nonviolent engagement. Chicano labour leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez described her as “more important to the tradition of nonviolence than either Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr.”

36-year old Japanese-American Buddhist Hiroko Hayasaki (San Diego, California, October 12, 1965), 31-year old Quaker Norman Morrison (The Pentagon, November 2, 1965), 22-year old Catholic Worker Roger Allen LaPorte (United Nations, November 9, 1965), 24-year old Celene Jankowski (South Bend, Indiana, November 9, 1965), 55-year old housewife Florence Beaumont (Los Angeles Federal Building, October 15, 1967), 27-year old Zen Buddhist student Erik Thoen (Sunnyvale, California, December 4, 1967), 16-year old high school student Ronald Brazee (Syracuse, New York, March 19, 1968), musician Steve Sexton (October 1968), 23-year old student George Winne, Jr., (Revelle Plaza, University of California at San Diego, May  11, 1970), all burned themselves in protest against the American war.

In 1967 in Japan, 73-year old internationalist Chunoshin Yui also immolated near the Prime Minister’s office to protest Japanese collaboration in America’s war on Vietnam and 17-year old Shirakawa Kazuo self-immolated in front of the U.S. consulate in Osaka in April 1968.

Some aspirant immolators are prevented from the act. However, of those who burn themselves, fewer than 30 percent survive, primarily due to searing and scarring of the lungs. I’m sure most wish they had not.

Dozens of self-immolations occurred in protest of Soviet rule in the Crimea, Czechoslovakia, France, Georgia, East Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the USSR, Switzerland and Ukraine in the 1960s to 1990s. Other self-immolations occurred in the Soviet Union and Great Britain in the same period. Jan Palach, whose 1969 immolation took place in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, became a potent symbol of resistance.

In 1970, a separatist wrapped himself in the Basque flag and set himself alight at a pelota game in front of Spain’s Generalissimo Franco whom he tried to embrace as he was burning. That same year, a Greek set himself ablaze in Genoa in protest against the dictator Papadapolous.

In 1972, 28-year old French-Canadian novelist and poet Huguette Gaulin Bergeron immolated in Place Jacques-Cartier in Vieux Montréal, shouting, “Vous avez détruit la beauté du monde!” (“You have destroyed the beauty of the world!”). Set to music, “Hymne à la beauté du monde, is sung by several prominent French-Canadian artists.

Hymn to the beauty of the world

Do not kill the beauty of the world
Do not kill the beauty of the world

Do not kill the beauty of the world
Every flower, every tree the killing
Back to kill us turn

Do not kill the beauty of the world
Do not kill the birds singing
Do not kill the blue day

Do not kill the beauty of the world
Do not kill the beauty of the world

Do not kill the beauty of the world
The last chance of the earth
Now is she plays

Do not kill the beauty of the world
Let’s make the earth a large garden
For those who come after us
After US

Do not kill the beauty of the world
The last chance of the earth
Now is she plays

Do not kill the beauty of the world
Let’s make the earth a large garden
For those who come after us
After US                                

– Huguette Gaulin Bergeron

In 1977 on the Day of Prayer and Repentance (November 16), 37-year old German environmental activist and secondary school teacher Hartmut Gründler burned himself outside the SPD Party Congress in Hamburg when Chancellor Helmut Schmidt would not open dialogue about atomic policy and nuclear waste. He called his action “Self-immolation of a Life Protector”. More than 1,000 mourners celebrated his memorial.

The first immolations by Indian and foreign devotees of the anti-Communist Ananda Marga West Bengali separatist movement occurred in Manila and New Delhi in 1973 following the 1971 arrest of their spiritual leader, Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar or Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, for incitement to murder 18 followers of the sect. Burnings to protest the guru’s imprisonment continued in 1974 in Bihar, 1975 in West Germany, 1977 in Geneva, 1978 in Germany, Texas and Manila. The baba was acquitted and released In 1978 but more than 80 burnings took place in that year and the next in England and Wales. It seems spurious to think Anandamurti did not sanction the self-immolations of his followers.

To protest a friendship treaty with enemy and colonial master Japan, at least one burning occurred in South Korea in 1965. More than 88 immolations took place in South Korea by unionists and leftists in the Korean Worker’s and Minjung movements. By the end of the 1970s, Korean burnings had taken place in 16 countries. Student immolations continued through the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1982, an Armenian Turk self-immolated to protest ethnic persecution; no others followed until a Georgian burned himself at the parliament in Oslo. In Turkey, the first of such Kurdish separatists burned themselves while imprisoned and they grew to 55% of total immolators. Mothers whose sons were imprisoned set themselves aflame. In fact, the phenomenon outside prison was solely a female prerogative until 1994. Since then, more than 200 Kurdistan nationalists seeking a separate homeland comprised of parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, including around 40% young women, have been setting themselves alight in both the Middle East (16%) and in Europe (28%).

In addition, hundreds of Indo-European Kurdish women per month, estimated at more than 10,000, including girls as young as 13, from Egypt to Pakistan, northern Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, have burned themselves since 1991, often over the rights of women, there were 3,039 between 2000 and 2007 alone. Some were so-called gender-based ‘honour killings’ disguised as self-immolation. Of course, not all die but many who survive briefly succumb to infection or kidney failure. In 1999, a 14-year old Kurdish refugee set herself afire in London to bring attention to British arms sales to Turkey which were used against Kurds. The 23-year old Greek wife of a Kurd immolated in Athens to protest against Turkish repression.

1989 saw the immolation of a dissident publisher in Taiwan seeking “100 percent freedom of speech”. After his funeral, a procession was blocked by police and a pro-democracy activist set fire to himself.

In 1990, an unidentified 48-year old Vietnam veteran self-immolated in Isleton, California to protest against President George H. W. Bush’s Persian Gulf war. The son of a Boston Globe restaurant critic, 30-year old Gregory D. Levey, in 1991 in Amherst, Massachusetts, became the third American to set himself afire against the war. The fourth was 33-year old Raymond Moules in Springfield, Massachusetts just three days later. Chicago musician and human rights activist, 52-year old Malachi Ritscher burned himself in Chicago in 2006. More Americans burned for peace during Bush II’s Iraq debacle.

Dr. Homa Darabi, an Iranian-born American paediatric psychiatrist, returned to Iran to practice. In 1994, following the shooting death in Tehran of a 16-year old girl for wearing lipstick, Dr. Horabi immolated in busy Tajrish Square on the tenth day of Ramadan, shouting “Death to oppression! Long live liberty!”. She was one of several middle-class Iranian women to immolate. Teenaged girls in Iran often burn themselves to escape arranged marriages to older men.

In 1995, Sabine Kratze, a 25-year old German 1994 graduate of Hồ Chí Minh City University, pursuing graduate studies in Vietnamese traditional medicine, self-immolated to protest against the arrest of six Vietnamese Buddhist monks. In 2001, a member of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church, set himself ablaze in Danang to protest against the detention of the church’s patriarch, a Nobel nominee; he stated that 13 more were prepared to follow. In 2012, the 64-year old mother of an imprisoned blogger set herself afire in Bac Lieu.

In 1995, even a Holocaust denier burned himself in Munich. In 1998, gay Italian writer Alfredo Ormando set himself ablaze in St. Peter’s Square to protest against the attitudes and policies of the Roman Catholic Church regarding homosexuality.

In 1996, performance artist, peace and cannabis activist, 46-year old Chinese-American Kathy Chang(e) self-immolated while dancing before a peace sculpture on the college green of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to provoke “immediate social transformation”.

Tamils have immolated for language rights in India since 1964. Tamils also used burning to protest against the Sri Lankan Civil War since 2009 in India, Malaysia and Switzerland. Following the 2001 immolation of a Pakistani refugee in Australia, at least three Tamil asylum seekers to Australia set themselves afire, inspiring a 23-year old Iranian and a 21-year old Somali refugee woman to do the same in 2016.

In 2013, there were 2,098 immolations, including 1,261 women in Tamil Nadu. In the state of Maharashtra 1,586; Andhra Pradesh 1,125; Madhya Pradesh 1,076. In Chennai, 94 men and 122 women. Throughout Mother India, 9,879 burned themselves, 3,639 men and 6,240 (82.8%) women.

Indian student V. Santosh with suicide note for Telangana
Indian student V. Santosh with suicide note for Telangana

In fact, self-immolation by women account for 11% of all suicides in India, 20 times higher than in the West. Young girls burn themselves when their families cannot afford to pay marriage dowries. Snehalatā, a 14-year-old pious Calcutta Brahmin girl, set herself afire in 1914. She is still widely revered and has sparked a continuing movement by young men refusing to ask for wedding dowries. In neighbouring Nepal in the present-day, self-immolations account for fully one-third of hospital admissions for burns.

In the 1990s a wave of at least 150 racist immolations to protest against the Mandal Commission laws guaranteeing equality for all castes in India in areas such as university and job placements. At least 1,584 persons self-immolated in 2000 and 2001 alone. Dozens more have burned to death in India and Sri Lanka from 1964 to 2013 for precisely the opposite, to seek equality and self-determination for their minorities.

The Telegana region of India’s Andhra Pradesh state was never annexed by the British Raj; it was ruled by a Muslim nizam despite a Hindu majority population. A farmer’s suicide in the early 2000s generated a wave of suicides by self-immolation, trains and hanging through 2013 by 600 Indians, including students at Osmania University and 369 students in total, in support of statehood for Telangana. Although statehood has been approved in principle, Federal opposition MPs are threatening suicide in early 2014, by immolation and cyanide, if the breakaway occurs. The new state would contain AP’s present capital, Hyderabad, a major economic powerhouse for the tech industry in India.

Jeff Knaebel
Jeff Knaebel

In 2006, American Gandhian and Vietnam veteran, Jeff Knaebel, moved to India to separate himself from US political policies, in particular, spending tax revenue on war. In 2009, he burned his US passport at the site of Gandhi’s murder, making himself stateless, though India refused to accept his status. In 2011, Knaebel walked 2000 kms. from his home in Simla and burned himself near the ancient Buddhist ruins of Viratnagar, near Jaipur, in Rajasthan on India’s Republic Day, January 26th, in 2011. He was 71.

Buddhist monk Dawa Tsering, Kardze, Eastern Tibet, 25th October 2011
Buddhist monk Dawa Tsering, Kardze, Eastern Tibet, 25th October 2011

The first political self-immolation to protest Chinese oppression in Tibet occurred in New Delhi in 1998 by Thubten Ngodrup, an Indian Army veteran with 23 years of service, on the 49th day of a hunger strike by Tibetans which was precipitously disallowed by Indian authorities.  He was visited in hospital by the Dalai Lama who advised him not to “harbour any feeling of hatred toward the Chinese” in preparation for his death. A memorial to his life sits on the Lingkhor kora path at Dharamsala. Eight more Tibetans, along with one British monk in France, have since burned themselves in exile, starting in 2006.

There is a large population of Tibetan exiles living in Nepal. The 100th such immolation took place outside China for the first time in Kathmandu on the Losar Tibetan new year in 2013 at the holy Boudhanath stupa. By sheer coincidence, I happened to be there although I did not witness this trial by fire; I only saw the burned patch in the flagstones where once was the Tibetan Buddhist monk, Drupchen Tsering. The 45-year old monk Bhutruk preceded him in 2011 wrapped in a Tibetan flag and disabled monk Karma Ngedon Gyatso set himself ablaze in August 2013, both at Boudha. The stupa is now surrounded by surveillance cameras provided by China at a cost of two million US dollars.

Tibetans   had   to   invent   a   new   term   to  encompass    self-immolation: rang  lus  mer  bsrigs  gtong (pronounced rang lus me srig tong) རང་ལུས་མེར་བསྲེགས་གཏོང་ meaning giving one’s body in fire. There have been 146 Tibetans since February 27, 2009 who self-immolated, 119 men and 27 women between 16 and 64, blamed on “Chinese cultural genocide” by the Dalai Lama. While writing this article, this number needed to be revised four, five, six, seven times.

Few of these instances have been reported globally except for the efforts of the International Campaign to Save Tibet. This puts an entirely different slant on China’s Great Firewall. There have even been Tibetan immolations in Beijing.

Many have been Buddhist lamas and anis, however, lay followers have increasingly immolated, including teenagers. Among them, three were high reincarnated masters called tulku, but also included nomads and peasants, high school students, labourers, vendors, a carpenter, a woodworker, a writer, a painter of thangka, a taxi driver, a retired government cadre, a laundry owner, a park ranger, and mothers and fathers.

No longer restricted to Tibet, many more self-immolations have taken place in the sacred Tibetan homelands of Amdo, Kham and Ü-tsang in the adjacent Chinese provinces of Gansu, Qinghai and Sìchuān. Tibetans call the immolators pawo: it means heroes.

The heroes’ families, fellow monks and nuns are criminalised—arrested, tortured and imprisoned, denied employment and benefits, are prevented from practicing their religion and have their property confiscated. In addition to 10-, 11-, and 13-year sentences, at least one monk has received the death penalty for assisting an immolator, all following in camera trials.

Those simply passing on news and images of immolations have been sentenced from five to 15 years for “disclosing state secrets”. More than 300 monks were forcibly disappeared in 2011 from Kirti Gelugpa Gompa in Ngawa, an epicentre for immolators, for “patriotic reëducation through labour”.

Tibet’s population of six million live under undeclared martial law; dissenters are heavily charged as terrorist separatists. Tibetan children under 18 must attend Chinese government schools with all instruction in Mandarin, and a fine of ¥3,000 (of an average annual income of ¥10,000) levied for each child entering the monkhood. 40% of Tibetans are unemployed; when employed, Tibetans suffer wage discrimination.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy reports by August 2011, the latest confirmed figures available, there are 1,391 Tibetan political prisoners, 476 released and 113 deaths in custody for expressing their political views and their devotion to the Dalai Lama; only 108 went to formal trial. Possession of an image of the Dalai Lama is a criminal offence punished by _________. 

According to NGO Reporters sans frontiéres, more foreign journalists are allowed to report from North Korea than from Tibet.


1. Ngaba in Amdo was the first place attacked by the People’s Republic of China during its occupation of Tibet. Before the founding of PRC, in 1935 during the Long March when the Red Army marched through Ngaba, the Chinese army destroyed Lhateng Monastery, which housed over two thousand monks. They then walked through Muge Gonchen shooting monks and civilians. Soldiers met in Muge Monastery and looted valuables and grain from numerous monastery storehouses leading to the first-ever famine in Tibet. Tibetans in this region survived by eating leaves of trees.
The occupying army’s huge numbers defeated the Khampas. They shot dead the relatives of the Kirti Gompa’s abbot and many others. The Red Army occupied the central prayer room of the Kirti Gompa, looting and destroying images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Mao Tse-tung planned and implemented a military occupation of the vast Tibetan region in 1950. Following the Tibetan National Uprising, Kirti Rinpoche fled into exile in India just after the Dalai Lama in 1959.

This is the story of the first generation in Occupied Tibet.

2. In 1958 Mao’s ‘Democratic Reform’ arrived in Ngaba. After the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, 1968 saw Red Guards established in Ngaba. This led to the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans, torture, public struggle sessions, famine and other persecution. The king of Me’u was tortured into suicide by jumping into a river. Tulkus and many others were sentenced to death. These policies amounted to nothing less than Tibetan genocide. All religious institutions were destroyed, place and personal people in the Tibetan language were changed into Chinese, thus undermining and stifling Tibetan language and culture. For over half a century, the rich natural resources surrounding Ngaba, particularly forests, were excessively exploited, leading to landslides, floods and other natural disasters. This destruction of the natural environment is so extensive that it appears beyond repair.

This is the story of the second generation in Occupied Tibet.

3. Since 1998, ‘Patriotic Education’  has been enforced in Ngaba monasteries. In 2003 and again in 2008, the 1200-student school associated with Kirti Gompa was shut down; it and other private schools were taken over by government.
In 2008, Chinese security forces shot dead 23 Tibetan demonstrators. Kirti Monastery was surrounded by Chinese forces, imprisoning both monks and students for seven months. 50,000 armed Chinese security personnel are garrisoned in Ngaba.
At Kirti, monks’ quarters are searched, all electronic devices are confiscated, religious texts are destroyed and monks are forced to stamp on photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Kirti Gompa was accused of stockpiling weapons and its protective deities were destroyed.
The world’s highest train line, military airfields, commercial and resource exploitation are intended to control Tibetans and profit China.
A Chinese scholar observed there were “more Chinese than Tibetans, more police than monks, more surveillance cameras than windows”. Tibet has become one of the most heavily militarised locales in the region.

This is the story of the third generation in Occupied Tibet.

Is it really any wonder Tibet is burning? 

Since 2012, Beijing artist Liu Yi has been painting an ever-growing series of black-and-white portraits of Tibetans who have self immolated. This topic is forbidden, of course, in China.
Since 2012, Beijing artist Liu Yi has been painting an ever-growing series of black-and-white portraits of Tibetans who have self immolated. This topic is forbidden, of course, in China.

In Tibet, they are burning themselves with no one there to see

Barkhor Square, Lhasa, Occupied Tibet, 2012
Barkhor Square, Lhasa, Occupied Tibet, 2012

Chinese police in Tibet now carry fire extinguishers and special hooks they can use to grab burning bodies

Following a government ban of the Falun Gong religious movement in 1999, 30,000 practitioners were arrested, including 700 demonstrators in Tiananmen Square; there were numerous reports of torture and murder of these prisoners. Five followers of Falun Dafa, including a 12-year old girl, self-immolated in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 2001; two more were stopped. The Chinese government has used this as propaganda for further repression, parading the maimed survivors before the press. The official Chinese government news agency has reported that 1,700 Falungong practitioners have since committed suicide, many in custody, enabling China to cast the movement, based on Chinese medicine qigong, as a fanatic suicide cult. We know of one further practitioner in Beijing and another in Nanning who publicly set themselves ablaze.

19-year old Czech student, Zdenek Adamec, had been charged with inciting the Darker movement, hackers who periodically shut down the electric grid. He immolated in Prague’s Wenceslas Square in 2003 to protest against nuclear weapons and corruption where Jan Palach burned to protest against the Soviet invasion in 1969.

Four Iranian political refugees set themselves ablaze in Paris in 2003 after the detention of 26 suspected members of the accused terrorist group People’s Mujahideen. Three followed in London at the French Embassy, two others in Bern and Rome.

In 2003, a peace and justice activist exposed police corruption in Nepal and sought refugee status in Edinburgh. 40-year old Uddhav Bhandari had been a bodyguard of Nepal’s Queen Aishwarya until the royal family was gunned down in 2001. He burned himself prior to his immigration hearing.

In 2008, a 26-year old man immolated against the 44-year military regime at Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

In the Muslim world, self-immolation had been largely the province of women. However, at the end of 2010, Tunisian street vendor Tarek al-Tayyib Muhammad ibn Bouazizi set himself ablaze in Tunis to protest against corruption. A square in Paris as well as the main square in Tunis were renamed after him and he was posthumously honoured with the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.

The immolation served as a catalyst for a wider Tunisian rebellion which grew into street protests for regime change in 17 Arab nations. Hundreds of self-immolations occurred in Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen and Italy.

Another handful self-immolated 2011-2013 over the European sovereign debt crisis which resulted in mass shortages and widespread poverty. In 2013, at least seven Bulgarians torched themselves to protest against government monopolies supported by major political parties.

In 2012, at least two former Albanian political prisoners self-immolated in Tirana over recognition and compensation. In Gaza, apartheid Palestine occupied by Israel, a 20-year old immolated over conditions imposed on ordinary Palestinians. In Ramallah, where a statue of South African freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela, has been erected, a Palestinian was prevented from setting himself and his six-year old daughter alight because he could not afford her cancer treatment. At least one more burning followed in Palestine’s West Bank. That same year, a Holocaust survivors and a war veteran self-immolated in Tel Aviv in social justice protests.

In 2014, Mexican indigenous rights activist and farmer Agustín Gomez of the Peasant Front Ricardo Flores Magón set himself afire in front of the Chiapas Congress following a 20-day hunger strike to protest against false imprisonment. Three others from the anarchist movement crucified themselves and five sewed their lips shut.

Meanwhile, in Thailand, a rice farmer self-immolated in 2014 at Government House and in 2015 a Southern rubber farmer set himself ablaze due to government’s refusal to stabilise crop prices to relieve farmers’ debt.

Following World War II, Japan was forced by the US to adopt a pacifist constitution which permitted only a Self-Defence Force. Article 9 has come to define modern Japan and is widely supported by its citizenry.

However, in 2014, the United States has 84 active military bases throughout Japan and expects the country to re-militarise in order for Japanese forces to contribute to American military actions around the world.

Japanese politicians support revising the constitution despite Japan’s painful military history, not least as the victims of the US nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, resulting in the instant immolation and death by radiation of more than 250,000 Japanese.


On June 29, 2014, a mean wearing a suit and tie, gave an hour-long public address against military expansion on a pedestrian overpass near Tokyo’s busy Shinjuku station. He stated, “I loved the Japan which has been peaceful for 70 years. With ‘collective self-defence’, Japan will be ruined.” He then read from Akiko Yosano’s famous antiwar poem, “Prithee do not die” before self-immolating. The ever-efficient Japanese put him out with fire hoses. Reported globally and captured on hundreds of cellphone cameras, this action was largely absent from Japanese media.

On the evening of November 11, 2014 (fittingly Remembrance Day marking the end of World War I), a second man, Susumu Nitta, a 63-year old socialist, set himself afire in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park after setting up a video camera to film his self-immolation. This public park is surrounded by a concentration of government buildings. He left notes for Japan’s prime minister and the two parliamentary leaders criticising military expansion. Susumu picked the day when in 1967, Chunoshin Yui, a 73-year old Esperantist, had immolated in front of the prime minister’s residence in protest against the Vietnam War.

And in the US, a 51-year old seven year Navy veteran, Charles R. Ingram III, set himself afire in front of a Veterans Administration clinic. His act of sacrifice is provoking a discussion about how America takes care of its former soldiers. American billionaires are currently campaigning to privatise the VA.

Three-quarters of a million people per year commit suicide worldwide. Yet few do so for the greater good. The act of self-immolation can rarely be categorised by psychopathology whether willful self-destruction, gleaming fanaticism or the vanity of martyrdom. When we have no power, the one power we have is our lives.

We should reflect deeply upon the meaning of their sacrifices. Is this ultimate sacrifice ultimately selfless or selfish? Is self-immolation for political ends truly militant nonviolence, satyagraha, or not? The very opposite of suicide bombers who seek to harm others, is this final act true ahimsa or non-harming?

The very term “hero” is a metonym from the Greek arsonist, Herostratus, for one who commits a criminal act in order to become famous. Herostratus burned down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the ‘seven wonders of the ancient world’. After his execution, the government banned the very mention of his name with the death penalty.

Thinking people who listen to their conscience certainly burn with passion for their cause. However, their causes are left immeasurably poorer for their absence and their comrades are filled with loss and grief.

I honour the immolators. I feel their burning. But I deeply grieve their loss.

Anne, Norman, Christina, Ben, Emily [Image courtesy: Anne Morrison Welsh]
Anne, Norman, Christina, Ben, Emily [Image courtesy: Anne Morrison Welsh]

Norman Morrison, the young Quaker who, in 1965, brought his infant daughter, Emily, to the Pentagon where he immolated himself under the office windows of the Secretary of War. Anne Morrison Welch: “I think having Emily with him was a final and great comfort to Norman… [S]he was a powerful symbol of the children we were killing with our bombs and napalm–who didn’t have parents to hold them in their arms.” Mo Ri Xon is still a hero in Vietnam.

I deeply wish I could have continued my brief friendship with Norman Morrison to one which was lifelong. However, the US Secretary of War, Robert S. McNamara, has stated that Morrison’s 1965 immolation, in front of his one-year old daughter, Emily, under McNamara’s office window, was the final “emotional catalyst” which caused him to reject the US war on Vietnam.

How many Vietnamese children were incinerated by Dow Chemical’s napalm on that single day? And how many other young Americans and Vietnamese had to die before McNamara reached that conclusion?

Indisputably, our world is burning. And, as the song goes, “We didn’t start the fire.”

We can well ask, “What would Gandhi do?” Remember the Gandhi who threatened the British Raj with a fast unto death!

I get it. Self-immolation in protest is a reasonable responce to unreasonable injustice. I can also understand self-immolation as a spiritual practice, the ultimate sacrifice.

The heart of Thích Quảng Đức
The heart of Thích Quảng Đức

Thích Quảng Đức is widely revered as an enlightened being, and is known by the Vietnamese honourific for a bodhisattva, bo tat. It is said that the only part of his body not burned following his Buddhist re-cremation was his heart. Thích Quảng Đức’s heart was kept in the State Bank of Vietnam after an armed raid on Xá Lợi Pagoda in Saigon in 1963. The pagoda was vandalised by soldiers, monks were beaten and killed and Vietnam’s 80-year old supreme Buddhist patriarch was seized and imprisoned. The heart of Vietnam was returned to the pagoda as a holy relic after the country’s reunification following the defeat of the Americans.

We must ask ourselves if the supreme sacrifice of self-immolation is violence simply because it encourages and inspires others to do the same. Surely a human torch is a far more visible symbol to shake the seat of power than each small candle going inexorably to prison for one’s conscience.

Many thousands have self-immolated since Botat Quảng Đức in 1963. But what if the whole world is simply not watching? Have we become so selfish, so inured to the suffering of others, that one more tiger burning bright is no longer sufficient to illuminate our darkness?

I do not intend to encourage or discourage self-immolators. And in no way do I mean to disparage those who have chosen this path. That is entirely up to individual conscience. However, we need to find the middle path to both honour and mourn the immolators.

CJ Hinke
Nonviolence Conflict Workshop

About the author. CJ Hinke is a lifelong peace activist who was the last person arrested for the Vietnam draft. The author is co-founder of the Nonviolent Conflict Workshop (NVCW) and Thailand Peace Pledge against military conscription in Bangkok. His most recent book, Free Radicals: War Resisters in Prison, will be published by Walterville, Oregon publisher Trine-Day in August 2016:
The author wishes to thank in particular Dr. James A. Benn (McMaster University), Dr. Sallie B. King (James Madison University), Dr. John Whalen-Bridge (National University of Singapore), Dr. Michael Biggs (Oxford), Dr. Elizabeth Wilson (Miami University) and Dr. Dechen Pemba (HighPeaks Pure Earth).

Issue 19 (April 2016) Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia. Special Feature, 1 June 2016

[Tashi Norbu, Self-Immolation]
[Tashi Norbu, Self-Immolation]


*The Tiger by William Blake

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Resources for further study

List of political self-immolations
Death by burning
Thích Quảng Đức “The burning monk” by Malcolm Browne
Thich Nhất Hanh, “In Search of the Enemy of Man”, 1965 letter to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Alice Herz. Shibata Shingo, Phoenix: Letters and Documents of Alice Herz: The Thought and Practice of a Modern-Day Martyr, Amsterdam B.R. Grüner, 1976.
Norman Morrison. “I told them to be brave.”
Anne Morrison Welch, Held in the Light: Norman Morrison’s Sacrifice for Peace and His Family’s Journey of Healing, New York: Orbis Books, 2008 ISBN: 978-1570758027.
Gregory Levey
David Blakely Donaldson, The Self-Immolators, The Speaker, 2013. donaldson/.
Huguette Gaulin Bergeron, “Hymne à la beauté du monde”.
Thomas Ball, “Last Statement”, SentinelSource, June 16, 2011
Dave McClave, “72 [sic] Year-Old Gandhian, Jeff Knaebel, Ends Life After Stateless Declaration and 2000-Km Walk”, Gandhitopia, January 27, 2011
Jeff Knaebel, Collection of articles 2005-2010, LewRockwell
Knaebel, Experiments in Moral Sovereignty: Notes of an American Exile, Pune: Friends of the Gandhi Museum, 2006
Self immolation by Tibetans”, International Campaign for Tibet, October 6, 2014.
Michael Biggs, “Dying Without Killing: Self-immolations 1963-2002” in Making Sense of Suicide Missions, Oxford, 2005. http://www.oxfordscholarship.eom/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199276998.001.0001/ acprof-9780199276998-chapter-5.
James Verini, “A Terrible Act of Reason: When Did Self-Immolation Become the Paramount Form of Protest?”, The New Yorker, May 16, 2012
Jeffrey Bartholet, “Aflame: A wave of self-immolations sweeps Tibet”, The New Yorker, July 8, 2013.
Katia Buffetrile and Françoise Robin, Tibet is burning: Self-Immolation: Ritual or Political Protest?, Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, December 2012
Tsering Woeser, Tibet on Fire: Self-Immolations Against Chinese Rule, London: Verso, 2016.
John Whalen-Bridge, Tibet on Fire: Buddhism, Protest, and the Rhetoric of Self-Immolation, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
James A. Benn, Burning for the Buddha: Self-Immolations in Chinese Buddhism, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007.
Jan Yün-hua, “Buddhist Self-Immolation in Medieval China”, History of Religions Vol. 4, No. 2, 1965.
US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Tibetan Self-Immolation: Rising Frequency, Wider Spread, Greater Diversity
Carole McGranahan and Ralph Litzinger, “Self-Immolation as Protest”, Cultural Anthropology, 2012.
McGranahan, “For Tsepey Who Immolated in Tibet Six Hours from Now”, Savage Minds, December 22, 2014.
Woeser, “Fire Extinguishers and ‘Apartheid’”, High Peaks, Pure Earth, June 13, 2012.
“Lhasa, a city of fire extinguishers”, Tibetan Review, February 15, 2015.
Biggs, “Self Immolation in Context 1963-2012”, Tibetan Buddhism in the West, 2012.
Katarina Plank, “Living Torches of Tibet—Religious and Political Implications of the Recent Self-Immolations”, Journal of Religion and Violence, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2013.
Simanti Lahiri, Suicide Protest in South Asia: Consumed by Commitment, London: Routledge, 2013.
Sharon Romm, Heidi Combs, and Matthew B. Klein, “Self-Immolation: Cause and Culture”, Journal of Burn Care and Research, Vol. 29, No. 6, 2008.
Emily Strasser, “The Chair”, Guernica Magazine, February 16, 2015.
A.V. Williams Jackson (Editor), “The Practice of Suttee, or Widow-Burning, in India, according to Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian, Italian, Dutch, French, and English Accounts”, pp. 69-120, in History of India Volume 9, Chapter 2, London, 1906
“The Origin of Widow Self-Immolation (Sati, or, Suttee) in India & Its Relation to Husbandicide”, April 6, 2014
John Stratton Hawley, Sati, the Blessing and the Curse, London: Oxford, 1994.
Andrea Major, Sati: A Historical Anthology, New York: Oxford, 2007.
Nissan Mindel, “The Martyrs of Blois”, Brooklyn: Kehot Publication Society
E.M. Rose, The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of Blood Libel in Medieval Europe, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
James R. Lewis and Carole M. Cusack (Editors), Sacred Suicide, Farnham: Ashgate, 2014.
Chapter 2, Thomas Robbins, “Religious Mass Suicide Before Jonestown: The Russian Old Believers”.
Chapter 9, Katerina Plank, “Burning Buddhists: Self-Immolation as Political Protest”.

Lama Sobha
Lama Sobha


Ê-mi-ly, con (Emily, my Child) – Tố Hữu (1965)

Ê mi-ly, con đi cùng cha

Emily, come with me

Sau khôn lớn con thuộc đường, khỏi lạc…

Later you’ll grow up you’ll know the streets, no longer feel lost

– Đi đâu cha?

– Where are we going, dad?

– Ra bờ sông Pô-tô-mác
– To the banks of the Potomac
– Xem gì cha?
– To see what, dad?
Không con ơi, chỉ có Lầu ngũ giác.
Nothing my child, there’s just the Pentagon.
Ôi con tôi, đôi mắt tròn xoe
Oh my child, your round eyes
Ôi con tôi, mái tóc vàng hoe
Oh my child, your locks so golden
Đừng có hỏi cha nhiều con nhé!
Don’t ask your father so many questions, dear!
Cha bế con đi, tối con về với mẹ…
I’ll carry you out, this evening you’ll going home with your mother…
Buổi hoàng hôn
Ôi những linh hồn
Oh, those souls
Còn, mất
That remain or are lost
Hãy cháy lên, cháy lên Sự thật!
Blaze, blaze the Truth!
Tội ác bay chồng chất
You fucker, your crimes accumulate
Cả nhân loại căm hờn
All humanity detests
Con quỷ vàng trên mặt đất.
The yellow demon upon this earth.
Mày không thể mượn nước son
You cannot borrow the crimson waters
Của Thiên Chúa, và màu vàng của Phật!
Of God, and Buddha’s yellow.
Mác Na-ma-ra
Mày trốn đâu? Giữa bãi tha ma
Where are you hiding, asshole? In the burial yard
Của toà nhà năm góc
Of a five corner building
Mỗi góc, một châu.
Each corner a continent
Mày vẫn chui đầu
You still squeeze your head
Trong lửa nóng
Inside hot flames
Như đà điểu rúc đầu trong cát bỏng.
Like the ostrich buries its head in the scorching sands

Hãy nhìn đây!
Look over here!
Nhìn ta phút này!
Look at me right now!
Ôi không chỉ là ta với con gái nhỏ trong tay
Oh it’s not only me with my little daughter in my arms
Ta là Hôm nay
I am Today
Và con ta, Ê-mi-ly ơi, con là mãi mãi!
And my daughter, oh Emily, you are forever!
Ta đứng dậy,
I stand awake,
Với trái tim vĩ đại
With the great heart
Của trăm triệu con người
Of a hundred million
Nước Mỹ.
Để đốt sáng đến chân trời
To flame, light up the horizon
Một ngọn đèn
A light
Công lý.
Of Justice.

Hỡi tất cả chúng bay, một bầy ma quỷ
Hey all you fuckers, pack of devils
Nhân danh ai?
In whose name?
Bay mang những B 52
You bring B52s
Những na-pan, hơi độc
Napalm, poison gas
Từ toà Bạch Ốc
From the White House
Từ đảo Guy-am
From Guam
Đến Việt Nam
To Vietnam
Để ám sát hoà bình và tự do dân tộc
To liquidate peace and national freedom
Để đốt những nhà thương, trường học
To incinerate hospitals and schools
Giết những con người chỉ biết yêu thương
Murder people who only know love
Giết những trẻ em chỉ biết đi trường
Murder kids who only know going to school
Giết những đồng xanh bốn mùa hoa lá
Murder green fields, four seasons of leaves and blossoms
Và giết cả những dòng sông của thơ ca nhạc hoạ!
And even murder rivers of poetry, music and art!

Nhân danh ai?
In whose name?
Bay chôn tuổi thanh xuân của chúng ta trong những quan tài
You bury the bloom of our youth in coffins
Ôi những người con trai khoẻ đẹp
Oh, those strong, handsome sons
Có thể biến thiên nhiên thành điện, thép
Who can transform nature to into electricity, steel
Cho con người hạnh phúc hôm nay!
For people’s happiness today!

Nhân danh ai?
In whose name?
Bay đưa ta đến những rừng dày
You bring me to dense jungles
Những hố chông, những đồng lầy kháng chiến
Spiked pits, muddy fields of resistance
Những làng phố đã trở nên pháo đài ẩn hiện
Villages that become fortress that disperse to reappear
Những ngày đêm đất chuyển trời rung…
Nights and days where the heavens and earth shake and jolt
Ôi Việt Nam, xứ sở lạ lùng
Oh Vietnam, a strange land
Đến em thơ cũng hoá thành những anh hùng
To the children who become heroes
Đến ong dại cũng luyện thành chiến sĩ
To the wild bees who train to be warriors
Và hoa trái cũng biến thành vũ khí!
And the trees and flowers become weapons!

Hãy chết đi, chết đi
Go ahead and die, die
Tất cả chúng bay, một bầy ma quỷ!
All you jerks, a pack of demons
Và xin nghe, nước Mỹ ta ơi!
And I ask that you listen, my America!
Tiếng thương đau, tiếng căm giận đời đời
To the voices of pain, of eternal hatred
Của một người con. Của một con người thế kỷ
Of a child. Of a person of this century

Ê-mi-ly, con ơi!
Emily, oh child!
Trời sắp tối rồi…
It’s beginning to get dark…
Cha không bế con về được nữa!
I can carry you no further
Khi đã sáng bùng lên ngọn lửa
When I ignite, light up as a flame
Đêm nay mẹ đến tìm con
Tonight, your mother will come find you
Con sẽ ôm lấy mẹ mà hôn
You’ll hug her and kiss
Cho cha nhé
Her for me
Và con sẽ nói giùm với mẹ:
And tell your mother this for me:
Cha đi vui, xin mẹ đừng buồn!
I left happy, mother don’t be sad!
Buổi hoàng hôn
Còn mất?
Remains or is lost?
Đã đến phút lòng ta sáng nhất
It’s come, the moment when my heart’s brightest
Ta đốt thân ta
I set fire to myself
Cho ngọn lửa chói loà
So the flames dazzle
Sự thật.

Jim Vision, Brixton graffiti artist, honours self-immolations
Banner Image: Jim Vision, Brixton graffiti artist, honours self-immolations


  1. Good research, C.J., and in considerable depth the likes of me is fearful to dig. Principles, injustice, oppression, is the answer still blowing in the wind?
    Great to see you active on the literary scene.

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