On 11 June 1963 his holiness Thich Quang Duc immolated himself in protest against the persecution of buddhist peace activists by South Vietnam’s Diem regime. AP photographer Malcolm Browne was tipped off by the monks that something was going to happen at the corner of Nguyễn Đình Chiểu Street and Cách Mạng Tháng Tám Street. His photo went around the world and became instrumental in turning public opinion against the Diem regime.
In the words of president Kennedy: “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” Predictably, Malcolm Browne was awarded the Pulitzer prize and the slot as World Press Photo of the year, even though most prestigous newspapers, including the New York Times, refused to publish it.
Now, at the very same spot a massive memorial overlooks the intersection, where Duc vanished in flames. Here is how Vietnam’s present rulers have since embraced the sacrifice of Duc – the first of 6 monks to ‘barbecue themselves’ – as stated in contempt by Md. Nhu, the de facto First Lady of South Vietnam, until her husband and his brother were assinated a few months later in a coup against Diem by his own generals. A coup which had the quiet backing of the US Embassy in Saigon, and possibly the White House.
Once celebrated by the US as the “Winston Churchill of Asia”, Diem was found shot along with his brother in the trunk of a car.