Self-immolation of Aaron Bushnell an 'indicator … of the profound change in consciousness in the United States'

February 28, 2024
man's face
Aaron Bushnell. Photo:

Aaron Bushnell became the first active duty United States soldier on February 25 to use self-immolation to protest the actions of the military he was a part of.

“I’m about to engage in an extreme act of protest,” he said in a self-recorded livestream outside of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. “But, compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal.” He then lit himself on fire. He later succumbed to his injuries in a hospital.

Before his final act of protest, Bushnell, who worked in the IT department in the US Air Force, made a post on Facebook, which read, “Many of us like to ask ourselves, ‘What would I do if I was alive during slavery? Or the Jim Crow South? Or apartheid? What would I do if my country was committing genocide?’ The answer is, you’re doing it. Right now.”

Anti-imperialist and Palestine solidarity organisations within the US have released several statements in honor of Bushnell.

Brian Becker, the Executive Director of the ANSWER Coalition, wrote in a statement released on the morning of February 26, “This was an act of martyrdom by a US service member who was outraged by the actions of a government that speaks in his name.”

Becker continues, “Aaron Bushnell’s action is a reflection, an indicator, a marker, of the profound change in consciousness in the United States. The previously dominant narrative that backed the Israeli apartheid government is dramatically giving way to a narrative based on the truth: that the Palestinian people have been the victims of dispossession, ethnic cleansing, violence of all types and now a genocidal killing spree in Gaza. And people in the United States and around the world are horrified and are mobilizing on multiple fronts in support of Palestine.”

The Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) also released a statement highlighting the message sent by Bushnell’s protest. “In making the most extreme sacrifice a human being can in support of a moral cause — his own life — Aaron sent a message on behalf of the masses of the US and of the world, that people of conscience everywhere will refuse complicity in the unfolding genocide against the Palestinian people until our last breath,” the statement read.

It concludes by saying, “Let Aaron’s words and last act burn brightly in our conscience, let it propel us, let it move us to continue struggling for a Free Palestine, now and until the hour of liberation.”

Iraq war veteran Mike Prysner wrote a tribute to Bushnell, commenting on the crisis of conscience that many US service members face for being part of “an institution of killing”. Prysner writes, “The torment of Israel’s barbarism has been a trying time for all people with a conscience. We have all reeled for months through rage and hopelessness…For Bushnell, that meant also having to put on the uniform of the institution loading the weapons…providing tactical and strategic assistance to the genocide. Not only that, but one also doing the killing: conducting the air strikes on Yemen, Iraq and Syria against people we have no reason or right to kill.”

Prysner emphasised: “Bushnell saw the plain truth: that he was an accomplice to all that. The truth killed him. The Pentagon brass killed him. Joe Biden and Congress killed him.”

However, Prysner also pointed out the crucial role that soldiers and veterans have played historically in organising against war and called on service members and veterans to take steps to protest US complicity in Israel’s genocide and object to participating.

No Tech for Apartheid, a campaign organised by Google and Amazon workers against the companies’ contract with the Israeli government and military, released a statement highlighting the role of tech workers, like Bushnell, in opposing the genocide. “Armed forces from the US to Israel employ thousands of tech workers as military operations become more and more AI-driven. These operations are also powered by tech companies like Amazon and Google, which are enabling the world’s first AI-powered genocide committed by the Israeli military.”

The campaign called on tech workers of conscience to join the movement and refuse to be complicit in genocide.

Pro-Palestine and anti-war groups have organised vigils to honour Bushnell in several cities in the US. In Washington DC, a vigil was held in front of the Israeli embassy where Bushnell carried out his action.

International response

The weight of Bushnell’s protest, the fact that an active member of the US military carried out such an extreme protest against US support of Israel’s genocide, sent shockwaves around the world with “Washington” “Aaron Bushnell” and his last words, “Free Palestine”, appearing as trending topics on X in countries across the world.

Bushnell’s protest was widely shared throughout Yemen, where the people have been constantly mobilising and engaging in direct acts of solidarity with Gaza, such as the Ansar Allah movement’s blockade of the Red Sea to ships linked to Israel. One X post from Yemeni doctor Ahmed Ali Alhareb reads, “He refused to be annihilated and did not stand by. Rather, he took a practical stance, ignited himself, and gave his soul to deliver the message of rejection to all corners of the globe. From his position in the American Army, he sent his message to the silent Arab and Islamic armies that the fire of this world is easier for you than the fire of the afterlife, and there is no excuse for everyone before God.”

Leftist Palestinian resistance group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, released a statement following Bushnell’s protest highlighting that it “confirms the state of anger among the American people due to the official American involvement in the zionist genocide war being waged on the Gaza Strip. It also indicates that the status of the Palestinian cause, especially in American circles, is becoming more deeply entrenched in the global conscience, and reveals the truth of the zionist entity as a cheap colonial tool in the hands of savage imperialism.”

Many have also drawn the connection with the Israeli killing of US citizen Rachel Corrie in 2003 in Rafah when she tried to stop a bulldozer from demolishing a Palestinian home.

At the start of Bushnell’s livestream, his first words after introducing himself as an active-duty soldier are “I will no longer be complicit in genocide.” Many in the US, including those who have been taking to the streets for Palestine since October 7, have come to the same conclusion.

[Reprinted from Peoples Dispatch.]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.