WARNING: The video and information below may contain images and references that some people may find distressing.

In 1963, Thich Quang Duq’s self-immolation, and the images captured by photographer Malcolm Browne, brought international attention to the political and social issues in Vietnam. The ‘Burning Monk’ became an iconic image, and the context and circumstances can be further explored using various Gale resources.

With kind permission, the Associated Press have allowed us to show their short video documentary on the story, which gives information from the photographer himself. Alongside this, we help to uncover the context, researching the Burning Monk using periodical and primary sources.

In this article, we use primary and secondary sources to ask: Who was Thich Quang Duq? Who is Malcolm Browne? What led to the Burning Monk? How were the Buddhists persecuted in Vietnam? How did it relate to the Vietnam War?



June 11th 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the unforgettable images of the Vietnam war: Saigon correspondent Malcolm Brown's picture of the self immolation of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc.

The protests against the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, in which Duke was participating, led to the November 1963 coup and murder of Diem and his brother.

On the morning of June 11, 1963, Brown ran to the Saigon intersection with his Vietnamese colleague. Amazingly, they were the only two journalists there who had cameras. Brown's picture moved within the hour. At the White House, President John F. Kennedy saw it in the papers and exclaimed: "Jesus Christ". He then ordered a review of his administration's Vietnam policy.

Here is a selection of images from the contact sheets with Brown's description of that June morning, given in the 1997 oral history interview in the AP corporate archives.

Malcolm Brown died on August 27, 2012 in Hanover, New Hampshire at the age of 81.

"We walked, I suppose it must have been about a half hour walk rather slowly, but in due course we reached an intersection of one of the main streets - Phan Đình Phùng - with the cross street and the whole column stopped and made a circle around the intersection so that all traffic was blocked in both directions.

And at that point an old Austin automobile drove up to the center of this group and out stepped an old man, very old monk who, I learned later his name was Thich Quang Duc; and two younger monks. He was resting his hands on their arms and they brought him over to the center of this circle, put down a tan cushion in the middle of the asphalt and - it's a horrible recollection.

They went back to the car and got out a polyethylene jerry can filled with pink gasoline, which I learned later had been diluted  jet aviation fuel to make it burn for a longer time. And they poured it over his head, took a few steps back and at that point he, he pulled out a box of matches and struck one of them and dropped it in his lap and the flames of course engulfed him immediately. And he, his face winced. You could tell from his expression that he was in terrible pain, but he never cried out and he burned for, oh, I suppose 10 minutes or so, or perhaps a bit more. It seemed like an eternity.

Of course it was.

The whole the whole intersection smelled of roasted flesh, and the monks and nuns were crying out and screaming.

A fire truck arrived and tried to get through the circle, but a couple of the monks dashed under the front wheels and lay down on the pavement so that they could advance only by rolling over them.

And all this while I was taking pictures of course. The one thing that sort of keeps you going in war or times of crisis like that is having something to do."

The worldwide publication of the photograph of the June 11, 1963, self-immolation of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc (1897–1963) brought international attention to the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government of Ngo Dinh Diem. The self-immolation occurred on a busy street in Saigon in front of a large crowd mostly comprising Buddhist monks and nuns, but journalists and photojournalists and police were also present. Diem was deposed and assassinated in November 1963.

During the 1960s, the brutality, futility, and horror of the Vietnam War was compellingly depicted through photography and film. Visual exposure swayed opinion of U.S. civilians, whose country found itself entangled in the complex Southeast Asian conflict.

Television reports, including the CBS News Report, brought news and photographs of the war into American living rooms. This news program, hosted by broadcast journalist Morley Safer (who went to Vietnam), described the high number of U.S. casualties and included interviews with soldiers who described combat conditions. Then there were the CBS special reports by Walter Cronkite on the 1968 Tet Offensive, a humiliating defeat for the United States that led Cronkite to opine that the Vietnam War could not be won. In addition, there were the nightly news reports broadcasted by the three major networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC).

Images were also included in daily newspapers and monthly magazines, especially such photojournalism periodicals as Life magazine. The photos proved just as potent as the television reports. One disturbing image was that of South Vietnamese general Nguyen Loan (chief of the national police) shooting Vietcong officer Nguyen Van Lem at close range, through the bound prisoner's temple, in 1968.

But perhaps the most disturbing photograph was of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc setting himself on fire in protest on June 11, 1963. He was practicing a centuriesold Buddhist tradition of self-immolation. This suicide was viewed as an act of sacrifice, a plea for the end of oppression, suffering, and murder of Buddhist monks at the hands of the Ngo Dinh Diem government. In the immediate situation, Quang Duc intended to draw attention to the May 9, 1963, murder of nine Buddhist monks as they attempted to fly the Buddhist flag. In the national situation, the act was viewed as a plea to end the military conflict in Vietnam. Thich Quang Duc's suicide was captured in a series of photographs that revealed his flame-engulfed body. His act was a dramatic protest against the oppressive regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, head of South Vietnam.



The circumstances that eventually led to Quang Duc's selfsacrifice dated as far back as 1955, when the administration of U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower endorsed the creation of South Vietnam and its government of the Republic of Vietnam. A questionable voting process led to the election of the anti-communist Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem. The U.S. government was satisfied with the election because it feared communistic incursion into this muchconflicted region and provided the Diem regime with economic and political assistance. In addition it gave military aid: Eisenhower provided U.S. military expertise to help train the South Vietnam army. That occurred in November of 1955, marking the start of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, which would continue for 20 years.

U.S. fears were probably fueled by Ngo Dinh Diem's assertions that North Vietnam planned to invade South Vietnam. At the time, North Vietnam (known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) was headed by communist leader Ho Chi Minh. When almost one million North Vietnamese crossed the border into South Vietnam between 1955 and 1956, Diem feared that his part of the divided Vietnam region was being infiltrated by spies. That led to a 1957 attack in North Vietnam territory, bolstered by aid from the U.S. military and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Meanwhile, Diem managed to pass legislation that gave his government exceptional power. Anyone suspected of being a communist sympathizer could be jailed, without formal charges or trial. This action led to protests, the loudest coming from the Buddhists, both the monks and nuns. Surprisingly, the peaceful Buddhists would, at times, take to the streets with the angered peasants and fight Diem's police force.

In the United States, the Eisenhower administration found that it essentially had inherited the problem of South Vietnam. Eisenhower's successor, President John F. Kennedy, also found himself buedened with this substantial problem. While both presidents viewed Diem as a strategic ally, they realized he and his government were unstable. Early in his administration, Kennedy provided Diem with only limited support. He provided military advisers and technical and financial aid. But he would not make the commitment of sending U.S. military troops to Vietnam. That came later.

In the early 1960s, during the Kennedy administration, religious tensions heightened in South Vietnam. A clash occurred between Buddhists and Catholics. Diem's regime favored Roman Catholics, providing jobs in public service. His authoritative regime was rife with corruption. Eventually, dissatisfaction erupted in protests and even street clashes. In 

response, Diem initiated a crackdown, which sometimes resulted in violence and the death of protesters. In 1963, Diem's brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, targeted Buddhist pagodas throughout South Vietnam. He accused the Buddhist monks of harboring communists or being communists themselves. By May 1963, Buddhists decided to resort to the ancient tradition of self-immolation to demonstrate their objection.



In that same month and year, Thich Quang Duc was resolved to make the ultimate sacrifice. He decided to undergo the tradition of self-immolation to protest the regime of Diem and its persecution of Buddhists. His death occurred on June 11, 1963. He was 67 years old.

According to reports, Quang Duc was driven to a busy intersection in Saigon, accompanied by two fellow monks from the Linh-Mu religious order in South Vietnam. Quang Duc calmly stepped out of the vehicle and moved into the street. The monks placed a mat for him to sit on. He assumed the lotus position. Two monks then drenched him with gasoline. An eyewitness report described hundreds of monks and nuns gathered in the street, ready to prevent anyone from interfering with the self-immolation. Quang Duc then lit a match and set himself on fire.



The Buddhists ensured that the world would bear witness. On June 10 (the day before), journalists were informed that something they should witness would take place in front of the Cambodian embassy. These journalists were not told what exactly would happen, but some were intrigued. These included award-winning author David Halberstam, who was then a reporter for the New York Times, and photojournalist Malcome W. Browne, who was then working for Associated Press. Halberstam captured the scene in words, and Browne captured the scene in vivid pictures.

According to Halberstam's report, after being doused with gasoline, Quang Duc recited a mind-calming mantra then struck the match and dropped it into his lap. Some in the gathered crown chanted; others cried; others bowed as the monk burned to death. In all, it took about ten minutes for Quang Duc's body to be totally burned by the flames. The monks then carried away his corpse for a second cremation and burial of his ashes.

Before his self-immolation, Quang Duc reportedly wrote: “Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of Buddha, I respectfully plead with President Ngo Dinh Diem for compassion towards the people of the nation and for implementing religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland for eternity.”



Right after the self-immolation, President Kennedy reportedly told the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, that the Diem regime's mistreatment of Buddhist nuns and monks and conditions leading to the protests had to end. Diem lost U.S. support. On November 1, 1963, he and his brother were overthrown and imprisoned. A day later, both were assassinated.

With his dramatic suicide, Quang Duc achieved what he wanted. He brought to the attention of the world the corruption, abuses, and brutality of the Diem regime, and he brought an end to that regime. In the early 21st century a statue of Thich Quang Duc was erected near the site of his suicide.

From: Duc, Quang." Encyclopedia of World Biography, edited by James Craddock, 2nd ed., vol. 36, Gale, 2016, pp. 161-162.

Malcolm Wilde Browne (1931-2012)

Browne was the son of Douglas Granzow Browne, an architect, and Dorothy Rutledge Wilde, a Quaker pacifist, and grew up in Greenwich Village in New York City. Browne attended Swarthmore College from 1948 to 1950 and New York University from 1950 to 1951. He was a laboratory chemist for five years before stumbling into journalism when, as an enlisted GI in postwar Korea, he walked into an army press-relations office that sought someone who could write and type. From 1956 to 1958 he worked in Korea as a U.S. Army correspondent for the Pacific Stars and Stripes. Disliking the olive drab uniform he had to wear, Browne bought all the red socks on sale at the 8th Army post exchange in Korea. He has worn red socks ever since.

After completing his enlistment in Korea, Browne returned to New York, where he became the editor of the Middletown Daily Record (1958–1960). He then became an Associated Press (AP) reporter, first in Baltimore and then as Vietnam correspondent from 1961 to 1965. He continued to report on Vietnam from 1965 to 1966 for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), and then as a freelance writer from 1966 to 1968. Browne was one of the first reporters in the early 1960s, along with David Halberstam of the New York Times and Neil Sheehan and Peter Arnett of United Press International (UPI), to question U.S. involvement in Vietnam under the administration of President John F. Kennedy. Browne was one of the first American journalists to settle in Saigon when U.S. involvement in Vietnam was at an "advisory" level. And as AP bureau chief, Browne saw firsthand the corrupt South Vietnamese government, which consisted of President Ngo Dinh Diem, his brother, and his brother's wife Madame Nhu, who was known as the "Dragon Lady."

In 1961 while at Bien Hoa, the headquarters of the South Vietnamese Air Force, Browne reported that U.S. Air Force pilots were serving in other than an advisory capacity. He photographed U.S. pilots being used for combat duty, an activity the Kennedy administration denied was taking place. In his memoir Muddy Boots and Red Socks: A Reporter's Life (1993), Browne recounts glancing "into the cockpits of some taxiing T-28 two-seat fighter planes—and [seeing] Caucasians behind the controls. Here, then, was visual proof. They were actively fighting, not just advising." However, Browne was unable to photograph this particular incident, as U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers had confiscated his camera.

Two years later Browne photographed the suicide by burning of a Buddhist monk in protest of the corrupt government of South Vietnam. This photo won Browne the World Press Photo Contest in 1963, and China used the photo as propaganda against U.S. involvement in the region. The publicity surrounding the photo was also a factor in ending the Kennedy administration's support of Diem's government.

In 1964 Browne's dispatches from Vietnam won a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. His stories on Vietnam were hidden in old newspapers and smuggled out by travelers who were leaving the region. Much of Browne's reporting on Vietnam can be found in Reporting Vietnam: American Journalism, 1959–1969 (part one, 1998).

During the final years of the 1960s, Browne reported for the New York Times from Buenos Aires, Argentina; his reports covered topics such as the newly elected Marxist government of Chile. Other stories included those on Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Fidel Castro of Cuba, and South American guerrilla groups. Browne also wrote about Latin America being a haven to war criminals from World War II, and included reports on the government-sanctioned attacks on Argentina's Jewish communities. Browne's stint in South America was the longest assignment of his reporting career.

Browne's ease with languages, including French, German, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, and Vietnamese, helped in his reporting of foreign affairs. He won many awards in the 1960s for his news coverage of Southeast Asia and Latin America. As well as the Pulitzer Prize and World Press Photo Award, in 1964 he won the Overseas Press Club Award, the Sigma Delta Chi Award, and the Associated Press Managing Editors Award. In 1966 he received the Edward R. Murrow Memorial Fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations.

In the first half of the 1970s Browne covered other hot spots for the New York Times. He was correspondent for the Pakistan-Iran-Afghanistan region from 1971 to 1972, and correspondent for Indochina from 1972 to 1973. Then he became correspondent in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. He returned to Saigon in 1975 as bureau chief for the Times. Browne was one of the last American journalists to leave Saigon as it fell to North Vietnam, and reported on Saigon's frantic last days as South Vietnamese were trying to evacuate the city.

Browne returned to the United States in 1977 and became a science correspondent for the Times. In 1981 he left the paper to work as senior editor for Discover Magazine, before returning to the Times in 1985 as a science writer 

until his retirement in 2000. He had one last stint as foreign correspondent when he covered the Persian Gulf War in 1991 for the New York Times. From 1995 to 1996 Browne served as McGraw Professor of Writing at Princeton University, in New Jersey.

Browne married his third wife, Huynh thi Le Lieu, on 18 July 1966. He has two children, one each from his previous two marriages. In addition to his autobiography, Browne published The New Face of War in 1965. His work on Vietnam can be found in Reporting Vietnam: American Journalism 1969–1975 (part two, 1998).


Adapted from: Susser, Margalit. "Browne, Malcolm Wilde." The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Thematic Series: The 1960s, edited by William L. O'Neill and Kenneth T. Jackson, vol. 1, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003, pp. 114-116.

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Header image from Wikimedia Commons: The Venerable Thich Quang Duc Monument at the intersection where Quang Duc performed his self-immolation, Phan Dinh Phung (now Nguyen Dinh Chieu) Street and Le Van Duyet (now Cach Mạng Thang Tam) Street.