Aaron Bushnell: An Act Expressing the Rage and Frustration of Millions

Yesterday afternoon, active-duty member of the US Air Force Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, in protest against American imperialism’s complicity with the war on Gaza. The news of this brave act of self-sacrifice by a single man has powerfully echoed through the hearts of hundreds of millions of men and women.

They feel the same profound desperation at the scenes of the genocide being committed in Gaza—impotence as the collective military might of Western imperialism is used to crush and murder a small, oppressed people. They feel the same choking rage at our bloodthirsty capitalist politicians here in the West who have allowed this slaughter.

On Thursday morning, 25-year-old cybersecurity and IT engineer for the US Air Force Aaron Bushnell contacted various newspapers stating his intention to lay down his life in protest:

My name is Aaron Bushnell, I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force, and I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I’m about to engage in an extreme act of protest 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.

Faced with the rank hypocrisy of the imperialists, who preach “democracy” and “human rights” while arming the murderous Netanyahu regime to the hilt, Bushnell, who was an anarchist, correctly placed the blame squarely where it belongs: with the ruling class.

The video of Bushnell’s final moments, as he approached the gates of the Israeli embassy, makes for harrowing viewing. Initially seen on Twitch by just a few dozen viewers, subsequent uploads of the footage have been seen by millions. Even as the flames engulfed his body, Bushnell screams out, “Free Palestine! Free Palestine!” These were his final words.

Alongside this scene of a young man in the prime of his life giving up everything to bring attention to the suffering of the Palestinian people, the video also captured the spectacle of either a plain-clothes police officer or a member of embassy security pointing a gun at the dying man, demanding he “get on the ground.”

Media insinuations

Immediately, the authorities and the media have disgracefully sought to muddy the waters, using the typical Orwellian newspeak, which we have become so used to since the war against Gaza broke out.

ABC News referred to an “apparent ‘political protest,’” the scare quotes being entirely their own. Others noted that “no Israeli embassy staff were harmed,” and that a bomb disposal team was called out to check a “suspicious vehicle” in the area—insinuations that suggest the safety of the embassy and its staff were somehow under threat.

Aaron Bushnell Image fair use
The impact of Bushnell’s death is shown in the immense outpouring of sympathy and support on his social media. / Image: fair use

The Washington Metropolitan Police, meanwhile, released an incident report talking about a man in “mental distress” walking outside the embassy before Bushnell’s self-immolation. The Secret Service reported that it had received reports of someone “experiencing a possible medical/mental health emergency.” Many in the press dutifully picked up this narrative, in a filthy attempt to undermine Bushnell’s protest by suggesting they were the actions of a man not of sound mind.

These actions were not the result of mental illness but of a deep frustration and anger, the same sentiment with which the hearts of millions of workers and youth burn. We are sick of the mass murder and of the lies coming from the capitalist media and politicians, in America and everywhere, who attempt to blacken the reputations of those standing with Palestine, while justifying Israel’s slaughter.

But Bushnell’s message to the world was not simply one of anger. It also showed the desperate, seething need to do something in the face of all this injustice. In powerful words, he wrote in his final social media post:

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.

Faced with the horrors of imperialism, millions feel the need to act. But as individuals, we seem impotent to halt the bone-crushing might of the imperialist juggernaut.

A more powerful example of individual protest than that of Aaron Bushnell, who will forever be remembered, cannot be imagined. What is needed now is an organized expression to collect all of this rage into a powerful, invincible force: a revolutionary party that can challenge and overthrow this rotten capitalist system and the whole gang of imperialist war criminals, from Biden to Sunak, Macron, Scholz, Trudeau—each and every one of them.

“A volcanic revolution”

The impact of Bushnell’s death is shown in the immense outpouring of sympathy and support on his social media. Messages of solidarity from thousands of commenters revealed how deeply his actions had been felt:

I have felt how you feel, no one seems to be listening or caring enough to stop this genocide.

Shame on you, Joe Biden. Shame on you, Blinken. You murderers!

The ignition of your good body will be the beginning of a volcanic revolution to stop injustice and support the oppressed.

This is the mood among millions. Bushnell’s screams of “free Palestine” will echo long after his death. What is needed is, precisely as the above comment points out, a “volcanic revolution,” channelling the righteous anger of the millions who oppose the ceaseless oppression engendered by capitalism and imperialism at home and abroad.

Bushnell’s protest is the most recent in a long history of self-immolations against imperialist war and oppression. Similar protests were famously carried out during the Vietnam War, both by US and Vietnamese protesters.

More recently, the self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in 2010—against the grinding poverty and humiliation that he, like millions of others, suffered at the hands of the regime—acted as the last straw for the revolutionary movement that erupted in Tunisia, ushering in the Arab Spring and the downfall of dictators.

Today, the destruction of Gaza is radicalizing millions of people in the Middle East. Regimes throughout the region hang by a thread. The possibility of a new Arab Spring is in the air, terrifying the imperialists.

Similar revolutionary developments are on the order of the day all over the world. The question of Gaza has become a key factor in the radicalization of hundreds of millions. The same mood is building everywhere. What is needed is organization and a clear revolutionary program to expropriate the capitalists and carry through a communist revolution. Only this can turn rage and despair into revolutionary hope and a force that will change society.

Free Palestine!

Intifada until victory! Revolution until victory!

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