The Burning Soldier

Burning with passion for Palestine, active-duty U.S. Airman Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire, committing suicide to protest genocide.

Make no mistake: Aaron Bushnell is not a role model. Don’t set yourself on fire! Do not emulate self-immolation. But do let it illuminate a very dark situation.

And not just any dark situation. Aaron Bushnell did not set himself on fire over the “Israel/Hamas war” as the mainstream media (MSM) tried to explain, before moving on to the weather report, nor was he experiencing a mental health episode that could have been alleviated with a pill or a call to a suicide hotline, as implied by other MSM hasbara.

“They want us to believe we are mad and this war is sane,” observed CounterPunch’s Jeffrey St. Clair.

Indeed, on his own Twitch-broadcast livestream, Aaron Bushnell sanely and calmly spelled out exactly what he was protesting as he marched to the Israeli embassy in Washington DC, wearing his U.S. military fatigues. My name is Aaron Bushnell,” he said. “And I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force. 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.”

Then he set his phone to auto-record, and he set himself on fire.

He poured the kerosene on his head, stuck his cap back on and, just before he struck the match, a disembodied voice with the banality of a store clerk inquired, “Can I help you, Sir?”

Then suddenly, the blaze erupted, and Airman Aaron Bushnell became a real-life “Burning Man,” a Burning Soldier, marching in place in what must have been searing agony, yelling, “Free Palestine!” over and over again – his voice raw with pain mixed with love for the Palestinian people, so many of whom have been and are still being burned alive by Israeli bombs, paid for by American taxpayers – until he fell to the ground in flames.

“Get on the ground! Get on the ground!” yelled someone, presumably an Israeli embassy guard. Slowly, the guard walked toward the fire, arms stretched taut, hands together, holding a gun on the Burning Soldier as he burned to death.

A gun?

Another guy, perhaps a paramedic, arrived on the scene shouting, “Yo! I don’t need guns, I need fire extinguishers.”

What a moment. A quintessential defining snapshot of humanity, as the world turns and we all burn – as we go on fighting wars, bombing civilians and shooting our neighbors – when the wisest amongst us can barely be heard above the violence, stating the obvious…

“I don’t need guns! I need fire extinguishers!”

Finally, the fire extinguishers arrived, a little too late and spraying clouds of foam all over the Burning Soldier’s burned body, as everyone (but Aaron) shouted, panicked, and someone near the camera asked, “What is that? Who is this?”

Then the camera switched off.

What Are You Doing Right Now?

Before his dramatic act of blazing protest, Aaron Bushnell posed this question, “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.”

Then Aaron set himself on fire. That was his answer to his own challenge. I’m not saying it was a good answer. It wouldn’t be my answer. It’s not an answer I would recommend to anyone. But it was his answer, and I respect it.

He could have posted his views on social media, like so many of us do, or gone to a protest, or done a podcast. He could have drowned his sorrows in beer or porn or ketamine. He could have killed himself less flamboyantly with pills, or perhaps a gun, maybe taking a few friends or strangers down with him, as so many American ammosexual mass murderers have done. Instead, his answer to his question, “What would I do if my country was committing genocide?” was to set himself on fire for all the world to see, feel and take note.

It’s tragic, and very strange, but I feel a kinship with Aaron Bushnell. Maybe it’s because he’s a self-described “anarchist” and a performance artist who performed the ultimate act of anarchistic political performance art protest on Sunday, February 25, 2024, and he did it with such pacifist grace and humble purity, without physically harming anyone but himself.

U.S. Airman Bushnell was trained to be a cog in the American war machine, but for one brief moment he clogged the gears, broke the machine, transformed his destiny and brought the entire Military Industrial Complex to a screeching halt.  He fought fire with fire and sacrificed his life, transmogrifying himself into the Burning Soldier for Palestine.

From Burning Monk to Burning Soldier

Aaron Bushnell’s performance protest triggered one of my first memories of any kind of protest. I was about five years old, too little to read or even watch the news, but I caught a glimpse of something that transcended “news” in my father’s newspaper, an extraordinary black and white photo that showed a man on fire, sitting cross-legged on a busy street.

Having been taught never to even touch a hot stove, my kindergarten brain wondered, “How could he do such a thing?” as the image branded itself into my brain.

I later learned that the man in the photo was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk named Thích Quảng Đức who burned himself alive, using principles of Mahayana meditation, to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the US-supported Catholic government of South Vietnamese President Ngo Diem.

He became known as the “Burning Monk.”

Frightening and mystical as it was, the “Burning Monk” photo taken by AP photographer Malcomb Browne had a huge impact on people’s impressions of America’s presence in Vietnam. Several other self-immolation protests have occurred since then, including an unnamed woman holding a Palestinian flag in front of Atlanta’s Israeli consulate in 2023. Unfortunately, her protest was not filmed, and the MSM was able to spin a more Zionism-friendly narrative, quoting Israeli consul general Anat Sultan-Dadon’s portrayal of the woman’s final act as an expression of “hate and incitement toward Israel” – before sweeping it under the imperialist rug.

Not so with Aaron Bushnell; a 25-year-old Whitmore, Massachusetts native raised on a Christian compound called the Community of Jesus, who joined the air force, becoming a cyber defense operations specialist with the 531st intelligence support squadron at joint base San Antonio, Texas. You could question his background (was that compound a cult?), but his motivations would not be so easily mischaracterized by the MSM spin doctors, as his fiery self-sacrifice on the altar of the Israeli embassy, along with his words explaining it, was live-streamed for the world to see, achieving a monumental impact that has yet to be measured.

Aaron Bushnell, the Burning Soldier, marched through that fire into the hearts and minds of millions. He marched into the history books – if there are to be history books in our future. He certainly marched into trending topics.

Unsurprisingly, his actions were often misinterpreted, minimized as “mentally ill” and even mocked on social media, but he also sparked a lot of art, memorials and tributes, including Gaza Fights for Freedom filmmaker Abby Martin’s Portland vigil, featuring her husband, U.S. army veteran and anti-war activist Mike Prysner and fellow About Face: Veterans Against the War. Mike’s tribute to Bushnell and Abby and Robbie Martin’s Media Roots Radio show on “The Self-Immolation of Aaron Bushnell” are also very moving.

Mid-vigil, Mike and the other veterans burned their military uniforms in a can of fire, chanting, “Remember Aaron Bushnell! He’s not alone.”

Holy Fire

Chanting, dancing or just sitting around a bonfire like that feels sacred. In the Bible, fire represents the “holy spirit.” Moses encounters God in the “burning bush,” the prophet Elijah ascends to heaven in a “Chariot of Fire,” and the Hanukkah candles that only had enough oil to last 24 hours burn for a miraculous eight days.

But fire isn’t all sparkles and light. In Greek mythology, Prometheus is condemned to suffer for eternity for having given humanity the gift of fire.

Whatever your beliefs, fire illuminates what you might not otherwise see, and the firelight of the Burning Solider illuminates the plight of the Palestinians burning, suffering and dying under Zionist apartheid and genocide. It illuminates our need to protest, to resist ennui and despair.

Whatever we do or don’t do, every precious moment, we are answering Aaron’s question, “What would I do if my country was committing genocide?”

Saint Joan Burned at the Stake

The Burning Soldier triggered another old memory for me. When I was a shy but drama-loving adolescent, I played the title role in George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, which focuses on Joan of Arc’s trial before she was burned at the stake. I was no Marie Falconetti – luminous star of Carl Dreyer’s silent masterpiece, “Passion of Joan of Arc” (also featuring another of my fiery favorites, Antonin Artaud). However, for my sheltered little middle class mind, learning lines for a high school play, it was a deep challenge to just contemplate being burned alive.


I learned that Joan was given a chance to live if she would just recant her “voices” and stop wearing “men’s clothes,” but she refused. She made a choice to be burned at the stake (according to Shaw); it was an act of voluntary self-immolation – to make a spiritual, political point – like Aaron Bushnell. Whether or not her point was taken, in 1920 (three years before Shaw wrote his play), Joan of Arc was canonized by the Catholic Church as “Saint Joan.”

Who will canonize the Burning Soldier? Will he be honored like Vietnam’s Burning Monk revered by Buddhists as a Bodhisattva?

Fire Fetish

Being a sex therapist, I always wonder about the sexual angles of things, and though I wouldn’t call a Burning Soldier “sexy” or even particularly sexual, I would say it was an erotic action, an act of Eros, the Greek god of sex, love and life itself. In that sense, Aaron Bushnell’s live streamed self-sacrifice was an act of noble exhibitionism and, in a way, quite beautiful. Fire can radiate great beauty, and since the video never shows Aaron Bushnell’s charred body (even in the unpixellated version) we just see a dazzling man on fire – a real Burning Man.

I wonder how the Burners feel about the Burning Soldier. The Burning Man founders I knew from my Golden Gate Bridge-climbing days with the Suicide Club would have been obsessed by him, though who knows? Nothing and no one stays the same, especially when touched by fire.

Maybe I’m a little fire-“touched” myself… or is that torched? One of my ex-boyfriends juggled fire, and I’ve always been a bit of a pyrophiliac, not drawn to setting fires, but just to watching fireworks, hot wax play, the romance of candelabras, the fetish of firelight. Not to disrespect the purity of Airman Bushnell’s sacrifice; these are just the wildfire thoughts of a sexologistobserving a riveting act of extreme political protest.

As long as we’re talking kink, it bears mentioning that when it comes to the truly dark, depraved, violent and dystopian fetishes of war, the IDF or IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces) sadistic war porn is off the charts, far worse than George W. Bush’s P.O.W. Porn at Abu Ghraib – and that’s just what the Israelis themselves show openly on their own channels.

Of course, a fetish is not *just* about sex; a fetish is also a spiritual symbol, like a rabbit’s foot, a flag, a man dying on a cross for humanity’s sins, or a burning soldier protesting a genocide.

But it is more than a symbol; Aaron’s fire dance is a heartfelt and romantic sacrifice of eros – life – for the love of Palestine. He went up in flames in Palestine’s name.

Eros travels fast these days, and Aaron Bushnell’s eternal Eros, his love for Palestine, is already being returned a million-fold, as Palestinians are carrying pictures of Aaron Bushnell, honoring him as a “martyr” and their American superhero. More powerful than Superman or Spiderman, at least in their lives, is Aaron Bushnell’s Burning Soldier whose pain illuminates theirs.

Cannon Fodder to Canonized Fighter

On our recent Callin show, we talked about the Burning Soldier and the many thousands of Palestinian women, men, children, doctors, journalists and artists, who have been incinerated by Israel’s U.S. taxpayer-paid bombs, as well as starved to death while Genocide Joe lasciviously licks his ice cream.

One of our callers, Maria, a George Galloway and Beatles fan in the Midwest, was extremely moved by the sacrifice of Aaron Bushnell, almost like he’s a close relative of hers. In fact, she was rather peeved that he hasn’t been honored like the Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi whose self-immolation was praised by Barack Obama, and helped to trigger the Arab Spring.

The difference is disturbingly clear: Not to minimize either sacrifice, but Bouazizi’s act of self-immolation served the interests of U.S. Empire, and Bushnell’s does the opposite, refusing to be “complicit” in Uncle Sam’s dirty deeds.

So, let’s not expect Ice Cream Joe to memorialize the great American Burning Soldier, U.S. Airman Aaron Bushnell, at his State of the Union address, but I will at my upcoming State of the Sexual Union address (here’s last year’s); every little bit of love counts in this hate-filled world.

Another Callin caller, Joshua, an active-duty U.S. Army serviceman, identified as “right-wing” and didn’t agree with Bushnell’s “anarchist” politics, but he couldn’t help but be impressed by the extraordinary “discipline” of Airman Bushnell whose blazing courage transformed himself from cannon fodder to canonized fighter for Palestine.

He was also impressed by Capt’n Max’s tales of his own sharpshooting prowess when he was in basic training, hitting 11 out of 12 targets – though the moral of the story is that as soon as Max saw he could shoot, he realized he “could kill somebody,” threw down his rifle and quit.

How Max managed to quit the army with an honorable discharge is another story; there are many ways to make like bonobos, not baboons. But it’s especially difficult when you’re in the U.S. Military. So… radiant or revolting, the Burning Soldier’s fiery protest should be a flaming red flag for the rest of us.

Ceasefire now! Before it’s too late, and our whole world catches fire.

Susan Block, Ph.D., a.k.a. “Dr. Suzy,” is a world renowned LA sex therapist, author of The Bonobo Way: The Evolution of Peace through Pleasure and horny housewife, occasionally seen on HBO and other channels. For information and speaking engagements, call 626-461-5950. Email her at