June 11, 1963
Saigon, South Vietnam
Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức sets himself on fire in protest of a lack of religious freedom and the persecution of Buddhists in South Vietnam
President Ngô Đình Diệm, a Roman Catholic, was within the religious minority of South Vietnam. President Diệm granted favors to Catholics, including land and weapons for self-defense. Additionally, the government turned a blind eye to certain misdeeds performed by Catholics including private armies run by Catholic priests, promotions being denied to Buddhists unless they converted to Catholicism, forced religious conversions, destruction of Buddhist property, and looting.
Đức’s last words before self-immolation were “Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngô Đình Diệm to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organize in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.”
Đức’s funeral was originally set for June 15 but postponed until June 19. His already charred and withered body was cremated, but his heart reportedly remained intact during both burning. It was kept in a glass chalice as a holy artifact. President Diệm’s brother and leader of a special forces team, Ngô Đình Nhu, ordered Đức’s remains confiscated. Two monks were able to escape with his ashes, but the heart was taken by Nhu’s team.
In response, President Diệm reinforced his grip. Newspapers claimed Buddhists were plotting murder and military and police attempted to discover any who did not agree with the President. President Diệm was overthrown in a coup and assassinated with his brother on November 1, 1963.