A profound act of sincerity

28 Feb

Many of us 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.
Aaron Bushnell, 1998- 2024

Caitlin Johnstone today, on the extraordinary courage of a young US airman:

A Profound Act of Sincerity

One of the main reasons the self-immolation of Aaron Bushnell is having such an earth shaking impact on our society is that it’s the single most profound act of sincerity any of us have ever witnessed.

In this fraudulent civilization where everything is fake and stupid, we are not accustomed to such sincerity. We’re accustomed to vapid mainstream culture manufactured in New York and Los Angeles, airheaded celebrities who never talk about anything real, self-aggrandizing Instagram activism, synthetic political factions designed to herd populist discontent into support for status quo politics, phony shitlib “I hear you, I stand with you [but I won’t actually do anything]” posturing, endless propaganda and diversion from the mass media and online equivalents algorithmically boosted by Silicon Valley plutocrats, and a mind-controlled dystopia where almost everyone is sleepwalking through life in a psyop-induced fog.

That is the sort of experience we have been conditioned to expect here in the shadow of the western empire. And then, out of nowhere, some Air Force guy comes along and does something real. Something as authentic and sincere as anything could possibly be, with the very noblest of intentions.

He live-streamed himself lighting himself on fire and burning to death in order to draw people’s attention to how horrific the US-backed atrocities in Gaza actually are. Knowing full well how painful it would be. Knowing full well he’d either die or survive with horrific burns and wish he’d died. Knowing full well that once he connected the flame with the accelerant he poured onto his body, there’d be no turning back.

He didn’t back down. He didn’t go home and stuff his face with snacks and gossip in the group chat and see what types of mindless escapism are available on Netflix or Pornhub. He lit the flame. He even struggled to light it at first, and he still did.

There’s nothing in our society that can prepare us for that kind of sincerity. That kind of selflessness. That kind of purity of intention. It stops us dead in our tracks, as if the fabric of our world has been ripped asunder. And, in a way, it has.

We’re not really living in the same world we were living in before Aaron Bushnell lit himself on fire at 1 PM on February 25th. It was far too sincere an act, committed in the least sincere city on this planet. It shook things around far too much for all the pieces to fit fully back into place.

I myself am permanently changed. I find myself reapproaching the Gaza genocide with fresh eyes, renewed vigor, and invincible determination. I now write with a different kind of fire in my guts.

And looking around I can see it’s much the same for others. Where previously we’d begun seeing the opposition to the incineration of Gaza beginning to lose a bit of energy due to despair and how hard it is to keep something energized for months on end, we are now seeing electrifying enthusiasm. 

More importantly, this is shaking things up in mainstream society and not just within the pro-Palestine crowd. We’re seeing Bushnell’s final words about the US empire’s complicity with genocide shared on mainstream networks like CNN and ABC, while Israel apologists run around falling all over themselves trying to tell people nobody cares about what Bushnell did like a guy sending a woman dozens of texts saying he’s totally unbothered that she rejected his advances. A member of the US military lighting himself on fire while screaming “Free Palestine” is absolutely devastating to the information interests of Israel and the United States, because it shakes people awake like nothing else ever could.

All around our fake plastic dystopia people are now opening their eyes, saying “Wait, huh? That man did what? Why? I thought nothing matters but my comfort and my feelings and my small circle of people I care about? My country is complicit in a what now? Is it possible I’ve been missing something important?”

With his profound act of sincerity, Aaron Bushnell extended the world an invitation to a very different way of looking at life. An invitation to pierce through the veil of superficiality and narcissism to a radical authenticity and a deep compassion for our fellow human beings. To a profound sincerity of our own, with which we can shake the world awake in our own unique ways.

At 1 PM on February 25th, Aaron Bushnell lit more than one kind of fire. A fire that drives us to act. A fire that lights the way. A fire that inspires us. A fire that shows us another way of being. A fire which shows us a better world is possible. 

We won’t forget his message. We couldn’t if we tried.


In this 3:42 short, A Reflection on Duty and Conscience, two gamekeepers turned poacher – the judge and the inspector – pay homage too to Aaron Bushnell.

* * *

5 Replies to “A profound act of sincerity

  1. Fifty-one years last September, a third of the way through six weeks of basic training, I sat in a classroom at Helles Barracks, Catterick Garrison, to listen to a lecture on the rules of armed conflict delivered by an army officer from Northern Ireland who, coincidentally, featured in a BTL post on this site a while back which involved an incident concerning driving six APC’s through a German farmers field.

    But I digress. The Geneva convention can be a dry subject at best. Particularly when you’d been on the Newcastle Brown Ale in the NAFFI the evening before. I can’t speak for anyone else present at that lecture from that old Six Troop cohort but his summing up has stayed with me ever since.

    From day one of our arrival, fresh from drinking the bar dry in only three days at the induction camp in Sutton Coldfield, the training team in charge of us (One Lieutenant; one Sergeant; two Corporals) had been hammering home the message at every opportunity that just because we were going on to more lengthy trade training and were only undergoing half the basic training of an infantry soldier (six weeks instead of twelve) made no difference.

    The mantra went something like ‘it makes no difference whether you are cook, a mechanic, a clerk, a technician or a combat radio man; you’re a soldier first and tradesman second.’

    And that Northern Irish officer hammered home that same point in a very different context to sum up this dry, but important, subject.

    On this occasion in went something along the lines of: ‘it makes no difference what hat you are wearing;whether you a general, a sergeant, a private or a civilian. You are a human being first and anything else, whatever hat you are wearing, second.’

    Lieutenant Chris Donaghy, if he’s still with us, will no doubt be silently saluting Aaron Bushnell for carrying that message forward in the way he did.

    • Amen to that, Dave.

      Needless to say, the damage limitation industry went into overdrive. Liberal media talk of “anarchist leanings” and hint at mental illness with refs to his allegedly extreme Christian cult childhood.

      Zionist and alt-Right communities are more forthright with their sneering but not a word have I read – selfish coward abandons wife and young children – could not be applied to others now so far behind they can safely be lionised. Mandela? Gandhi? Man, they were obsessed, you know! And don’t get me started on Buddhist monks doing self immolation back in the day in ‘Nam. Out and out nutters and narcissists, the lot of ’em …

      I bet they all had no end of mental issues!

      Or is it just too threateningly simple to salute the courage of a man who, as Caitlin rightly says, did not die in vain?

  2. too sad to make intelligent comment but hope to whoever I never lose my empathy, compassion or humanity by denouncing this tortured man’s sacrifice. His suffering is ended, the Palestinians continues unless enough of us say “no more”.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *