Conflicts the US has involved itself in don’t promote peace
Published: Mar 13, 2024 03:54 PM

People mourned in the rain outside the Israeli embassy for US soldier Aaron Bushnell, who set himself on fire to protest US Gaza policy, on February 27, 2024. Photo: VCG.

People mourn in the rain outside the Israeli embassy for US soldier Aaron Bushnell, who set himself on fire to protest US Gaza policy, on February 27, 2024. Photo: VCG.

Editor's Note:

On February 25, dressed in his military uniform, Aaron Bushnell, a 25-year-old member of the US Air Force stationed at the Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, set himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington DC over the US' role in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Why did he go to such an extreme to make a point? Will his self-immolation prompt the US government to rethink its position? In an interview with Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Wenwen on her I-Talk show, Mason Escamilla (Escamilla), a friend of Bushnell, recalled his interactions with Bushnell and what he thinks of Bushnell's action.

GT: Can you tell me more about Aaron? 

Escamilla: I knew Aaron thanks to organizing with the San Antonio Collective Care. It's a mutual aid organization here in San Antonio. We focus mostly on houseless outreach and political organizing. We only met each other a handful of times in person because of COVID. Mostly we interacted through an app called Signal to organize things and talk about things going on in the world.

We usually talked about things related to our eagerness to get involved here in San Antonio and building more community networks to support our more vulnerable community members.

Many times we debated our points of view and how they related to the world. We had talked several times previously about the abysmal response in America and the local government's response to COVID and how it had impacted both of us. We also talked about how to interact with our community, as well as the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine since we both had anti-war sentiments.

He was outspoken when I first met him in the summer of last year. But at the same time, he didn't shy away from what he believed in. He told me about the things he liked, and also how he felt and what he believed about certain things. That didn't just include his politics, but his taste in music, like Twenty One Pilots and Bon Jovi. He had a pet cat Sugar that he cared for dearly and would speak to her in this kind of strange voice to get down on her level.

I think overall he was a caring individual. He definitely showed a lot of compassion and empathy for those around him in a desire to understand what they were going through and where they came from. He would listen attentively as he wanted to understand their points of view. He understood how we all relate to the systems in which we were impacted, like community organizing and that kind of outreach.

GT: Did you ever hear him talk about war? What was his opinion about US-launched wars?

Escamilla: We had previously talked about war and conflicts going on around the world. He felt most, if not all, current conflicts that the US had involved itself in were not about advancing democracy or freedom, but about maintaining the US empire and its political and economic interests. I think we both generally fell into the line that no war is a good war and these things needed to end. 

He felt a contradiction in his position in the active military. That was something that guided his beliefs and ideals around like giving back more to the community. For that, I would say it weighed heavily on him the fact that US resources are going into the conflict right now and killing many civilians and wreaking havoc in the region. 

GT: What do you think about what he did?

Escamilla: I think it's still hard to imagine anyone doing what he did. I've met many people who are passionate about what they believe in. But he took it to the extreme. Given what I know about him and what he believed, he knew committing this action in his uniform would garner more attention from a wider audience. He was very self-aware of the role he played and to have a person who is active military sacrifice themselves for something outside of war must have stunned and shocked a lot of people outside of those who personally knew him.

Since the beginning of this year, two other people have self-immolated. Their stories were not received with a wider recognition. I think he kind of knew that being that military uniform person would demand an answer and figure out who this person is, why they did that and what they mean in the whole big scheme of what this conflict is and why a military member is doing this.

So he committed self-immolation in a very calculated way, so that it could not be covered up or clouded by media sources. For his action, it's a powerful form of protest to sacrifice one's whole body in such a violent way so that people acknowledge what is going on in the world. It's hard to really understand what got him to that level.

My first reaction was shock and disbelief. When the Facebook live video of him came out and it started to appear on more and more social media posts, it was hard to manage those feelings of anger and sadness along with acknowledging that he would have wanted us to continue to pursue peace and demand a change of action from the American perspective in Palestine.

GT: What message did he want to deliver to the US government? 

Escamilla: His overall message was to encourage others to look at the horrors being perpetuated and demand change. It definitely has garnered in America a demand to understand why someone did this and what is actually going on, what is happening, and why we have been ignoring it, to some degree.

GT: Does Aaron's self-immolation reflect broader critical views within the military toward actions ordered by the US government or the military?

Escamilla: I know more people in the military are becoming aware that these conflicts the US has involved itself in do not promote peace. We've seen so many Americans die and be caught up in fighting wars that go on for decades, where no peace is established. And I think more people in the military are feeling resentment or disillusioned with any idea that they were initially sold into the military. So for some people, I think it was just a job and sold here in America. More and more military members are acknowledging the role they play and also the bigger scheme of things beyond.

GT: Will Aaron's actions prompt the US government to reflect on its policy in the Israel-Palestine conflict and other wars?

Escamilla: Time will tell. I think it's very clear that standing beside Israel has become less and less of a popular position among the American people. This conflict in its brutality and the level of death and chaos that has occurred has shown that this is not an ally the American people want to side with.