Mourning Jan Palach by Josef Koudelka

Josef Koudelka, Mourning Jan Palach who burned himself to death to protest the invasion, 1969, Magnum via

I’m haunted by this image by Josef Koudelka, who photographed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 and its aftermath. Jan Palach was a 21-year-old student who died in January 1969, after setting himself on fire in Wenceslas Square and running through the streets of Prague.

Koudelka made his photos secretly, under extraordinary and dangerous circumstances, but they always had a feeling of distant historicity. Then a couple of days ago Aaron Bushnell, a 25-year-old soldier in the US Air Force, set himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy near my house. He was protesting US involvement and support of genocide being committed against Palestinians in Gaza.

Koudelka’s image illustrates Masha Gessen’s New Yorker essay about the implications for the US and its political system for an American soldier to self-immolate in terrible protest against something even worse.