He was in the US military. And he set himself on fire for… Palestine? • The Havok Journal

I didn’t write about this issue when the news about it first broke, because I wanted to let the story develop for a few days first. As I learned long ago, first reports are almost always wrong, and the more sensational the story, the more wrong the initial reporting. But it seems that what we were told from the first was, in this case, accurate: an active duty US Air Force airman dressed up in his combat fatigues, made his way to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, and then engaged in an act of self-immolation. 

Apparently he did it in the name of “Palestine,” claiming he would no longer be “complicit” in “genocide,” and repeatedly shouting “Free Palestine!” as he burned. He later died of his injuries. In the post mortem, we all came to know that the airman had some pretty extreme political views and was a hard core leftist who apparently hated America. Now, people like Senator Tom Cotton are starting to ask some tough questions.

Like many veterans, I found the news about Aaron Bushnell shocking and hard to understand. The young airman was not ethically Palestinian. Neither he, nor as far as we can tell any US servicemember, served on the ground in Gaza, where the fighting is between Hamas and Israel. In fact, other than far-left ideology Bushnell seems to have no ties to the Palestinian cause, or to Hamas, at all.

Arab Residents of Israel (Sgt. Zachary Mott, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division)

The reaction of the veteran community on this issue has been very interesting. It runs the gamut from “he got what he deserved” to “poor guy” to outright support for his actions. My reaction was nuanced. To begin with, no US servicemember should commit suicide over politics, or for that matter for any reason. But if a servicemember was going to be upset about what the US government is doing overseas, politics, it seems more logical that it would be over the way the war ended in Afghanistan rather what’s happening in Gaza. Also, although I disagree personally with both Bushnell’s politics and his use of the US military as a prop for his political statements, I am grateful that if he was going to choose violence that he only involved himself and not others. I think Bushnell clearly had mental health issues, and I’m saddened that a fellow veteran didn’t get the help they needed in order to not see suicide as a viable option.

Hamas, of course, recognized the act as a propaganda coup and was quick to pounce on the opportunity to take shots at both the US and Israel, saying:

The administration of US President (Joe) Biden bears full responsibility for the death of US Army pilot Aaron Bushnell due to its policy that supported the Nazi Zionist entity in its war of extermination against our Palestinian people, as he gave his life in order to shed light on the Zionist massacres and ethnic cleansing against our people in the Gaza Strip.

I also thought it was interesting that someone with no obvious ties to Palestine or Palestinians would burn himself up in their name, inside America, when I can think of no Palestinians inside of the US who have done anything close to similar. I don’t know what that means, but it’s telling. And if someone was going to protest some aspect of the war in such an extreme way, perhaps they could channel some of that energy towards getting the US hostages released. 

The Hamas/Israel war is indeed upsetting, for any number of reasons. But I hope that this is the last US death associated with this war… although I doubt it will be. 


Scott Faith is a veteran of a half-dozen combat deployments and has served in several different Special Operations units over the course of his Army career. Scott’s writing focuses largely on veterans’ issues, but he is also a big proponent of Constitutional rights and has a deep interest in politics. He often allows other veterans who request anonymity to publish their work under his byline. Scott welcomes story ideas and feedback on his articles and can be reached at havokjournal@havokmedia.com.

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As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.

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