Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Journalist who took iconic picture of burning monk in Vietnam dies at 81

NEW YORK — Malcolm W. Browne, a former Associated Press correspondent acclaimed for his trenchant reporting of the Vietnam War and a photo of a Buddhist monk's suicide by fire that shocked the Kennedy White House into a critical policy re-evaluation, has died. He was 81.

Mr. Browne died Monday (Aug. 27, 2012) at a hospital in New Hampshire, not far from his home in Thetford, Vt., said his wife, Le Lieu Browne. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2000.

He spent most of his journalism career at the New York Times, where he put in 30 years of his four decades as a journalist, much of it in war zones.

By his own account, Mr. Browne survived being shot down three times in combat aircraft, was expelled from half a dozen countries and was put on a "death list" in Saigon.

In 1964, Mr. Browne, then an AP correspondent, and rival New York Times journalist David Halberstam both won Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting on the conflict in Vietnam. The war had escalated because of a Nov. 1, 1963, coup d'etat in which U.S.-backed South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown and murdered, along with his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, the national security chief.

The plot — by a cabal of generals acting with tacit U.S. approval — was triggered in part by earlier Buddhist protests against the pro-Catholic Diem regime. The protests drew worldwide attention on June 11, 1963, when a monk set himself afire in a Saigon street intersection in protest as about 500 people watched.

Though several Western reporters also had been alerted to the event in advance, only Mr. Browne took the Buddhists at their word and was there to witness the horrifying event. His photos of the elderly monk, Thich Quang Duc, being doused with aviation fuel and torching himself made front pages around the globe.

At the White House, President John F. Kennedy told Henry Cabot Lodge, about to become America's ambassador to Saigon, that he was "shocked" by the photos and that "we have to do something about that regime."

"That was the beginning of the rebellion, and it ended in the overthrow and killing of Diem," Mr. Browne recalled in a 1998 interview.

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