"If I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world"
These words were written by Malachi Ritscher (pictured) shortly before he set himself on fire. On an early November morning in Chicago, he brought a can of gasoline and a book of matches before an audience of rush-hour commuters, and performed his own coup de grace. When his protest of the United States' occupation of Iraq was over, his body was charred beyond recognition and the population of Chicago had shrunk by one.
Viewed in historical context, I suppose it's not surprising that a citizen of an attacking country responsible for tens of thousands of innocent civilian deaths would take his own life to protest the war. It follows that self-immolation would be the way to ensure the protest was heard 'round the world, despite--or because of--the unimaginable anguish of burning alive. Ritscher felt, similarly to Norman Morrison or Roger Allen LaPorte, that by igniting himself on fire, he would draw the international community's attention to the fact that Americans felt strongly enough about the actions of their own country to kill themselves. But while Morrison got his own postage stamp and a street named after him in Hanoi for his protest of the Vietnam War, Ritscher, forty years later, instead received a media blackout and accusations of being mentally unstable.
The mainstream press responded to his excruciating death by accusing him of insanity and describing his obituary as "rambling." But in actuality, his self-penned obituary is entirely lucid and leaves no doubt as to why he did what he felt he had to do. By no means was he "insane"--insanity, as Albert Einstein said, is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Insanity, thusly, is embroiling ourselves in another Vietnam when Vietnam happened during all of our current leaders' lifetimes. Insanity is turning Saddam Hussein over to a lynch mob and watching him hang via online video, when we think of the town-square hangings carried out in the middle ages as barbaric. Insanity is constructing a 700-mile long fence between the United States and Mexico when we tore down the Berlin Wall less than 20 years ago. Insanity is letting an administration steal one election, and then four years later letting them repeat the same feat of electioneering.
Not learning from history is a cardinal sin. But I'm 25, so what do I know of history? And I'm not religious, so what do I know of sin? Better, then, to let the most powerful man in the world explain this "don't repeat your mistakes" mantra: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... You don't get fooled again."
By Einstein's definition, Bush and Cheney are insane, but the mainstream media in this country refrains from launching sustained character attacks on them. Somehow, with everything that is wrong with the leadership in our country, Malachi Ritscher--citizen, dead--is the one who is attacked. Our political office consists of war criminals and our press is full of neutered houseboys.
In his last known writing, Ritscher asked:
What has happened to my country? We have become worse than the imagined enemy - killing civilians and calling it 'collateral damage', torturing and trampling human rights inside and outside our own borders, violating our own Constitution whenever it seems convenient, lying and stealing right and left, more concerned with sports on television and ring-tones on cell-phones than the future of the world.
Are these the words of an insane man?
B), it's not even a question worth asking in a public forum. To debate his mental condition at the time of his death is offensive--not only is it belittling to his sacrifice, but to do so is to participate in the same charade of misdirection that our current administration uses too often. To ask whether he was sane or not is to imply that he had a point if were sane and he did not if he were insane. The fact is, Ritscher was reacting to the problems created by those currently in power in this country, and it is them we should be questioning, not him. To call in to question his character is morally repugnant. If the canary in the cage dies from toxic fumes, do you question the canary's medical history or do you try to do something to improve the air quality?