Freedom fighter or terrorist?

Before I start this post I want to make absolutely sure that you….yes you, reading this, understand that I in no way condone killing anyone….whether it be as a freedom fighter, a terrorist, or even as a soldier under orders from the President. Killing is killing. What I would like us to look at…..to consider, are the ethics, the reasoning behind why people take such extreme action such as destroying property or taking lives…for a belief system. US President George W Bush and his side kick Tony Blair (Prime Minister of the UK) have not been tried as murderers for starting a war, proven to be on false pretences, with Iraq, killing a generally accepted number of around 288,000 people. Why is that? Why is that not considered to be terrorism? An unjust war must surely mean unjust, unlawful killings. Is it simply because they are in command of two of the most important nations on the UN Security Council, so are considered to be above the law?

As we approach November 5th – a date celebrated by many in the western world, particularly in the UK – celebrating the failed attempt by Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators to blow up the House of Lords, I thought it may be apt to include a post about Freedom fighters…or Terrorists. The difference between a Freedom Fighter and a Terrorist is often decided upon by whether they won the conflict or lost. Victors are generally viewed as Freedom Fighters….as are those supported by “western” governments. History has given us many Terrorists but only a few Freedom Fighters. It all depends on your point of view as to which category they should be in. For now, I want to discuss just one person…..

Most people will have heard of the Unabomber – real name Theodore (Ted) John Kaczynski. Who over a period of around 17 years, beginning in 1978, killed 3 people and injured 23 by sending parcel bombs via the US mail service. But what was his reasoning behind this action?

…. America’s little wars are designed to promote the interests of “the system,” but violence at home is dangerous to the system, so the system’s propaganda has to teach us the correspondingly correct attitudes toward such events. Yet I am much less repelled by powerless dissidents who kill a couple hundred because they think they have no other way to effectively state their protest, than I am by politicians and generals—people in positions of great power—who kill hundreds or thousands for the sake of cold calculated political and economic advantages. – Unabomber – Theodore “Ted” John Kaczynski.

On the subject of Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Oklahoma federal buildings in retaliation for the Ruby Ridge and Wako siege, Kaczynski had this to say….The media teach us to be horrified at the Oklahoma City bombing, but I won’t have time to be horrified at it as long as there are greater horrors in the world that make it seem insignificant by comparison. Moreover, our politicians and our military kill people in far larger numbers than was done at Oklahoma City, and they do so for motives that are far more cold blooded and calculating. On orders from the president, a general will kill some thousands of people (usually including many civilians regardless of efforts to avoid such losses) without bothering to ask himself whether the killing is justified. He has to follow orders because his only other alternative would be to resign his commission, and naturally he would rather kill a few thousand people than spoil his career. The politicians and the media justify these actions with propaganda about “defending freedom.” However, even if America were a free society (which it is not), most U.S. military action during at least the last couple of decades has not been necessary for the survival of American society but has been designed to protect relatively narrow economic or political interests or to boost the president’s approval rating in the public-opinion polls.

Getting back to Kaczynski’s reason for sending out parcel bombs. Firstly we need to understand that Kaczynski was not some kind of redneck hoodlum. He was a very intelligent man (with an IQ 6 points above that of Einstein). He graduated high school at 15 and was accepted at Harvard University on a scholarship at the age of 16. His peers, both in high school and at Harvard University, considered him a genius or, as one classmate said, “a walking brain”. During his time at Harvard, where he earned his degree in Mathematics, he spent 3 years taking part in psychological experiments run by Harvard psychologist Henry Murray (who had worked for the OSS during WW2 – later to become the CIA – doing experiments on brainwashing and interrogation), logging over 200 hours as part of the study. He underwent mind control experiments and psychological abuse. Whether this had any affect on his thought patterns from here on in is the big question. Since Kaczynski turned against science and technology, one would have to support the suggestion that the experiments did indeed have an effect on his future behaviour and choices.

After Harvard he attended the University of Michigan where he earned his Masters and then his Doctorate in Mathematics. Then at the age of 25 he became the youngest ever assistant professor of mathematics to teach at University of California, Berkley. But after only 2 years he suddenly, and without warning quit and moved back to his parents house in Lombard, Illinois, and two years later still moved into a single room cabin in the woods just outside the town of Lincoln, Montana. Disenchanted with the modern world, its technology and its greed he turned his back on the “wealth” that a Harvard education all but guarantees and went to commune with nature instead.

It was a very basic cabin, without electricity or running water and it was here that he decided that he would live a very simple life, would become well versed in woodsmen’s skills and try to be as self sufficient as possible. He kept himself to himself, would go into town, by bicycle, for a few supplies and also borrow books from the library there. He was happy living with nature and had a few favourite hikes that he’d take to get away from the locals who would walk in the woods near his cabin.

One day, on arriving at one of his favourite hiking spots, he had a very rude awakening. In his own words….It’s kind of rolling country, not flat, and when you get to the edge of it you find these ravines that cut very steeply in to cliff-like drop-offs and there was even a waterfall there. It was about a two days’ hike from my cabin. That was the best spot until the summer of 1983. That summer there were too many people around my cabin so I decided I needed some peace. I went back to the plateau and when I got there I found they had put a road right through the middle of it … You just can’t imagine how upset I was. It was from that point on I decided that, rather than trying to acquire further wilderness skills, I would work on getting back at the system.

So quite simply, his reason for sending out parcel bombs and also sabotaging several property development projects in his immediate neighbourhood, was revenge for the damage that THEY had done, and were continuing to do to nature.

And so began his 17 years of “terror” – as the media called it, mailing out parcel bombs to people who he felt were responsible for the direct destruction of nature, or involved in advancing technology, which would add to the damage to nature. Many were to people involved in tech development at universities or who worked for airlines – hence his nickname Unabomber (University/Airline/Bomber). He would probably have never been caught had it not been for his wish to have his Manifesto – Industrial Society and Its future – published. He sent it to several newspapers and magazines with a note saying that if they published the Manifesto, he would desist from terrorism. Finally, with agreement from the FBI and the Attorney General, it was published in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

According to a documentary I watched about Kaczynski, his brother recognised that some of the things mentioned in the Manifesto matched the content of several letters that Kaczynski had sent him over the months leading up to the publication of the Manifesto. After consulting a lawyer, the authorities were tipped off and Ted Kaczynski’s cabin was raided, revealing bomb making materials and his diary/note book.

The Manifesto stated that the result of the industrial revolution has been a disaster for mankind. Technology has destabilised society and made life unfulfilling. He says most people waste their time in useless pursuits because of technological “advances”, have artificial goals and subject themselves to an overconsumption of mindless “entertainment”. He predicts that further technological advances will lead to extensive human genetic engineering and that human beings will be adjusted to meet the needs of the social systems, rather than vice versa. He calls for all to abandon technology and return to the wilderness.

In order to save a little time, I’ll quote Wikipedia. – Kaczynski argues that the erosion of human freedom is a natural product of an industrial society because “the system has to regulate human behavior closely in order to function”, and that reform of the system is impossible because “changes large enough to make a lasting difference in favor of freedom would not be initiated because it would be realized that they would gravely disrupt the system”. However, he states that the system has not yet fully achieved “control over human behavior” and “is currently engaged in a desperate struggle to overcome certain problems that threaten its survival”. He predicts that “if the system succeeds in acquiring sufficient control over human behavior quickly enough, it will probably survive. Otherwise it will break down,” and that “the issue will most likely be resolved within the next several decades, say 40 to 100 years”. He states that the task of those who oppose industrial society is to promote “social stress and instability” and to propagate “an ideology that opposes technology”, one that offers the “counter-ideal” of nature “in order to gain enthusiastic support”. A “revolution against technology may be possible” when industrial society is sufficiently unstable. He additionally states that “a movement that exalts nature and opposes technology must take a resolutely anti-leftist stance and must avoid all collaboration with leftists”, as in his view “leftism is in the long run inconsistent with wild nature, with human freedom and with the elimination of modern technology”.

Kaczynski’s views have attracted a lot of support over the years and even more so in recent times…David Skrbina, a philosophy professor at the University of Michigan and a former Green Party candidate for governor of Michigan, has written several essays in support of Kaczynski’s ideas, one which is titled “A Revolutionary for Our Times”. Paul Kingsnorth, a former deputy-editor of The Ecologist and a co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project, wrote an essay for Orion Magazine in which he described Kaczynski’s arguments as “worryingly convincing” and stated that they “may change my life”.

Personally, I agree with Kaczynski’s views although, as stated in the opening paragraph of this post, I do not agree with his methods.

So why is it that Kaczynski was considered a terrorist, a serial murderer, and tried in a court of law for targeting specific people, that he saw as being responsible for the destruction of nature and his way of life, with his parcel bombs, killing 3 – when Bush and Blair were responsible for the deaths of almost 300,000 men, women and children, many killed at random by bombs, in an unjustified military action, and walk away completely free men? Were any of those deaths legitimate?

The question is…is killing another human being ever justified? The initial answer from most people would be “NO!”. But, what if a psychopath smashed his way into your home and was going to kill your wife and kids….would you feel justified in using lethal force to stop him? In this case the answer for many people would change from no to “Yes, to protect my family I will do what ever is needed.” So, what if the threat was no less real, but less immediate?

It is generally accepted these days that mankind/humankind has wrought devastation of apocalyptic proportions on the natural world, particularly over that last 150 years. The system that feeds this devastation is the consumerist growth economy model that the “western world” has promoted for many years and is now being adopted by what were once considered “third world” countries. We are in the midst of the 6th mass extinction and we don’t appear to have the will, at government level, to abandon this destructive path.

If we carry on along this path it will result not only in our own deaths, but also that of most living, breathing animal life on the planet. Kaczynski recognised this fact and tried to stop, or at least to slow down, the advances in technology that were pushing us toward the edge of the cliff…..so was he justified in taking those lives? Most people will say absolutely not, that he had no right to take lives and his punishment (8 life sentences) was apt. But look at it from his view point. He wasn’t simply trying to stop a madman from breaking into his house and killing his family, he was trying to stop several madmen destroying nature’s home and killing all life on the planet…you and me included.

Faced with the barriers that political and industrial/global corporations have put in the way of actually doing anything effective to save the environment in which we live, what should our response be? Step up our recycling efforts (and give ourselves a pat on the back for doing “the right thing”) in the vain hope that it makes more than a miniscule difference to what ends up in the landfills or oceans? Business as usual, head in the sand, hope it goes away, but meantime let’s make as much money as possible for the banks, shareholders and chief executives? Do we take to the streets in more mass marches….attend more ‘feel good’ rallies….sign endless pointless petitions? Listen to more lies and delay tactics from smiling politicians? Wait for technology to save us….instead of creating more problems as it usually does? Or do we do something else, and if so what? What are we prepared to do to save the lives of our family?

It’s an interesting question I think – a question of ethics – at what point do people feel comfortable at drawing their own line in the sand, taking action and saying – no more!

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