Joseph Stack's Suicidal Terrorism: The Definition of Insanity

By Elizabeth Palmberg 2-19-2010

I had thought we'd all agreed that flying airplanes into buildings full of office workers was not a legitimate form of protest, but the Wall Street Journal's headline about Joseph Stack calls him a "tax protester." This rhetorical fig leaf can't cover over one of the many very bad things about terrorism: it makes bad scripts, like flying planes into buildings, prominent in public consciousness, and thus more available to be chosen by unbalanced individuals such as Mr. Stack.

And the headline can't cover over one of the many very bad things about violence: that people keep assuming that what it achieves will outweigh what it costs. As Stack himself said, " the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different." He was apparently oblivious to the glaring fact he was repeating an evil, terrorist action which America has spent years despising -- and responding to with two wars.

Stack's repetition, after the also deeply symbolic act of burning down his own house, reminds me that, as Glen Stassen said in Sojourners' pages in 2000, "In Matthew 26:52, Jesus takes Genesis 9:6 as a prediction, not a command: 'Who lives by the sword will die by the sword.'"

A year ago in our pages, Christ Hoke described a Bible study in which imprisoned gang members read about God's revelation to Paul -- who had first seen violence at the stoning of Stephen, then enacted it against the early church:

"So what does God do with this violent young man, an enemy of the church?" I ask. A nervous silence. "Does he oppose Saul with an iron fist?" I am referring to the government's mano dura, gang-eradication campaigns led by the national militia.

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