Thursday November 30, 2006
To motorists on Chicago's Kennedy expressway on the morning of November 3, the fire was just an annoyance, slowing their journey into work. It appeared as if someone had set the city's sculpture of a giant flame, which stands by the road, on fire. Most of those commuters didn't hear for some time that it wasn't the sculpture on fire, but a 52-year-old anti-war protester, Malachi Ritscher. Many probably never heard about it.
Ritscher's death, four days before the American mid-term elections, wasn't the shocking, national news story he had hoped it would be when he doused himself in petrol and set himself alight, next to a video camera and a small sign reading, "Thou shalt not kill." It hardly made a ripple in Chicago's mainstream media until an alternative newspaper picked it up. Nationally and internationally, his death has gone virtually unnoticed.
Although he had held protests against the Iraq war for several years, Ritscher's final act has largely been dismissed as that of someone suffering from mental illness - he had a history of depression and alcoholism and surely nobody of sound mind would choose this, one of the most agonising ways to die. But although his mission statement, posted on his website before he died, showed he was somewhat eccentric (he wrote that he regretted missing an opportunity to assassinate Donald Rumsfeld), it is by no means an incoherent ramble. "If I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world," he wrote. "I refuse to finance the mass murder of innocent civilians, who did nothing to threaten our country."
My emphasis in both cases.