AP: Lionizing an Anti-war Activist's Suicide

A man poured gasoline on himself on November 3rd and on the side of the road on Chicago's Kennedy Expressway he lit himself on fire. It caused a traffic jam, but little else. In fact, no one even knew who the suicide was for several days until a friend of his got a letter sent him by the dead man just before his final day.

And still, few cared.

It turns out this was supposed to be some kind of anti-war statement akin to a Buddhist monk's self-immolation in Saigon during Vietnam. Sadly, this protester didn't seem to know that statements don't mean very much unless someone actually hears them.

The man, an activist named Mark David "Malachi" Ritscher, left a rambling manifesto-like web page purportedly explaining his actions that does little but show his rather unbalanced mental state. As Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper put it, the web message "comes across as intelligent, passionate, bitter, angry, disoriented -- and disturbed".

3 weeks after this all happened, the AP posted a sympathetic story about "Malachi" Ritscher that makes him out to be the martyr that he so desperately wanted to be. It is filled with quotes from his admiring friends and laments about his "cause". The AP also goes to pains to make readers believe that "Malachi" Ritscher might not have been mentally disturbed in an obvious attempt to legitimize his final action.

As the AP tries its darndest to turn this man into some sort of anti-war hero, the facts reveal that he was a troubled man. It appears he was estranged from his children and other family members, could not hold a job or finish his schooling, and spent his time wandering around Chicago's music scene, a rootless, distant man. The name he went by, Malachi, wasn't even really his given name. He changed it several years ago for what ever reason, apparently never satisfied with himself.

Again to quote Richard Roeper, "...if he thought setting himself on fire and ending his life in Chicago would change anyone's mind about the war in Iraq, his last gesture on this planet was his saddest and his most futile."

In their attempt to celebrate his anti-war statement, the AP refuses to focus on the manifesto statement Mark David "Malachi" Ritscher left behind on his website. Consequently, and contrary to AP's mythologizing, we should take some time to review what it says to help us evaluate this man's last moments. (Ritscher's final statement can be found at http://www.savagesound.com/gallery99.htm)

Along with all the prosaic anti-war sentiments that can be found on just about any anti-war website, Ritscher startlingly recounts his dissatisfaction that he did not murder Donald Rumsfeld when he felt he had a chance to do so.

I have had one previous opportunity to serve my country in a meaningful way - at 8:05 one morning in 2002 I passed Donald Rumsfeld on Delaware Avenue and I was acutely aware that slashing his throat would spare the lives of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people. I had a knife clenched in my hand, and there were no bodyguards visible; to my deep shame I hesitated, and the moment was past.

Is assassinating a government official something to celebrate? Is it the statement of a sane man? Wouldn't it seem a pertinent thing to mention in a story of this nature? The AP must not think so as they do not mention it. Not even once.

Ritshcer also reveals an utter lack of knowledge about the political system our Founding Fathers created. He writes:

Our government has lost its way since our founders tried to build a structure which allowed people to practice their own beliefs, as far as it did not negatively affect others.

OK, all well and good. But he follows that with this:

A coalition system which includes a Green Party would be an obvious better approach than our winner-take-all system. Direct electronic debate and balloting would be an improvement over our non-representative congress. Consider that the French people actually have a voice, because they are willing to riot when the government doesn't listen to them.

We do not now, nor have we ever had anything like a "Direct ... debate and balloting" in this country. That is a direct democracy and a direct democracy is something that every Founder was wholly against.

He went on to reveal more misunderstanding about what a government is supposed to do.

Our elected representatives are supposed to find diplomatic and benevolent solutions to these situations.

No, Mr. "Malachi", a government is not "supposed" to necessarily 'find diplomatic and benevolent solutions", but ones that are morally right. Diplomacy by its very nature entails compromise and sometimes it is not the correct decision to compromise on true principles. We went to war against both the Confederacy and the Axis powers, both decisions were right and neither "diplomatic". To a lesser degree, LBJ risked the wrath of his own party when he pushed civil rights legislation with Republican support. No "diplomacy" edged that decision to the floor of Congress, but it was the right decision to make none-the-less. And, while diplomacy was the vehicle, Ronald Reagan did not budge when the Soviets wanted him to compromise and this anti-diplomatic stance did more to help end the Cold War than any other.

Diplomacy is not the end in and of itself that so many on the left imagine it to be. Sometimes diplomacy comes to an end and hard decisions must then be made. We empower government to try diplomacy, but not to distance itself from the hard decisions in favor of compromise at all times as compromise is not always a positive thing.

It must be remembered that the world compromised with Hitler and that compromising led to the deaths of millions.

In any case, the wasted life of this particular anti-war protester is a sad affair. But elevating this disturbed individual to the heights of martyrdom does neither he nor anyone else any service. Worse, it shows the AP to be advocates instead of reporting journalists.