Off With Their Heads

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Around the time when Timothy McVeigh was scheduled to be federally poisoned, the Chinese government scheduled its own death penalty. It had found a businessman guilty of evading millions in taxes.

Instead of making the businessman a national hero and praising him for his material contribution to society, as it should have, the state decided he had to die as an example to others. Let no man believe that he can disobey the almighty state and get away with it.

At least the Chinese incident has the advantage of clarity. It underscores the coercion that is at the heart of all laws passed by and enforced by the state. And the state is never more anxious to kill people than when they damage the state directly.

This is why tax evaders are treated roughly and forced to cough up, whereas it’s like pulling teeth to get the state to punish those who steal private property. Similarly, counterfeiters who make bills that impersonate the state’s own get the book thrown at them, whereas counterfeiters of private stock and bond certificates may or may not.

The US doesn’t execute people for failing to pay up (not just yet), but the US freely jails and bankrupts them. If they refuse to go to jail, or otherwise insist on amassing personal wealth without the government’s permission, it would eventually have to take extreme measures.

Beating, hanging, poisoning, bombing: these are methods of every state everywhere, from the ancient world to the present, and the state stands ever ready to employ these methods when its own interests are at stake.

Even more glaring is the contrast between how the state treats the criminal actions of its own employees as compared with the same crime committed against the state.

Kidnaping is illegal but the draft is said to be necessary for national interests. Petty theft is illegal but the government can take forty percent of our income and call it civilization. To refuse to serve a customer is considered a violation of civil rights, but the state can impose trade embargoes against whole countries and label it proactive foreign policy.

This is precisely why so many found the death penalty for McVeigh hypocritical at best. You can argue that the rule "an eye for an eye" flows from the demands for justice, but what about the millions of deaths wrought at the hands of the state? Why are they not called terrorism? Why are the perpetrators not put on trial?

The US routinely bombs Iraq because Iraq has been designated an enemy of the US. In these bombings, people die, not all of them soldiers in the line of battle. The same was true during Clinton’s war against Serbia. Apartment units, outdoor markets, passenger trains, churches — these are all considered targets. Innocents die, but there is no justice or demand for justice.

And then there are the famous cases of Waco and Ruby Ridge, where innocents who never harmed anyone were targeted and destroyed for their refusal to bow to the wishes of the state. The US military is also guilty, just recently, of bringing about civilian deaths in Italy, the seas of Japan and China, Hawaii, and Peru — where missionaries sought to witness for Christ.

Where is the accountability? Where is justice? The worst that happens to the perpetrators is that they are told to retire. Sometimes they are kicked upstairs. Holding public office is regarded as protection against the imposition of justice.

This is especially true of the United States government, which poses as the judge and jury of international war criminals even as it beats up on foreigners and its own citizens at will, without regard to the dictates of conscience.

When the same government flies into fits of rage over the activities of McVeigh, it is impossible not to consider the source. Yes, justice demands punishment anytime innocents are killed. But why in this case but not in cases in which the US itself is the perpetrator? Why, even after all these years, is there no attention to the demands of justice in the case of Waco? Instead, we get documents like the Danforth report, exhibit A in why the government can’t be trusted to play the role of both defense and prosecutor.

The politics of the McVeigh bombing are especially poignant. Imagine if Bush were caught bragging that l’affaire Lewinsky was the secret reason he came to power. It would be considered tacky and nasty to have considered that angle. But Clinton routinely let people in on the dirty secret of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City: Clinton and the government he then headed were the main beneficiaries.

Indeed, Clinton is reported to have credited the bombing with his reelection in 1996. He exploited the tragedy to the hilt, strongly hinting that the bombing showed what anti-government ideology (of talk radio and the Republican Congress) leads to. The media played along, ringing up every right-of-center organization to ask whether it condemned the bombing.

And now, because of FBI bungling or coverups (take your pick), few believe we have the full answer to fundamental questions surrounding that bombing. Did the federal government know the building was being targeted, and, if so, when did it know? Is McVeigh telling the truth when he says that he acted alone or were there others involved?

If you dismiss such concerns as stemming from a conspiratorial mindset, ask yourself why you are so willing to believe that McVeigh conspired to blow up the federal building, but you don’t believe that the federal government is capable of any kind of conspiracy.

It might be because we are accustomed to applying one set of standards to the government — because we buy into the lie that it is the immaculate conception — and another to private individuals. This is the first and greatest error of all political analysis.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail], is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. He also edits a daily news site, LewRockwell.com.

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