Suicide pilot makes sense
“Take my pound of flesh and sleep well.” These were some of the closing words of the online manifesto left by one Andrew Joseph Stack III before he flew a small private plane into an Internal Revenue Service field office in Austin, Texas on Thursday. Stack, as well as one unidentified worker in the office building, died in the crash.
Let me first begin by stating that by no stretch of the imagination do I condone the destruction of a single innocent life, whatever the justification for it may be. Human life in and of itself is arguably our most precious and priceless resource, and its loss is never something to be celebrated. I should hope that everyone’s condolences and thoughts go out to the family and friends of both Stack and all those in the office-building he attacked.
That being said, however, when I first saw this story break, it caught my attention, to say the least. It is not every day that someone becomes so frustrated with the system they are a part of that they not only take their own life, but they do so by piloting a fixed-wing aircraft directly into an office building that largely symbolizes that system.
Perhaps more interesting is the message Stack left behind on his webpage just before he committed the act, which is part suicide note, part manifesto.
Anyone who has read it, and all should, will most likely agree that at the very least the piece is extremely articulate and well written, especially considering the fact that it was authored by someone about to do something as crazy as purposefully slam a plane into a large, populated building.
The note left by Stack is basically an essay criticizing the “American nightmare” perpetuated by what he calls the “handful of thugs and plunderers” that make up our government. Throughout his manifesto, he recounts several examples of how he apparently worked hard going through school and working as a software engineer, but on many occasions was forced to lose his income, savings and retirement money because what he thought was an incredibly unfair “atrocity” of a tax system. In particular, he mentions IRS section 1706.
While reading the note, I began to feel pretty conflicted. Here I was, reading the manifesto of someone who was now essentially an independent domestic terrorist, and by the end I was practically sympathizing with him. Once again, I will forcefully assert that I don’t embrace or acknowledge the taking of innocent life as a solution to anything, even if it’s someone taking his own life.
However, the note is at the very least compelling, if not revelatory. This was someone who diligently stayed in school, obtained an engineering degree and worked hard his entire adult life, only to see the fruits of his labor continuously slip through his fingers.
He describes in depth his experiences living through various negative economic trends such as the “[Los Angeles] depression of the early 1990s,” the “.COM bust and the 911 nightmare [sic],” saying that, “as usual [the government] left me to rot and die while they bailed out their rich, incompetent cronies WITH MY MONEY [sic].”
Ever since the story broke, both sides of the proverbial political aisle have been pointing fingers as to which side is to blame for the cause and inspiration for Stack’s actions. Frankly, I’m not a political genius, so I’m not going to pretend I am and enter the partisan finger pointing game. Rather, my reaction is fairly simple: these circumstances seem to point to the fact that something is very wrong here.
Once again, I say this not from a conservative or liberal or even moderate point of view, but a completely apolitical context. Here, we have a case where an allegedly hard-working, educated individual who feels he, as well as numerous others he has encountered and mentioned in the note, has been robbed of a significant portion of his earned income and livelihood. While enduring this, however, he did not just sit there and complain – he reached out to officials and individuals who he felt could reverse a system that he felt was screwing over countless Americans.
But, as he writes, it was to no avail: “I spent close to $5,000 of my ‘pocket change,’ and at least 1,000 hours of my time writing, printing, and mailing to any senator, congressman, governor, or slug that might listen; none did, and they universally treated me as if I was wasting their time.”
Here, we have a demonstrably articulate, intelligent, diligent and sane person who was considerably wronged by a system that he continuously and unsuccessfully appealed. This same individual was evidently convinced that, “violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.” What I gather from this story is that we reside within a system that teaches educated, strong-willed and hardworking citizens that, “adding my body to the count,” is the only way to invoke proper and necessary change.
I will repeat that acts of destruction and loss of life, no matter how small, are nothing less than tragic. But by proxy, a system that encourages those sorts of tragedies from its citizens is a tainted one. And sure, you could argue that maybe Stack was inappropriately blaming the system for his anger and frustration. Maybe a crazy person just happened to sound sane and reasonable in his suicide manifesto. Or maybe there is something very, very wrong here.
Dave Coffey is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.