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Does it disturb you that a pilot can deliberately crash a plane into a building and the incident appears to get less press than The Balloon Boy fiasco? I am referring, of course, to last Thursday’s apparent airplane suicide attack on an Austin, Texas, government building by Joseph Andrew Stack. The bulk of the news coverage occurred the day of the crash, with some discussion the following day, but it feels as though the event has been a mere blip on the radar. We were all immediately reassured by officials that he wasn’t some scary Muslim terrorist. He left behind an apparent suicide note – online, no less – that seems to explain his actions. There’s no mystery involved. In short, let’s all just move along; there’s nothing to see here.

When Joseph Stack’s suicide note was reported and reproduced in full on Mashable, I took time to read it. If I didn’t, I was afraid I would hear soundbites from it on the news that would be taken out of context. There was also the concern that it would be removed from Stack’s website. Indeed, Stack’s website has been taken down, but the site’s administrators have left up a text version of his letter.

Without sanctioning Stack’s act of violence, which I find to be abhorrent and cowardly (he left his problems, and then some, for his wife and child to deal with), when I read his letter, I can sympathize with his frustrations. In summary, he wrote of his difficulties in filing tax returns with the IRS, downturns in his employment situation, the evaporation of his retirement fund, and his disappointment and disgust that our government stands up for wealthy business interests rather than the individual citizen. (I do hope you read the entire letter instead of simply taking my word for its contents. It’s long, but Stack makes a number of good points and you’ll get a sense of his voice.)

Along with laying out his complaints, Stack explains the ideals he grew up with – “that without laws there would be no society, only anarchy,” that “our government stands for justice for all,” that we have freedom, and that there’s supposed to be “no taxation without representation.”

By golly, he’s right. I learned those things, too, yet our government seems to have spun off course. It’s less about the people and more about large corporate interests, which is evidenced by the recent Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to spend as much as they like on political candidates to influence elections.

Another striking element of Stack’s letter is how it seems to illustrate the extreme polarities we are witnessing in U.S. political discourse as of late. He rants (Stack used this term at the beginning of his letter) about unfair taxation, wherein the laws are so complex that taxpayers can’t understand them. This is a typically conservative issue. He also rails against large corporate interests, such as the “American medical system,” “GM executives,” and Arthur Anderson, along with corrupt politicians, which makes him sound liberal. The conservative talk show folks are certainly playing up this angle.

We are on a see-saw in this country, and Stack’s letter poignantly indicates that we aren’t coming to any sort of balance because NO ONE IS LISTENING! Each time Joseph Stack attempted to work through his problems, he was ignored, just as each time we attempt to come up with solutions to the many problems this country has, those potential solutions are ignored or, worse yet, shouted down or outright blocked.

What gives, people? What is it going to take to move forward, rather than stall dead in our tracks? Have we become numb to airplanes purposely crashed into buildings? Shame on us if we have.

I, for one, think we need to have a serious public discussion about Joseph Stack’s letter so that we can goad ourselves into action. Let’s use the letter to wake up our American conscience, to prove Ta-Nehisi Coates’ statement in The Atlantic wrong ….

“The American conscience, when it decides to act, is mighty–but it is also sluggish and vain. Americans are crushed by the weight of not fulfilling their own high expectations–so the shameful acts of one generation are often rectified by a subsequent generation unencumbered by their own complicity in such acts.”

Let’s not be sluggish or vain or complicit in Joseph Stack’s frustration.


Some of the following links are also linked above within the blog post. A couple are not linked above, but add to the context of the post.

[CNN] Remains of 2 found after Austin plane crash – http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/02/18/texas.plane.crash/index.html

[Mashable] Austin Pilot Joseph Andrew Stack Left Disturbing Online Manifesto by Christina Warren – http://mashable.com/2010/02/18/austin-plane-crash/

[U.S. Supreme Court] Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (183 pages, pdf of ruling concerning corporate spending in elections) – http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf

[Utne Reader] Research on the Humanity of Suicide Attackers by Jeff Severns Guntzel – http://www.utne.com/War-and-Peace/Arie-Kruglanski-on-Motivations-Suicide-Attackers-START-6664.aspx

[The Atlantic] American Takfiris by Ta-Nehisi Coates – http://ta-nehisicoates.theatlantic.com/archives/2010/02/american_takfiris.php