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December 16, 2006


Marissa Miller

His son claims he was schizophrenic ( and even his family has admitted that he suffered from depression ( He was homicidal - he even wished he'd killed Rumsfeld when he had the chance. People are taking the act of a person who could have been considered a murderer and are turning him into a martyr. (He preferred the term "spiritual warrior" according to his obit.) Clearly, the man had some serious issues that were never resolved.

No, he may never have been clinically diagnosed as mentally ill but in American culture, self-immolation is not an act that is looked upon favorably or with empathy. He immolated himself as an act of protest and most Americans would think, "Well, gee, that's a stupid way to protest the war."

Major media outlets probably did not pick this story up for fear of copycat attempts. There have been 10 or less self-immolation acts in the U.S. There is a reason for this.

His "last gesture was his saddest and his most futile" (chicago sun-times) and unfortunately, it will go no further than an Internet cult following, a small band of anti-war activists, and a group of moved people heavily immersed in the music scene in Chicago. It was a sad act but it was an intentional act of killing himself - Mark David Ritscher committed suicide.


Ho-hum. (Or, "Objection, your honor, non-responsive.") Repeating a Richard Roeper column (Sun-Times) isn't an original or thoughtful contribution to what should be a very serious discussion. It's true that Malachi's son (also Malachi) speculated about the mental health of the father he barely knew. Anyone can click the link on the right -- "I Heard You, Malachi" -- and read Malachi's family's statement, which is sober, grieving, and dignified; and which treats Malachi's act respectfully -- as a serious protest.
Redbecca also acknowledges the interplay between "despairing over personal demons and the hopeless state of the world," an idea the comment above doesn't deal with thoughtfully at all.
I suspect that those folks in the blogosphere who are most contemptuous of Malachi's flawed but serious act are actually responding not to Malachi but to the controversy over the war. I think the "Malachi Ritscher was crazy" camp is full of folks who get angry at ANY protest against the war.
Was Malachi "homicidal"? I don't think so, but click the links to his obituary & mission statement and decide for yourself. I didn't take the thing about Rumsfeld literally, and I don't think Malachi meant it literally.
Finally, this comment completely misses the point of bringing John Brown into the discussion. The only contemporaries who called him crazy were pro-slavery die-hards (borrowing a term from Rumsfeld, "dead-enders"). The questions I would like people to take on are: From where does the meaning of an act arise? Can an act's meaning live independently of the actor's state of mind?
To dismiss such a serious act out of hand and refuse to grapple with its tough questions only shows one's own shallowness.

Matt Phillips

The act is, in a tragically literal sense, self-defeating. Violence begets violence. Despair begets despair.


I just want to be clear about how the discourse around Malachi's flawed, profound act can address the mental illness issue. Those (like me) who see the act as PRIMARILY a serious protest should not further stigmatize mental illness. We deny that Malachi's act should be viewed through the usual prism through which suicide & mental illness are viewed.
What Malachi did should be viewed directly and fearlessly.
But nobody should treat mental illness as a shameful thing to be swept under the rug. (And I don't think anybody is doing that here.)
There's a further point to be made about mental illness, specifically in the context of the Iraq war. Ed at Khronikles of Kakkannia (link on the right) said it. Others have said it.
Those who believe in this war are CRAZY.
Those who think this war has done anything other than hurt the people of Iraq (and hurt them much worse than the ruthless dictator who gassed his own people ever did) are CRAZY.
A society that perpetrates an illegal and immoral war and refuses to face facts honestly is a society in which a real discussion about mental illness (or anything else) may be impossible.
We don't need to point at Malachi Ritscher, if we're looking for widespread, un-diagnosed mental illness, and the enormous suffering it causes.


While I can understand why someone would refer to this suicide/protest as "puzzling" or "sad," directing hostility at Rittscher and his friends and associates from the anti-war movement suggests something else.
Referring to anyone as "homicidal" because once he said he wanted to kill someone is just silly. (Is there really any person who hasn't said, without really meaning it," I could kill so and so" or "I should have killed so and so"?)
I like Stein's comment above, that people who support an immoral war are CRAZY, indeed crazier than the people who sometimes feel driven crazy by living in a world driven by people who seem so completely "out of control."
If we're going to talk about the "crazies" in the anti-war movement, then we should be consistant and talk about mental illness as a motivating factor for those people who continue to support this failed administration, not to mention the craziness of the policy-makers themselves. For example, read Rick Schenkman's description of a talk given by Carolyn Eisenberg at the American Historical Association two years ago:

Hours later a Harvard professor was still taking about the presentation at the hubris lecture by Hofstra's Carolyn Eisenberg. She started off by saying that the AHA's program committee had "expressed the concern that we would be too present minded. So now I want to do just what they feared." And she did. The title of the session was: "Hubris and the Irrationality Principle in the Foreign Policy of Recent Presidents: From Richard Nixon to George W. Bush." First she got to work on Nixon and Kissinger, calling them "the boys from Columbine" because they seemed to hate everybody--they hated other Republicans, they hated Defense Secretary Laird, they hated Democrats and of course they hated the press. Then she went at the Bush people, quoting a high official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told her confidentially, "You don't begin to understand how crazy Don Rumsfeld is."

The closest analogy to what is happening in Iraq right now she said is what happened in Vietnam. In both wars high officials pursued a policy which couldn't possibly work. Vietnamization? It was stupid. How could you get the North Vietnamese to bargain in good faith as you drew down troop levels? LBJ hadn't raised troop levels because he was dumb. He did it because the South Vietnamese army wouldn't fight. Iraqification, she said, shows the same stupidity. Once again we are placing our faith in a force that is less committed to victory than its enemies.

Anticipating the criticism that her language might be a tad harsh, she said sharp language is needed to describe what's happening now and what happened in Vietnam, chiding diplomatic historians for using "professor-speak."

Why did the Vietnam war go on and on? Why did the United States invade Iraq and make a mess? She said it is important to go beyond the obvious observations ... that Nixon was crazy, that Bush is in over his head, that Nixon and Bush both benefited from the imperial presidency. She said that presidents don't go to war by themselves and cannot do as they please, even in foreign policy. So what is the common factor behind both Vietnam and Iraq that enabled irrational policies? She said that to find out we need to look at the role of "unbridled nationalism and racism" in American society that has allowed Americans to wage war on the Indians and drop the bomb on Japanese in Nagasaki. "You can say why did Bush go to war--because he was stupid, didn't read newspapers, was ideologically driven--but what kind of country do we have that led to such an irrational war?"
- see the history news network website for the rest of the conference description:

william edgar boggan

The president of the United States has alcoholism -- a major and catastrophic mental illness for which there is no cure. His behavior throughout his term of office has expressed all the symptoms of the classic unchanged alcoholic mind "at work." Lately, defiance, rigidity, inflexibility, denial, and perfectionism; and we're splitting hairs about the mental health of a protester? The U.S. government as currently cast is best considered as a pair of drunks surrounded by a loyal circle of codependent enablers.

If Malachi was depressed and wished he'd killed Rumsfeld, rest assured, campers, he wasn't alone!


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