Is it ethical to send letter bombs?

Our ethical columnist on how to make protest part of your everyday life.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Science & Tech

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Dear Ethan,

I am a pacifist, but I get so angry about all the injustice done to the planet that I am not altogether surprised when others take another path. My question is, do you think in principle it could ever be ethical to send a letter bomb or somehow give physical force to our right and righteous fury with the fascistic car lobby, sadistic animal experimenters or other representatives of fat, rapacious capitalism? (Note to the police: I’m not planning anything, just asking!)

Satchel Windsor,

Dear Satchel,

Let me start by saying: I understand the anger of those eco-warriors and animal rights soldiers who do resort to violence. I feel their pain. (Thankfully, though, I have never felt the ball bearings or shards of glass they pack into their bombs!) And I’m disgusted by the hypocrisy of those who denounce ‘green violence’. What about the violence done by society to animals, birds, fish, plants and insects EVERY DAY?

What about the seagulls strangled by fishermen’s nets of doom…the whales slit open to make soup and glue for the cruel Japanese…the mosquitoes vaporised by DDT and turned into Hiroshima-style shadows on the walls of African huts? We never hear of their plight and yet when a woman gets her hands burned by a letter bomb it’s everywhere. Our speciesism is shameful.

In the debate about whether green ‘terrorists’ are noble or nutters – a debate that has ruined many a dinner party in chez Greenhart, let me tell you! – I always reply: both. Their intentions are noble, but their actions are nutty. They give environmentalism a bad name and by targeting a handful of ‘legitimate targets’ they detract from the fact that ALL HUMANS are complicit in Grimes Against Humanity.

As you will know, Satchel, our movement has spawned its share of letter bombers, car bombers, even a Baseball-Bat Battalion in the case of the animal rights community. Clearly there is something in the eco-mindset that lends itself to committing acts of violence against people. I like to think it is our implacable anger with injustice.

Consider the Unabomber, who ‘terrorised’ America for two decades, killing three people and injuring 29. We may frown upon his actions, but we can agree that the opening sentence to his manifesto is a faultless articulation of the environmentalist ethos: ‘The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.’ That the Unabomber so clearly expressed the green ideal is not surprising – he’s known to have been an avid reader of Earth First!’s fine publications. (Funnily enough, when the Unabomber was tried in 1998 I was studying for my PhD, unfortunately titled ‘Why the Industrial Revolution Was a Disaster for the Planet and the Human Race’… I had to keep telling people, ‘No, I don’t have anything to do with the Unabomber’!)

Some people don’t realise that even al-Qaeda’s violence is driven in part by environmental concerns. In 2002 Osama bin Laden accused the US of having ‘destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history, [yet] you refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and industries.’

Now, I don’t know if bin Laden also reads Earth First! publications, but who can deny the truth of this statement? As I say to my anti-war friends, 9/11 was not only a strike for Palestinian statehood by Saudi jihadists radicalised in Germany – it was also a cry for environmental justice. Hence the toppling of two of the biggest carbon-emitting buildings in the world. And people say environmentalism is a white middle-class liberal thing….in fact it also attracts middle-class Arabs. We are a very broad church (mosque/temple/synagogue/townhall).

Some eco-warriors take the violent path because our arguments are consistently denied mainstream coverage. When did you last see someone from Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth on TV or in a newspaper? We’re silenced and demonised by the powers-that-be, so we shouldn’t be surprised when some activists choose to scream with rage. Make no mistake, their violence is a direct consequence of the pernicious censorship of the environmentalist argument.

The violence might be understandable, Satchel, but that doesn’t mean you should carry it out. There are other, more effective ways of protesting – and I don’t mean setting up an e-petition on the No.10 website! The vile and vicious petition against road-pricing, signed by some 1.8million people cajoled and brainwashed by the car lobby, shows the dangers of the mob mentality. As Denis MacShane MP says, mob thinking is ‘often close to insanity’. Individual protest is always more effective. And usually safer.

Why not do what we Greenharts do, and make protest part of your everyday life? We start our day by not turning on the TV, a silent but immensely powerful protest against consumer culture and Big Media Lies. Our larder is a veritable tower of resistance: it is packed with locally grown produce, veg from our own allotment, and absolutely no paper or plastic packaging. We’re clearly doing our bit to stop the production of food in the developing world and its transportation around the globe. We walk or cycle everywhere (except when Sheba is wearing heels, the only occasion on which she is permitted to get a cab). And we are involved in various local community projects, including ‘Zero Tolerance For Litter’, ‘Plant a Flower, Change the World’ and ‘Shop a Shopper’, where we expose on posters those who shop at supermarkets more than once a week.

So, Satchel, please resist violent resistance! As John Lennon said ‘All you need is love’ – for the planet, that is, not those who are wilfully screwing it up.

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Science & Tech


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