Tuesday, December 30, 2003

THE OLD BLACK FLAG. UPI reports bombs delivered to the European Court of Justice and Europol in Den Hague, to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, and to Romano Prodi, Chairman of the European Commission. All the parcels share a common starting point in northern Italy, and investigators suspect an anarchist group operating thereabouts.

Some bombs came with interesting appurtances:

Italian media reports said the letter[-bomb] bore a sender's address in Bologna, and the name of Emile Henry, a French 19th century anarchist bomber who tossed a bomb into the crowded Cafe Terminus at the Gare St. Lazare railway station in Paris, killing several people. His motto was "There are no innocents"...

The book sent in the packet bomb was Gabriele d'Annunzio's erotic novel "The Child of Pleasure." D'Annunzio, an admirer and supporter of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, is a literary hero of the Italian extreme right...

UPI reports that "conspiracy-conscious Italians" think someone's trying disuade Prodi from running against Berlusconi when he leaves the Commission. The IHT entertains speculations about the old Red Brigades, and an anti-EU federation called "Euroopposizione." AP says that "An Italian group calling itself the 'Informal Anarchic Federation' took credit for setting two additional time bombs that exploded outside Prodi's house on Dec. 21, causing a small fire."

What to make of this? Setting to one side the decoy theories, it looks like some crazy fuckers are out to do mischief, and they may have gathered under the old black flag.

As chronicled by Barbara Tuchman in "The Proud Tower," the original Anarchists were genuine dead-enders. Around the turn of the last Century, their followers slew no less than six heads of state, including President McKinley. The Anarchists were not spurred by specific grievances against individual regimes, but by hopelessness bred by the elephantine indifference to their plight of all the government that they knew: "They came from the warrens of the poor," wrote Tuchman, "where hunger and dirt were king, where consumptives coughed and the air was thick with the smell of latrines, boiling cabbage and stale beer... where death was the only exit and the only extravagance and the scraped savings of a lifetime would be squandered on a funeral coach with flowers and a parade of mourners to ensure against the anonymity and last ignominy of Potter's Field."

I think it is reasonable to assume that the living conditions of the current letter-bombers are much better than those of their forebears. And at the risk of sounding insensitive to the intellectual attainments of paupers, it seems only a college man would stick D'Annunzio into an exploding package.

So why bomb? One can with a small effort come up with reasons, positive or negative, for any seemingly unreasonable act, but I think that shows more about the speculator than the assailant. I'm beginning to wonder if we're really going to figure out where Timothy McVeigh was coming from. Or Al-Qaeda. Or the Basque separatists, rich as their history may be, who recently put a bomb on railroad tracks in Spain. Or whoever tried to bomb Musharraf. Or the Hamilton County Courthouse. Or Poso, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. Not to speak of Iraq.

It does appear that an alarming number of people are putting their faith in explosives these days.

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