Mises.org | Sometimes it is difficult to escape the conviction that there is a sickness so deep in the soul of the American people that they are beyond redemption. On May 15 and in ensuing days the massed armed might of the State, local police, state police, National Guardsmen, zeroed in on a few thousand unarmed citizens of Berkeley, California, who were doing what? Who had taken a muddy lot and transformed it lovingly into a “people’s park”. For this crime, and for the crime of refusing to move from this park which they had created with their own hands, the brutal forces of the State, led by Governor Reagan, moved in with fixed bayonets; shot into the unarmed crowd, wounding over 70 people and murdering the innocent bystander James Rector; flew a helicopter over the crowd and sprayed a super-form of mace over everyone in the area, including children and hospital patients; rounded up hundreds of people and humiliated and tortured them in the infamous Santa Rita concentration camp—one of the major camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. All this has happened in our America of 1969, and where oh where is the nationwide cry of outrage? Where is the demand for the impeachment of the murderer Reagan and all of the lesser governmental cohorts implicated in this monstrosity?
Sure, there are a few protests from liberals who feel that the use of force was a bit excessive, but one gets the distinct impressive [sic] that for the great American masses the massacre was a pretty good show. There is our pervasive sickness. Why this range of reaction from indifference to enthusiasm for this terrible deed? Because the Berkeley park-creators were apparently longhairs and “hippies”, and therefore subhuman with no rights or liberties that need to be respected. There are apparently tens of millions of God-fearing Americans who favor the genocidal destruction of hundreds of thousands or even millions of young people whose only crime is to persist in esthetic differentiation from the mass of the populace.
The American soul-sickness is also manifest in the pervasive reaction to the problem of “violence” in America. Mention “violence” and the average person begins to fulminate against isolated muggers, against Negroes who burn down stores, and against students who blacken a few ashtrays in university buildings. Never does this average American, when he contemplates violence in our epoch, consider the American army and its genocidal destruction of the people of Vietnam, or the American police in their clubbing at Chicago, or their murdering and gassing at People’s Park. Because apparently when the State, the monopolizer of violence, the great bestial Moloch of mass destruction, when the State uses violence it apparently is not violence at all. Only virtually unarmed citizens using force against the State, or even simply refusing to obey State orders, only these citizens are considered to be “violent”. It is this kind of insane blindness that permitted President Johnson to trumpet that “we shall not tolerate violence, no matter the slogan”, and President Nixon to denounce student violence while lauding the military-industrial complex, and not be laughed out of office.
The cry has gone up that all this was necessary to defend the “private property” of the University of California. In the first place, even if this little lot was private property, the bayoneting, gassing, torturing, and shooting of these unarmed park-developers would have been “overkill” so excessive and grotesque as to be mass murder and torture and therefore far more criminal than the original trespass on the lot. You do not machine-run [sic] someone for stealing an apple; this is punishment so far beyond the proportion that “fits the crime” as to be itself far more criminal than the original infraction. So that even if this property were legitimately private the massacre is still to be condemned.
Secondly, it is surely grotesquerie to call the muddy lot “private property”. The University of California is a governmental institution which acquires its funds and its property from mulcting the taxpayers. It is not in any sense private property then, but stolen property, and as such is morally unowned, and subject to the libertarian homesteading principle which we discuss below. The people of Berkeley were homesteaders in the best American—and libertarian—tradition, taking an unused, morally unowned, muddy lot, and transforming it by their homesteading labor into a pleasant and useful people’s park. For this they were massacred.
This is it; this is an acid test of whether any person can in reason and in conscience call himself a “libertarian”. Here the issues are clear and simple; here there are no complicating factors. There is no alleged “national security” involved; there is no “international Communist conspiracy” at work; there are no stores being burned; there are no solipsistic students bellyaching about classes being suspended. The issues are crystal-clear: the armed, brutal, oppressive forces of the State stomping upon peaceful, unarmed, homesteading citizens. Anyone who fails to raise his voice in absolute condemnation of this reign of terror, anyone who equivocates or excuses or condones, can no longer call himself a libertarian. On the contrary, he thereby ranges himself with the forces of despotism; he becomes part of the Enemy.