Notebook — From the April 2008 issue
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A forebear of mine, one Curtis Metcalf, who, if I have it right, was my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, served just prior to the Revolution as the king’s tax collector for a populous part of southern Pennsylvania. He was of the Quaker bent, as were many of the souls he extorted coins and granules from, and it is therefore unlikely that he thought much more of violent insurrection than he did of organized tax protest. Whether or what he thought of the bloody subjugation to which his take was regularly put I do not know. I can determine only that his guilt, if there was any, did not significantly impair his fornication, a product of which, one James Metcalf, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (again, if I have it right), may have joined up with an American militia (it is at least said that he did) in order to aid and prosecute a rebellion that would mean an end to his father’s livelihood and, of course, a fare thee well to the Quaker spirit in our line.
Neither of these traditions has much hold on me: I am no rebel, just as I am no Quaker taxman. The first option does offer certain romantic possibilities, I agree, and the second is not without its own odd sort of charm, but I assure you that I have, without once taking up arms against my government, nor by serving it more directly than the regular payment of my taxes, lived a life far larger than any ancestor of mine. I have, from the comfort of my couch, made the nations to cower before me. I have, during commercial-break trips to the bathroom, left whole continents behind me in ruin. I have watched through bored and sleepy eyes as the millions came begging for mercy, and I have, without ever lifting a finger, but only allowing one to descend upon a button of my remote, turned my plump and kingly thumb down.
Still, what taxpayer today, current or former, could not say the same? Who has not toppled republics and tyrannies alike so that a corporation he took no personal interest in might enhance by meaningless increment an already criminal profit? Who has not watched on his television set as a bomb or a tank he helped personally to pay for made a charred and limbless stump out of what previously was an innocent (if un-American) child? I might also ask, if only out of curiosity: just how many of these children needed to be chopped up and burnt before at last my fellow citizens thought to stop payment on the meat grinder and the furnace? One hundred? One thousand? Ten thousand? More?
Does not a single such death constitute a villainy no latter-day tax protest could hope to overcome? Was even that one small tragedy not predicted by our military accountants well in advance of any physical war, to be folded neatly into their projections of “collateral damage”? And have we not all of us long understood this phrase to be but a transparent attempt to log beforehand a formal regret over the slaughter to come while implying also that said slaughter will be accidental and therefore, magically, unforeseen?
I have no wish to judge my compatriots for the lateness of their stand against what they now perceive, suddenly, to be an astounding evil. How or why they spent years in denial of the obvious truth that their government’s military philosophy constituted an admission a priori of premeditated murder is for them and their God to decide. I must confine my efforts here to my own defense, for unlike all present-day withholders of their taxes I cannot demonstrate anything like a remorse for my crime. I can show only that I am innocent of what once was, and to the righteous eye will always remain, their rife and terrible hypocrisy.
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