When should we or must we kill a politician? Churchill is said to have refused to sanction the assassination of Hitler—was he right to consider aerial bombing a more acceptable way of dealing with Nazism ? If a leading racist, a fresh dictator, an irremovable or crooked politician appears, when, if ever, can we appeal to popular justice ? Is assassination a killing we approve and murder a killing we disapprove ? And how far does the victim offer himself as a human sacrifice in the archetypal human tradition ?
A Times first leader, discussing the alarming implications of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, commented how these began ‘to make much more serious the prospect of a return to political assassination as a resort for the political extremist’.
Killing No Murder is a provocative, stimulating study which takes a completely fresh look at assassination, placing it in a historical perspective. Mr Hyams argues that the whole subject can be looked at as much from a mythological and Freudian point of view as from that of the sociologist and politician.
Among the examples he analyses in detail are those of Caesar, whose death had the opposite effect to that intended, and Lincoln, whose killing was a tragedy which still carries its aftermath. The killing of Franz Ferdinand, the Phoenix Park murders, the death of Lord Moyne at the hands of Israeli nationalists, all offer solid ground for speculation, as does the extraordinary case of Walther Rathenau, the Jewish Finance Minister in the Weimar Republic figuratively offered up on a Teutonic altar.
Can a society which condones war morally condemn assassination ? Contemporary events have shown again and again how it is the ordinary man, woman and child, caught in the crossfire of the paranoid fantasies of political leaders, who suffer as a consequence. Would it not be logical and in the widest human interests if assassination could be accepted as a legitimate and highly preferable alternative to war itself ? These questions are central to the conclusions drawn in Edward Hyams’s book.