Is V a Terrorist?

[Note, all page references refer to V for Vendetta except where noted otherwise.]

In both the movie and the book, members of the state leadership and state apparatchiks refer to the character V as a terrorist.

Further, various real-world news reports and commentators have also referred to him as a terrorist, including Lev Grossman of Time, Ted Baehr of World Net Daily, Peter Suderman of National Review Online, David Denby of The New Yorker, David Walsh of the World Socialist Web Site, John Hiscock of, and even former politician Joe Scarborough of MSNBC.

Of course, all of these claims are foolish and wrong.

As far as I’m aware, V does not kill even one innocent person.  Not one.  He blows up some structures, he executes some guilty people who were being protected from punishment by big government, but does he murder an innocent civilian even once in the book?  Nope.

The state, by contrast, does murder.  Many.  Thus, I conclude that the agent of terror in the story was the state itself.

Let us review V’s actions, just briefly.

    The KGB was the secret police in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.).  Vladimir Putin,
    the current ruler of Russia, was a
    former agent of the KGB.

  1. The first thing V does is blow up a concentration camp at which he was being held prisoner, using mustard gas and napalm (pp. 82–83).  Of course, this is not only an act of self-defence, it is also a means by which of getting rid of a concentration camp.  I think that few would be willing to call this act on V’s part an act of “terrorism.”

  2. V kills a member of the secret police (called “the Finger”) who was going to rape and murder an innocent girl (pp. 11–13).  Although this action is not, by definition, self-defence, it is an act of defence nevertheless, and as such is entirely justifiable.  But while it is not an unethical act, at this point, I wish to make it clear, this doesn’t necessarily make V’s act strategically wise.  Whether his act was strategically wise is treated elsewhere; my point here is not necessarily to promote V’s approach, but merely to show that it is not technically terroristic.

  3. V blows up the Houses of Parliament (p. 14).  These buildings are probably empty, since (A) the Norsefire government has likely disbanded all parliamentary activity and (B) it’s around midnight.  Further, this does not constitute destruction of property since the buildings are unowned.  Legitimate property can only be acquired in one of three ways: (A) through homesteading, (B) through receiving a piece of property from a previous just owner as a gift, or (C) through receiving a piece of property from a previous just owner through trade.  The state, of course, didn’t come to acquire the building through any legitimate means—rather, it acquired all of “its” property through expropriation.  Therefore, the state could not legitimately own the Houses of Parliament, and therefore the buildings were unowned, and in a state of nature.  Regardless of whether V’s act of blowing up an empty, unowned building is strategically wise, it is definitely not a terroristic act.

  4. V touches a man on his neck in a manner that causes said man to pass out (pp. 20, 22).  Whether this act was ethical or not I cannot be sure.  It would all depend on whether the man was a state employee or not.  If he was a state employee, then I will certainly say the act was not unethical.  If the man was not a state employee, however, then I would have to say that touching him without his consent would have been an unethical act.  In any event, the man was not hurt, and either way, this hardly counts as an act of terrorism.

  5. On 19 February 1942, the evil Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, calling for his henchmen to round up
    120,000 Americans (mostly of Japanese descent) and force
    them into disgusting, overcrowded internment camps—
    officially called “relocation centers”—without plumbing
    or cooking facilities of any kind.

  6. V also, while on a train, executes some men who are definitely agents of the Norsefire government (p. 21), and kidnaps from said train a man, Lewis Prothero, who had been a Commander at a concentration camp called the Larkhill Resettlement Camp (pp. 29, 80).  V then drives the scumbag Prothero insane by blowing up Prothero’s dolls in a reconstruction of said camp (pp. 33–36, 42, 84).  Certainly none of us would be so cavalier as to call punishing-a-concentration-camp-commander “terrorism.”  Concentration camp commanders should be punished for their crimes against humanity, no?

  7. V thereafter executes the rapist Bishop Anthony James Lilliman who also had worked at the aforementioned concentration camp (pp. 53–54, 59–62, 80, 84).

    In order to exact justice against the criminal Bishop, V, of course, had to enter the place where the Bishop resides.  Two guards, armed with guns, attempted to use deadly force to prevent V from exacting justice, and V employs self-defence against these guards, killing them (p. 52).  Of course, if person A is a criminal, and person B goes to punish the crime, and person C attempts to use force against B who has not violated anyone’s rights, then C is a rights-violator and a criminal, and it is naturally B’s right to punish C for her or his violation of B’s inalienable rights.  This is why self-defence is not unjust.  If someone were to reject this premise, she or he would therefore have to reject the view that self-defence is perfectly just, and thus she or he would also have to adopt a position advocating pure and absolute pascifism.  Therefore, the only persons who could claim that V’s execution of these guards is in any way an act of terrorism are those who advocate absolute, unyielding pascifism.  Anyone who admits the justice of self-defence must also admit the justice of V’s action here.  (Of course, one may still reject V’s action on pragmatic or strategic grounds, but cannot reject it on ethical grounds unless she or he is willing to reject all self-defence.)

  8. Next, V executes another criminal, Doctor Delia Anne Surridge (pp. 70, 75, 84).  Doctor Surridge, like Reverend Lilliman and Commander Prothero, worked at the Larkhill Resettlement Camp, where she forcibly injected innocent people with an experimental drug called Batch 5, a drug that killed almost every victim (pp. 72, 80–83).  Surridge was nothing short of a murderer, and she in fact welcomed V’s exacting of justice (p. 70).

  9. Matters were, if anything, even worse in Germany, where the evil Adolf Hitler and his SS henchmen rounded up six million people of Jewish descent and between five and eleven million others, forcing them into concentration camps
    and extermination camps.

  10. Almost immediately after executing Doctor Surridge in a painless manner, V runs into another criminal, Derek Almond, the head of the Norsefire secret police (which is, once again, called “the Finger”).  Almond tries to murder the innocent V, threatening the protagonist with a weapon.  Whenever any person points a gun at another without the consent of the person at whom the gun is being pointed, the person pointing the gun is thereby threatening the life of the other person, and when one threatens the life of another, it is the natural right of the other to defend her or his life.  V justly defends his life by taking the life of the criminal Almond (pp. 76–77).

  11. V later leads Evey out of the Shadow Gallary (pp. 98–99), but of course, who in her or his right mind would regard this an act of terrorism?

  12. V takes a poster for the film The Salt Flats from an abandoned cinema (pp. 104–105).  However, this is not an act of theft because the abandoned cinema is unowned and thus in a state of nature.  Besides, even if this were an act of theft, it would not be an act of terrorism.

    Immediately after, V defaces one of the state’s many propaganda posters (p. 105), but as we have established above, the state cannot legitimately own anything, and therefore V’s act is not destruction of property.  Since the poster is properly understood to be unowned, and in a state of nature, it was perfectly within V’s natural right to deface it.

  13. V knocks out some guards at the state’s propaganda division (called “the Mouth”), but since these guards were employees of the criminal band calling itself the government, they were criminals, and it could hardly be said that V was not within his rights to do this (pp. 108–110).  Because V brandishes his knife, we might conclude that he has killed one of the guards (p. 110), but again, this can be defended as self-defence against people who have no right to attack him.

    He enters the Mouth with what appears to be TNT strapped to his body, and he influences Roger Dascombe, another state employee and head of the Mouth, to play a VHS V has made (p. 111), but again, this falls short of constituting an act of terrorism.  After all, he doesn’t blow anything here up, he doesn’t kill anyone, and everyone he scares is a criminal by virtue of the fact that they work for and help to prop up the criminal band calling itself the government.  If he had harmed or threatened some innocent person or persons, then we would have to conclude that he is a terrorist, but because he does not do this, we cannot reach that absurd conclusion, regardless of how we feel about V’s strategy.

  14. Before leaving, V dresses the criminal Dascombe up in an outfit designed to resemble V’s (pp. 115, 120).  I do not believe it would be proper for V to kill Dascombe, despite Dascombe undoubtedly being a criminal, because a punishment should always fit the crime (see Murray N. Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, pp. 80–81, 85); and, although Dascombe was indeed a criminal, he was not, to my knowledge, responsible for murder or for threatening the life of an innocent person.  Luckily, V does not kill Dascombe.  V’s punishment for Dascombe—dressing Dascombe up in a manner that might not have been to Dascombe’s liking—is far more mild than execution, and thus was completely in proportion to Dascombe’s crimes.  Unfortunately for Dascombe, some criminals do shoot and kill him (pp. 117–118, 120), but this fact does not somehow magically make V a terrorist; if anything, it makes Dascombe’s murderers terrorists.

  15. Unfortunately, V does commit one crime, one terroristic act.  He kidnaps Evey (p. 142).  Worse yet, he locks her in a cell against her will (pp. 148–150, 153–155, 159–160, 162), shaves her head against her will (p. 153), and tortures her (pp. 150, 153, 155–159).  This is truly vile, and truly criminal.  I would never do something like it.  There simply is no excusing it.  Luckily for V, Eve forgives him.  We don’t see her explicitly saying “I forgive you, V” anywhere in the book, but the author makes it abundantly clear to the reader in Eve’s actions and words on pages 171, 172, and 174, and in her later, voluntary willingness to continue living with V.  For this, V is lucky, for one can only justly punish a criminal if the criminal’s victim consents to the punishment (see Murray N. Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, pp. 85–86).  If person A cuts off the hand of person B, and B refuses to press charges against A but instead forgives A for A’s crime against B, then no third party has any right to punish A for A’s crime against B.  A third party, C, would only have the natural, just authority to punish A for A’s crime against B if B wishes for justice to be served.  Thus, V lucks out.  Nobody could justly use force against V because Eve, who appears to be V’s one and only victim, would not have press charges against V or consent to “justice” being enacted on her behalf.  Thus, V is still technically not a true criminal.  (Of course, it is possible that V has violated another person’s natural rights at some point in his life, in which he would constitute a true criminal, but because none of these are shown in the book, we must assume V’s technical innocence.)

  16. V blows up a few more buildings (pp. 184–186).  He thereby cuts off the state’s audio surveillance division (called “the Ear”) and its visual surveillance division (called “the Eye”).  Only one man dies: Brian Etheridge, the criminal who heads the Ear (p. 185).  The novel fails to present enough information in order to determine whether Etheridge’s death properly constitutes execution or murder (and, yes, involuntary manslaughter is murder).

  17. V has cracked into the state’s computer system called Fate (p. 201), but since the state is a criminal band, and since it cannot legitimately own anything (including a computer system), V’s actions do not constitute theft, and thus he has not thereby committed any crime.

  18. Finally, V defends himself with a knife when his life is threatened by Eric Finch, chief of police (called “the Nose”).  He does not kill Finch, only injures him (p. 236).  Then V dies (p. 245).

And there we have it.  V doesn’t (as far as we can be aware) kill a single innocent civilian, only criminals.  If only more people were as discriminate as V was.  We could argue, if we wish, whether V’s tactics constitute an expedient means toward his ends, and whether his ends are themselves desirable, but what we cannot argue is that V is in any way a terrorist; he most certainly he was not.  Unlike Osama bin Laden, or the state, V is an innocent man.