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Mass Assassinations as Natural Disasters

Hamid Karzai is demanding an explanation for the  “assasination” of numerous Afghan civilians, including several little girls, by a rampaging US soldier who evidently just went door to door, shooting whoever he happened upon. What could Obama possibly say? “Nothing personal, that’s just how we roll in the USA”? Just in the past week or so, we’ve seen a school shooting in Ohio, a college clinic shooting in Pennsylvania, and a courthouse shooting in Washington state. (We’re also “number one” in serial killers, for what it’s worth.)

I’m serious here: Afghan officials are (reasonably, in their in their minds) requesting an explanation for something that, for most Americans, requires no explanation. It seems normal to us that, relatively regularly, an armed male will go on an indiscriminate shooting rampage. Each of these episodes is seen as an ultimately unexplainable anomaly even as they are collectively accepted as a kind of normal (albeit horrific) periodic natural disaster.

It doesn’t look that way from the outside. Which provokes me to wonder: What would it take for Americans to see themselves as others do or even to look more critically at themselves, regardless of what others think? Short of something like losing World War II, what does it take for members of a violent culture to inquire deeply into the sources of the violence that seems so natural to them?

Because, of course, there are all sorts of things we could do, individually and collectively, to undermine the sources of violence in our everyday lives. But for those kinds of actions to add up to substantial cultural change, they’ve got to be undertaken by a sufficient number of the people who co-create the culture through their collective choices every day. And for that to happen, maybe, there needs to be an awareness of both the bad news that something’s gone wrong and the good news that the way things are right now isn’t how they always have to be. Both require the knowledge that what happens to be normal here and now isn’t the only possibility.

How might artists and activists make that manifest? Any ideas?

(Let’s count this as part 2 in the “to be real” series.)

6 comments to Mass Assassinations as Natural Disasters

  • catherine pdojil

    It seems to me that people have lots of good ideas and that many act on them in the immediate aftermath of such horrid events (let’s leave for the moment the military atrocities, since they are naturally a part of an invasion/occupation and can’t just be apologized for – Obama’s words literally make me sick.) Anyway, to get back to the immediate aftermath, that’s possibly a kay. People act well right away but don’t sustain such actions, not because they can’t but because it takes a conscious decision to do so every day.

    And that seems to be a problem for many of our species, to the degree that those who do sustain such actions stand out so visibly. Kathy Kelly, Virgil Butler, Harriet Tubman, we know who they are.

    For example, the kids in Chardon, Ohio, took charge in two major ways. They determined how and when they would return to school and carried it out in a very quiet and moving fashion. Then, when the Fred Phelps gang announced they were coming to the funeral of Daniel Parmertor, the first student to die in the shooting, the kids went on Facebook and mobilized the community to join them at the church to surround it in a non-violent barricade to keep the family separated from Phelps and his anti-gay gang.

    They would not speak, either to respond to the taunts of the Phelps idiots, or to taunt them in turn. They would simply offer their bodies as a barrier between the Westboro Baptists and the Parmertor family.

    Now, as it happened, Phelps and his people didn’t show (it would be nice to think that this was because they heard what the Chardon students planned, but I have no evidence of this), but had they come to Ohio, I have no doubt that the Chardon kids would have done exactly what they intended to do.

    But what would they do the next day, and the next, and the next? It’s the inability of most of us to sustain actions that’s one of the problems, I think. And turning the ideas of one action into organized ongoing behavior.

    My opinion. Catherine

  • Charlotte

    I was having dinner with the daughter of my cousin yesterday, a very earnest young woman who brought up the latest attempt to boycott Israel. I asked her what this boycott was about, and she looked confused. I said well, it could be the Palestinian thing (which it was), or it could be their threats to bomb the hell out of Iran (which it was not), and I made a comment about the rogue states who periodically threaten to bomb the hell out of this place or that, including ourselves. She looked shocked that I would refer to the US as a rogue state. And so there you have it. Even the so-called activists who are aware of the BADNESS of many countries that most people here adore still don’t have a visceral sense that WE ARE BAD OURSELVES. Until we have that gut understanding that we are a dangerous violent nation, we can’t begin to see these incidents as anything other than odd, out of the ordinary, bizarre happenings (you know, as opposed to simply representative of Who We Are).

  • greta gaard

    I woke up to this news on the clock alarm and lay in bed a good 15 minutes trying to take it in. On Sunday’s New York Times cover, there was a photo of a Syrian boy wailing in grief over the death of his father. The newspaper was simply lying on a public table. When I put these incidents together, what comes up for me is (1) children are the biggest losers in warfare of all kinds, from domestic violence to school shootings to militarism, nationalism, and corporate “development” of nature; and (2) as long as we are socialized to tolerate the presence of violence–from animal confinement operations to butchery, from “fine dining” to high fashion–children of all species suffer. What I “do” about this is good teaching, good scholarship, and bringing all these connections forward in activism and in conversations with friends. I worry that this “culture change” you invoke is too slow a process to catch up to massive violence and its concomitant widespread numbness.

  • catherine pdojil

    Charlotte, I agree that recognizing the genocidal character of the U.S. is crucial to taking steps. My comment was based on action, but you’re right, until there is the realization that the evil comes from us (species and nation), actions will be limited. Someone wrote a book about genocide, and won a major prize, I think, without ever describing the genocides for which the U.S. has been and is responble. How is that possible? In the same way that our species can dominate every other species on earth in various ways.

  • I’m loving this discussion. Let’s keep thinking.

    Charlotte: I too have seen that look of surprise when referring to the good-old USA as a rogue nation. So, how might we prompt awareness that the enemy is us? Would it be helpful to trace the trajectory of your own recognition of that?

    Catherine: You’re right. Those directly affected do tend to take some sort of action in the immediate aftermath. And, since this is not sustained, they never learn whether or not that strategy–often just simplistic “awareness raising” as in the Invisible Children campaign against Kony–would have been useful. In communities that have been marked by violence, and thus maybe more likely to be open to fresh solutions, how might we provoke the kinds of sustained conversations that might allow people to discover for themselves the roots of violence right in their own homes?

    Speaking of which, Greta highlights children and also mentions domestic violence (along with dietary and consumer choices). As Alice Miller did for Germany after WWII, I’ve been thinking–a lot–about violently coercive parenting (aka “spanking”), which is practiced in the vast majority of US families, as foundational to this particular culture of violence. I’ve been testing out different ways of talking about this with my community college students (many of whom are parents and almost all of whom were hit as children) and will report my results soon.

  • catherine pdojil

    The Kony situation is driving me nuts (not to say that it isn’t horrid for the people involved, not at all). Someone on my FB lsit said recently that this kind of thing would continue to happen in backward African countries (paraphrased, but his general perception). Ye gods!

    I’m fairly sure that as time passes, some “acceptable” explanation for the recent horror in Afghanistan will be trotted out. And if it doesn’t work, then a single soldier will be sacrificed and the ongoing atrocity – the occupation – will continue.

    Speaking of Alice Miller, pattrice, do you know the work of Arthur Silber ( He has an entire series of posts about the work of Alice Miller, he’s uncompromising about the role of the U.S in world violence, feminist, pro-GLBT). You probably know of him.

    As for tracing the recognition of certain world realities, I’d love to know the growth of this in Kathy Kelly, for example, and others. I do know it for Virgil Butler, because he wrote about it at length. The problem there is that I have to put Virgil in a category of exceptional people, because we all know how much more often people working in slaughterhouses become unbelievably violent toward the animals, moreso than they would have ever been beforehand. What’s the answer to this?