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A Contrarian View of the Arizona Shootings – January 2011

Arizona ShootingsEveryone knows that objects look bigger when you are standing right next to them. The same is true of events. Usually the events of day-to-day life, when examined after some time has passed, turn out to be somewhat less meaningful or at least less dramatic. The recent shootings in Arizona that severely injured a legislator, and killed other innocent civilians were tragic; no question about it. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t wish they could have intervened somehow to prevent the tragic loss of life. While all of the deaths and injuries are abhorrent, I think most of us are especially impacted by the death of an innocent 9 year old girl whose only offense was standing close to the congresswoman targeted by the deranged assailant. Nothing will ever diminish the terrible impact of that event, and grieving for the losses of the families involved was not only appropriate, it was a natural and required part of the healing process.

So in light of the terrible tragedy that is the Arizona shootings, here is another avenue of thought related to the context of this event: How many Americans have been lost to murderous insurgents in Iraq since the beginning of the conflict there? Without googling it, can you estimate that number within – say – 1,000? Any idea how many civilians have been killed? Again, you don’t have to be exact here; can you estimate within 1,000 people? According to a front-page story in USA Today January 12, 2011, “Insurgents in Iraq killed more than 21,000 civilians and wounded another 68,000 people with homemade bombs over the past five years, according to newly released data from the Pentagon. The highest number of casualties came in 2007, coinciding with the worst sectarian violence and the surge in U.S. Military forces to quell it. In that year, 7,295 people died – nearly 20 a day – from improvised explosive devices, says the Pentagon. Another 21,970 Iraqis were wounded.” Later in the article, a U.S. Official is quoted when he said: “The enemy put civilians purposely at great risk by its tactics and actions.”

I can vouch for that. I flew into Iraq for the first time in December of 2006, and stayed through most of 2007. The violence was everywhere, and it was indiscriminate. It seemed to me that I could at least hear a car bomb going off about every 45 minutes, and many shook the ground. Small arms fire was everywhere, and in the early days of 2007, it was almost continuous. No amount of time passing me by will ever blunt the stark terror of those rides in Hummers through Baghdad, waiting for an IED to blow my legs off – or worse. And at 2AM, when rockets and mortars came in and literally sprayed my little office with dirt and shrapnel, it became extremely clear to me that being the only structure around with lights still showing through the windows just wasn’t worth getting a little more work done that night.

It was interesting for me to follow the flowing river of written and verbal rhetoric running through the internet, the airwaves following the tragedy. The debate around gun ownership split open again, and it took only a few hours for opportunists on the liberal side of the aisle to launch attacks on conservative figureheads like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh for “contributing to the environment” that spawned this horrific attack. The President personally led moments of silence, traveled to Arizona to deliver speeches, and paid his respects to the grief-stricken families in several public venues. One article by Richard Wolf in the January 12 Wall Street Journal that was especially interesting to me entitled: “Amid Troubles, Presidents Inspire and Heal” laid out the words and actions of FDR following Pearl Harbor, LBJ following the Kennedy assassination, Ronald Reagan following the Challenger explosion, Bill Clinton following the Oklahoma City bombing, and George W. Bush following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, any loss of innocent human life is totally unacceptable, and we need to do everything we can to prevent it and appropriately respond to it when it occurs. But looking at this event – terrible tragedy though it is – in the cold, gray light of dawn, it is interesting to try to achieve some perspective. Pearl Harbor was a sneak attack that killed hundreds – primarily military, but some civilians as well. The 9/11 terrorist attack was an attack on civilians and cost the lives of about 3,000 Americans. Adolph Hitler’s inconceivable reign of terror killed 6 million Jews. The vast majority were innocent men, women, and children. The world has seen unbelievable atrocity and murder on genocidal scales. Even now, in the course of a single month at just one U.S. Marine installation in Afghanistan, we have “Ramp Ceremonies” (also called “Dignified Transfers”) for more true American heroes than we lost in the Arizona shooting spree.

So as we experience the real and undeniable grief and heartache of the friends and families of these eight victims in the Arizona tragedy, I am hoping that observers will remember that for years now, every single week families and friends receive the shattering news that they will never see their son, daughter, father, mother, or close friend alive again on this earth.

Because we don’t know them, and we don’t have their faces and their personal stories broadcast into our homes all day and all night for days afterward, and because they are usually not respected court judges, congressional representatives, or beautiful little girls, somehow we don’t feel those losses so deeply. We aren’t moved by them to set our flags at half mast or hold an official moment of silence at the White House, or even mention many of their names on a national news broadcast. And while the men and women whose lives are sacrificed in the line of duty – whether that duty is on the battlefield in Afghanistan or on a police patrol in some major U.S. city – are people you don’t know through a media blitz, they are every bit as important. Every bit as deserving of our pity, our grief, and our prayers.

The same is true of the murder victims in Detroit and East St. Louis and Watts. The victims of traffic accidents, airplane crashes, and natural disasters like Katrina. There is no outpouring of national grief and mourning when the victim is a homeless man, or that most helpless and innocent of victims, an unborn child. Scores of murders and tragic accidents occur around us every day. The scope and grandeur of the public outcry around this one terrible event does cause me to wonder how much of what I am saw was theatrics, how much was opportunistic politics, and how much was genuine sorrow – especially on the part of our political leaders and our mainstream media.

What do you think?

2 Responses to “A Contrarian View of the Arizona Shootings – January 2011”

  1. Marie Luft says:

    I agree, totally … Every life is precious. However, I must confess that while I have great sympathy for people who die thru events over which they have no control, I have little or no sympathy for people who die because of their own mistreatment of their bodies.

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