Welcome to the age of hyperbole where an increasingly tongue-tied population attempts to describe what is going on around them and cannot “find the words” without using superlatives or clichés. This happens daily but was nowhere more evident than in the recent horrific events in Boston where 3 people were killed and more than 170 injured in two bomb explosions. Interviewers asked dumb questions of eye-witnesses who could only pause and say “it was tragic; it was huge, I can’t explain it.” We have come to the point where the word “tragedy” simply leaps to the tongue whenever something terrible happens. The Greeks, who invented the word, distinguished it from “pathos” which is mere sadness, even extraordinary sadness; they reserved the word “tragedy” for those terrible, and terrifying, events in which a noble person brings his world down around his ears through his own blindness and stupidity. But that has changed and only a pedant would insist that we reserve the word for Greek tragedies. No other word seems to suffice. The term has legitimately come to mean any unexpected event in which innocent people are hurt or killed — though we use it even more loosely than this, of course, when we describe the ACL tear the running back suffers in a vicious tackle as “tragic.”
In any event, it is certainly the case that the bomb explosions in Boston recently were terribly gut-wrenching, whether we want to call the event “tragic” or not. And at times it is hard to find the words to express our grief and outrage. But if we do insist on calling the death of three people and the injury of more than 170 others, a tragedy, then we must agree to use the term to apply to the death of men, women, and children in the Middle East where as many as 880 innocent people, including 176 children, have been killed in drone strikes that have taken an estimated 3,325 lives only 2% of whom were the militant leaders who were targeted. These are estimates, of course, and they probably err on the low side. The Obama administration is not forthcoming about the effects of the drone strikes and this in itself is unsettling. We are certainly not informed about these figures on a daily basis, nor shown film or pictures of the carnage, as we were (and still are) on TV following the explosions in Boston. Indeed, the photo here is a rare one showing the aftermath of a drone strike in Pakistan that involved a number of civilian deaths, including this child.
But we must remember that we are the ones responsible for those deaths and that destruction in the Middle East which is many times greater than what happened in Boston. So while we pray for those who suffered or died in the aftermath of the bombings in Boston, we should take a moment to pray for those innocent people who are dying on a regular basis in crowded cities on the other side of the earth as a result of decisions made by our government. They, too, suffer. And their loses are as meaningful to them as ours are to us.
We may find it hard to find the right words to express our feelings and describe what is going on around us, but whatever those words are we should make sure we acknowledge that they apply to other people as well as to us. No one who engages in these sorts of attacks on other human beings is in the right. And if we are convinced that those who planted the bombs in Boston are evil people who should be punished, it raises serious questions about the culpability of this nation as it prances about on the world stage flexing its muscles. We have become an increasingly bellicose and arrogant country of late and while it hurts to say so, there are those around the world who might insist we have this sort of thing coming.
I was going to click like on this post but it just didn’t seem right
I know what you mean. There should be an “agree” option!
Agree with your and Alastair’s interchange. Plus, we were and are arrogant enough to believe we could have a different outcome from other countries in Afghanistan. Interesting report on how we treated prisoners at Gitmo and in the Middle East. As we discussed, if we act like the bad guys, it is hard to distinguish the good from the bad.
I’ve had the same thoughts in the last few days, that we only find events tragic if they happen to us. And by that, I don’t just mean huge attacks like 9-11, but even those day-to-day individiual moments. It is hard to not be selfish…
Well, our government does a good job of keeping us in the dark about what is going on over there!
Thank you for tweaking our heads to others who are suffering; you are so right, and our lack of empathy for their gut-wrenching losses must seem insensitive and callous and arrogant, as you pointed out. Is there any way that we, collectively, can send the message that states how very sorry we are?
That’s a good question and I don’t know the answer. I am sure the world holds all of us accountable for what our government does.
yes, and many here have voiced the ‘why so many guns?” or ‘why guns at all?” to me. it’s hard, sometimes, to find a wise answer.
The only answer I can come up with is that people are afraid.
Actually, there is another explanation, not quite as kind as “fear.”
Great post, Hugh. I’ve had a similar discussion with a few friends here, and was amazed at the “but this is different” pushback I received. We’ve come to accept “collateral damage” as acceptable for other peoples. One good friend claimed we strike at known targets, Boston was just an attack on us all. My point was that we were either all the targets, or all collateral damage, but in the end, it was no different than a silent drone attack upon a village in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Thanks for writing this, we all need to be thinking along these lines.
It needs to be said, but those responsible refuse to listen!
The challenge of mote juste is profound (yesterday’s Senate rejection of action on gun “control” a “tragedy” or something more basic like spinlessness?)
The challenge of doing right and finding the right also profoundly challenging, at times, but dismissing widespread and persistant “collateral deaths” of innocents (in our streets, schools, or the border towns of Pakistan) as inevitable or unfortunate, surely shifts solid ground from our moral standing.
Indeed it does. The moral high ground is staring to look more like a mole-hill.
Brave, beautifully worded post and I couldn’t agree more.
We turn our faces from the most terrible of circumstances while labelling the misfortunes and horror that befall those who surround us and resemble us with the most hyperbolic language. It saddens me, particularly as I’ve married into a Pakistani family and get to see the coverage from the Middle East and Asian countries that Western media so often glosses over.
I have a good friend who is married to a woman from Pakistan and he tells me the same things! Very sad.
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