July 20, 2012
Inexplicable acts of cruelty and violence can be explained: Evil exists
I've been listening to the national media coverage of the slaughter in Aurora, Colorado; I'm troubled by how easily people characterize the murders as a "tragedy," rather than a cold-blooded massacre.
Thirteen years ago, in the aftermath of the Columbine massacre, I penned an op/ed piece that ran in the L.A. Daily News. My opinion remains the same after today's Colorado massacre.
THE echoes of gunfire have barely faded in the high-school hallways and already the punditocracy is hard at work. Grief "experts" and school administrators offer platitudes and reassurances.
Surf the television channels and you find: "It couldn't happen here in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Mayberry, Ventura, wherever"; "We need to look for the warning signs"; "This is the result of our kids growing up in a violent society"; and of course, the biggie, "Why?"
The real problem is that we live in a messy, violent, unpredictable world.
Let me confess my biases. I am by profession a deputy district attorney. Every day I deal with defendants who want to "get on with my life, man." People who are looking for "closure, y'know?" Criminals who are willing to accept responsibility for their actions, "But only if I can plead 'no contest' instead of 'guilty.' "
There are no easy answers and no solutions, no measures we can take to prevent certain crimes.
An administrator from the Los Angeles Unified School District spoke of how our kids are safer in one of the Southland's schools, equipped as they are with metal detectors.
Doesn't it stand to reason that those same teens who at latest count had slaughtered 15 of their classmates and teachers, when confronted with a metal detector, would not say "The jig is up, for if we attempt to enter the school these confounded machines will reveal the presence of our weapons and clue everyone in to the mayhem we seek to sow 30 seconds before we planned to begin, so maybe we'd better go home and watch 'Celebrity Death Match' on MTV.''
Wouldn't they say instead, "Let's shoot the rent-a-cop working at the metal detector, too."
Americans are without question among the most ahistorical of people; we don't know the names of current members of the president's Cabinet, much less any of the important figures of past decades.
Our collective attention-deficit disorder enables us to quickly forget yet another important lesson of history: Since the beginning of time, people have committed the most monstrous acts for the most unfathomable reasons.
If we look back, say to this evening's news, we saw images of terrified Albanian Kosovar refugees, Nike-clad teens and wide-eyed tots who look just like your neighbors. Why are they on the move? Because their neighbors, people they see every day at work, the market, the cafe, have decided to kill their neighbors, classmates, former friends.
Does the "why" really matter?
Why did the Nazis decide to continue slaughtering Jews in the final days of the war, when the military resources could have been used to delay the Russian advance?
Why is it that for every Oskar Schindler who fights evil (a man who also acted for reasons known only to himself), there were millions of ordinary citizens who did nothing, and thousands who whole-heartedly joined in the slaughter.
Closer to home, why would someone kidnap a mother and two teen-age girls, murder them and leave their incinerated bodies in a car trunk?
Why would an elderly woman's next-door neighbor, a man she likes and trusts, help her put her Christmas tree in the trash and then return later to rob her, stuff her in the trunk of her car and beat her to death?
It is not an easy answer but the answer is that evil exists.
Americans claim to be a God-fearing, churchgoing people, but why, oh, why are they so willing to accept angels but so resistant to the concept of evil, real evil?
This isn't the evil of a demon; we're talking Hannah Arendt's banality of evil, the kind of evil that lets bitter little men put on uniforms and oversee the bureaucracy of genocide, the Hitlers and Himmlers and Milosevics of the world, the kind of men perhaps these Colorado killers might have grown into had they had the patience.
Americans are suckers for the easy answer; the painful truths that the rest of the world lives with are best left to others. Turn on the television. Observe this truth: If you change channels fast enough, it's almost impossible to tell which shocked, grief-stricken woman is looking to see if her child survived the hell of Kosovo or the hell of homeroom.
My heartfelt condolences and prayers to the victims and their families.
Requiescat in pace.
Posted by Mike Lief at July 20, 2012 11:02 PM
Yes, it is simple to say, but we are so sophisticated we need the long answer, the rational to make sense of it all this evil doing.
I say give him due process and execute him fast track style like McVeigh. The least amount the publicity the better. It is not to put it behind us, but too show future or potential Holmes - the 15 minutes is less and lights out. The remains are cremated and unceremoniously cast to the four winds or nearest toilet. Done.
Posted by: Thom at July 21, 2012 07:45 PM