Aeschylus and the Paris Attacks

AeschylusThe reactions to the attacks in Paris are very aggravating. I’m not talking about the sadness, the outrage, or even the fear. It is always sad when people die. And it is always outrageous when people are murdered. And I at least understand fear, even if this act shouldn’t elicit that response. The number of people who died yesterday in Paris from these attacks are about double the number of people in America killed with guns on any given day. The specifics don’t matter so much to me. It is all unnecessary death. It makes me sad that humans are this way. But it’s the shock that aggravates me.

I hear a lot of people who are just amazed that people would do this. “They must be crazy!” Maybe so. But I feel fairly certain that the way the terrorists see things, they are acting rationally. This wasn’t just some madman who ran into a shopping mall and started shooting people. This was a well planned operation. There were six coordinated attacks. It was a military style mission and I have little doubt that those who took part considered themselves soldiers in a noble fight.

“They raped our queen, so we raped their city, and we were right!” —Aeschylus

I know that we here in the US see a drone strike on a wedding party that kills 12 as an unfortunate mistake. I’m among them. I don’t think that anyone in the US military wants to kill innocent people who are celebrating one of our most important cultural signifiers. But that’s pretty easy for me to think. The perspective is certainly very different of the people in Yemen or Afghanistan or any number of other place where the skies are patrolled by our drones.

Roughly 2,500 years ago, Aeschylus wrote in his play Agamemnon, “They raped our queen, so we raped their city, and we were right!” This is the cycle of violence. When two groups go to war, they normally disagree about what the first offense was. Doubtless Priam would not have agreed that the first offense was the “rape” of Helen. So I have a hard time with people who are just shocked at the attacks in Paris. We are engaged in a “war on terror.” Do they think that the terrorists are just going hole up in a compound watching pornography like Osama bin Laden?

I was disappointed, but not at all surprised, to see a CNN headline, US Officials Say No Known Threat to Homeland in Wake of Paris Attacks. The fact that Americans have to be constantly reassured that we are safe is pathetic. We spend roughly half of all the money the world spends on military. We are remarkably safe from all threats except maybe obesity. Yet we still quake in our boots whenever a highly publicized terrorist attack occurs.

According to the Global Terrorism Database, on 13 November 2014, there were 41 terrorist attacks. At least 81 people were killed and at least 62 were injured. But these occurred in places like Iraq, Philippines, Ukraine. And the biggest attack (in terms of death) was “only” 20. CNN didn’t need to assure Americans that they were safe on the same day last year. But if we are going to be afraid, we should be afraid every day, because this stuff happens every day. But it hardly happens at all here.

We are part of this pattern of violence. The worst American delusion is that we just mind our own business and bad things happen to us. We are never just minding our own business. The United States is the most meddlesome country on the planet. And we are far from perfect; just check out Thursday’s Anniversary Post. But I don’t expect us to be; and I don’t think anyone else does either. The real problem is that we do not use our enormous power to limit violence. We are not doing what is needed to reduce things like the horrific mass murders in Paris yesterday. We have allowed the Israel-Palestine conflict to fester for decades. We eagerly destabilized one of the most important countries in the Middle East. And whether our global “war on terror” is creating terrorists faster than it is killing them is a matter of debate.

So be sad about yesterday’s deaths. Be outraged that terrorists decided to murder ordinary people just trying to live their lives. Be afraid that they are coming for us next. But don’t be surprised. “They raped our queen, so we raped their city, and we were right!”

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

36 thoughts on “Aeschylus and the Paris Attacks

  1. I was not shocked to hear about the attack on France. I do think ISIS are miscalculating because France is not going to back down now. This is not something that will make them think “maybe we should back out.” This is going to make them think “not only should we stop letting in refugees, maybe we should start bombing some more.”

    I am not that afraid of the terrorists though. I am slightly more worried I will get shot by a disgruntled ex of some woman I happen to be near or while walking to the safe room after someone attacks one of the government buildings I am in frequently.

    But I am very saddened it keeps coming to this. While overall war is down, it still happens. It still means that people=who laugh, smile, have fights with their siblings, whisper to their best friends about that special someone they like, who welcome the joy of a baby into their lives-are gone forever for no reason other than someone is angry at someone completely different.

    • When these sort of events occur, my first thought is: what do they hope to accomplish by doing this? How can this possibly fix or improve anything?

      But then I doubt their motivation was to get France to back down from their participation in the fighting in Syria. Or anything else that normal people might consider to be constructive. It’s more likely that they’re radicals who are trying to escalate the conflict. They want to prod the xenophobes into persecuting Muslims, attack Mosques, turn away refugees — whatever it takes to convince peaceful Muslims that the rest of the world is against them.

      I’m pretty sure that they’ll see plenty of that sort of response. That’s be bread and butter of Fox News and the GOP. An enthusiastic partnership in stoking the western side of the war of terror.

      • Juan Cole had a good response on the Charlie Hebdo shootings here:

        And Chris Hedges, as much as his apocalyptic preacher style drives me batty, had a good article about horrid slums in Paris here:

        Basically, the psychos who do these things want a disproportionate response. They’re hoping that if Europe takes an even bigger shit on Muslim immigrants, the Muslims will rise up and start a revolution. It’s the same deluded thinking which led an American anarchist to shoot McKinley. You’d hope that psychos would at least come up with new insane ideas, but you’d be disappointed.

        • I probably wrote about that Cole article at the time. I’ll check out Hedges’ article. He’s always interesting, if dangerous to read when you have sharp objects around.

      • It could well be that they want to stop Europe from taking refugees. If that’s the case, I know a whole lot of American conservative commentators who are falling right into the trap.

        • And trying to ban refugees would solve . . . what? We have a giant bag of nonsense thinking mistreating others will help us and won’t come back to harm us. It’s ludicrous.

          I generally hate silly SAT words, but I do like “ludicrous.”

          • Is “ludicrous” an SAT word? I have to admit that I have no real intuition as to whether a word is common or not. Well, beyond technical words like “metonymy.”

            But I hope that Europe responds to this better than we responded to 9/11.

              • Well, I knew they would do that. I’m just hoping that they don’t turn their backs on the refugees. That would be exactly what ISIS wants them to do.

                • It will just probably tighten up vetting, they know that the people are going to come regardless so. Where it will have the biggest impact is here-the Obama Administration will probably cave to the pressure. That is one place I don’t see a second Clinton Administration doing though. Or a Sanders for that matter.

                  • We’ll see. What does Obama have to prove at this point? Other than maybe covering for the Democrats in general. But if the American people still think the Republicans are the party that will keep us safe, all hope is lost.

                    • Since I like to torture myself, I do read the Facebook comments on things like Salon, Cspan and other pages I follow on there. And CSpan asked who people think is better for national security. The overall trend was “Democrats.”

                      No idea what it means as a national level but it is an encouraging sign.

                    • That’s interesting, because I’ve found a lot of C-Span viewers are conservative loons. I hope there is a trend there. There should be!

      • That is true, they probably did want the response that they will get. However I think they don’t realise the reaction that their actions are going to have from the people they want to recruit-the disaffected bored youth looking for meaning. They will most likely recoil from killing of concert goers and people who were just out for dinner.

        I could be wrong about this but I don’t think it will have the reaction they were hoping for.

        • I think the idea really is to make non-Muslims hate Muslims, thus causing Muslims to join the “cause.” That’s the only “rational” objective.

            • I think there is a very similar worldview between ISIS and conservative Christians. So it shouldn’t be surprising that they understand each other pretty well.

            • There is a difference between us and Europe on this score. Europe has admitted far, far more Muslim political refugees than we have, so it’s like Hispanics here — some live in slums and are blamed for everything by idiots. (Not just crimes where perpetrators can be identified, but the stupid “taking over our country” and “milking the system to steal all our money and be lazy” garbage we hear about our persecuted communities.)

              While American Republicans love demonizing Muslims, actual conditions for Muslims in America aren’t terrible like in some European countries (none are the same, none are great, but some are better than others.) They’re no picnic, either. But the numbers are too tiny to have genuine slums in most areas.

              Of course that’s the dilemma. We should be taking vastly more Muslim immigrants in. If we did, though, we’d probably stick them in slums even worse than the lousiest slums in Europe.

    • Yeah, it is sad. My frustration is the general lack of acknowledgement that we are culpable in all of this. The US has complete responsibility in Iraq, and the situation in Syria is largely due to a drought that was at least made much worse by global warming, which we share a great deal of blame in. But somehow America is never responsible for anything. We are always the Good Guys™ no matter what we do.

      • That is super annoying, I agree. Of course trying to actually apologize and make amends sends the Republicans into such a tizzy it makes it next to impossible to acknowledge when we screwed up.

        • But it isn’t even apologizing. Even accepting that some of our actions have bad consequences causes them to go on tilt. But I’d just be happy if we stopped repeating the same mistakes. Is there any question but that if a Republican were president we would now be at war over this?

          • Perhaps we need to have a history test included in running for president that requires answering a question like this in essay form:

            1. What did the US do to Iran in 1959 and why was that bad?

            • Good idea. But given we are still having fights about referring to the slave trade as “immigration,” I don’t think it will fly.

              • I know it wouldn’t but it would be very interesting to see what would have happened if they did give the candidates this kind of a test.

                I mean we test students to death, why not office holders?

  2. It’s very likely the bombing of a wedding, and the bombing of a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, were mistakes. It’s also possible some loon with a serious burr up his ass about “you’re all the enemy” oredered these things on purpose.

    I don’t have any idea what the military’s procedures are for self-correcting acts of abuse and war crimes. I do know that in disabled services those procedures are a joke. Any abuse can be paperworked away. The only chance for abuse to be reported and acted on is if someone witnesses it and reports it. Even then, it’s “she said he said.” So you need two reporters to validate the story, really, which is almost impossible.

    My brother, a staunch centrist who thinks everything will be groovy if we just let business magic do its work (he’s in insurance) was in Iraq, for both wars. (Navy first time, Army this time. Joined up both times for the benefits and didn’t plan on going to war. Bad luck, that.) He saw lunatics murdering families and did his best to slow them down.

    The problem was those lunatics were “heroes,” guys who’d do any crazy risky thing to save their fellow soldiers. Nobody’s going to rat out a guy like that whom they all love, certainly not for shooting up some foreigners you can’t trust anyways as one of them pleading for a cigarette might just be packing a suicide bomb.

    It’s Vietnam all over again. Did we love returned-soldier suicides the first time? Hey, why not do a reboot! Hire people to participate in war crimes, kill some foreigners, turn millions into anti-American zealots, traumatize our recruits. It was box-office gold before, let’s do it again.

    So, yeah, maybe those bombings were a mistake. Probably they were. It’s also possible some of those bombings were on purpose, by damaged/deranged individuals. Chelsea Manning showed us as much. For the rest, I guess we’ll have to wait 30 years until the files get declassified.

    • In terms of the hospital, you might be right. The wedding party seems more an indication of our callousness. It doesn’t matter that we get it right, just like it doesn’t matter that the death penalty isn’t perfect: it doesn’t affect the kind of people who matter.

      But as we know from the My Lai Massacre, once something happens, our military is determined to cover it up unless they know it is impossible.

        • Absolutely right. It should be harder for people with the power to commit awful abuse (soldiers, cops, caregivers) to CYA. Who really cares if somebody at Starbucks screws up an order?

        • Christian Youth Athletics?! Wow. I had no idea it went so deep! :-)

          I agree. And CYA is not all bad. It is important for groups to care for themselves. But it goes too far on the right and (generally) not far enough on the left.

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