The 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.
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!”