The Boston Marathon bombing: an all too human evil
“It neither kills outright nor inflicts apparent physical harm, yet the extent of its destructive toll is already greater than that of any war, plague, famine, or natural calamity on record — and its potential damage to the quality of human life and the fabric of civilized society is beyond calculation. For that reason this sickness of the soul might well be called the ‘Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse.’ Its more conventional name, of course, is dehumanization.”
Ashley Montagu, The Dehumanization Of Man
A flash, a boom, a crackling chemical scent and then, a shriek comprised of screams from many throats as they run, as they gather up their wounded and try to escape — and then another explosion blasts the air apart. A wailing ululation of horror is ripped from the psyche of all there — the sound tears past our conventions, our expectations of our own reactions, so primal there is no gainsaying it, no fighting it. We are down to our constituent emotions; we are in full flight.
We are not used to this. It is so rare in this country that each instance stands out. Most of us can tell you exactly where we were and what we were doing the moment we heard about the Twin Towers. We will be able to do that with the Boston Marathon bombings as well.
There are countries where this is not surprising, where this is a frequent enough occurrence that the paths that horror and terror bore through the soul are well-worn. Not so ours. Because we are, as a country, so relatively untouchable, our trauma is new, raw and unfamiliar. This is not safely in the far-away. This is here. This is where we live.
People will say — have been saying “How can anyone do this?” But we know. We know exactly how they can do this because the capacity for such cruelty, such rapacity exists in nearly all of us. While the dust has hardly even settled on this evil, and we have no idea who perpetrated a crime so heinous that the fact that none of the lives taken or ruined were likely even known to this monster, this is a purely human evil and it is unfamiliar only because of degree.
This is the petty nastiness that allows a cutting remark in place of simple kindness. It’s the small, spiteful meanness of gossip about a friend. It is the evil that allows a bully to torture a child half his or her size. This is the cruelty that harms small animals. This is the evil that rapes. It is the rage and hate that fostered and nurtured the Holocaust, Rwanda, Cambodia, Kosovo. And it starts the moment the perpetrator dehumanizes those around him or her. It’s small when individuals indulge in it, but what we saw today is the same thing, only writ large. And it begins when we stop seeing the human faces of those around us.
The Nazis did it on purpose with their posters of the evil Jew, their spewing speeches turning people into abhorrent caricatures. Once the Jews’ human faces were obliterated by this campaign, it was a simple matter to begin the organized process of removing the hated, living objects from their landscape.
The Boston Marathon bombs were perpetrated by someone who saw people as no more than things. Perhaps there are people whose human faces this beast sees, but they weren’t in the crowd today. Whoever it was had turned all those there into objects to be destroyed, for whatever reason — political or personal. Once your target has had its humanity stripped away, it is a simple matter to go forth and ravage it.
I don’t have a guaranteed solution, but I do have one main idea, based on personal experience. A very long time ago, I was a chat host in the Israel Room on AOL – back when chat rooms actually had hosts. My stated objective was to promote an environment where we showed each other our human faces. Palestinians would come in afroth with hatred but we met them with compassionate listening. I recall two furious gentlemen whom I finally asked “What happened? Why are you so angry?”
They told us how one’s uncle and the other’s father were shot dead by Israeli soldiers while farming their fields and we, almost all Jews, reacted with our human hearts. We told them that was horrible and that we would be furious as well. The Palestinian gentlemen were staggered by this response, and now the door between us was open; the more we all talked, the more we showed each other our human faces, the sweeter the friendships became. Finally, when other Palestinians came in full of hate and rage, our new friends would speak up saying “Wait, hear them out. They’re not what you think.” They came as foes; they stayed as friends and from that start, we became a virtual world where there was no hate and people who came in to do harm stayed for joy. We had seen each other’s human faces and the hate just dissolved.
Somehow the perpetrator of this terrible act, the person who has cost so many so very much, has lost sight of our human faces. It will not be difficult or anguishing for this person to harm more people if he or she is not caught because our human faces are long since out of view. I am not sure redemption is possible for someone who could do this. But in order to redeem ourselves, somehow we must embrace as a culture, as a world the idea that we are all people with the same hearts, the same dreams. We must hold out our hands and take the embrace offered to us — or we must offer it ourselves. We must look into faces that may or may not look like ours and see that we are all, simply, people. I believe with all my heart that when we do see each other’s human faces, hatred cannot survive.
This is dedicated to everyone harmed by the Boston Marathon bombings, directly or indirectly.