This post is intended for those of us who are shocked and grieved by the Virginia Tech killings but who do not know anyone at the school. I suspect that most of us didn’t know any of the victims (and I extend my heartfelt condolences if you did lose a friend or family member in the shootings) but we still feel the pain of lives cut short–especially young lives, so full of promise and potential. There is also a sense that their deaths were preventable, which deepens the pain.
If you feel anguish for the women and men who were gunned down at Virginia Tech this week, consider this: in terms of scale, our national tragedy pales in comparison to Iraq’s daily death toll. Senseless mass death events abound in our world: genocide in Darfur, child soldiers gunning each other down in the Congo, constant gang and drug-related killings globally as well as on our own back streets. Ten thousand Virginia Techs happen on this planet every day.
This confuses me. I don’t mean to sound callous, but why should deaths at a school in Virginia affect us more deeply than a similar number killed by a suicide bomb in Iraq? Are not both equally tragic? I assure you that parents in the Middle East feel no less devastated when a child dies than American ones. And it seems that we should feel more anguish over the deaths in Iraq since we have some collective responsibility for the current situation there. I don’t mean to politicize this discussion too much, but Iraq is a convenient example. There are plenty of others.
So here’s the exercise: if you were affected more by the deaths of 33 in Blacksburg than by the 127 or more who were killed in bombings in Baghdad this morning, examine why. Then try to picture the details our news sources don’t supply–the profiles of the victims, the anguish of parents who lost children, children who lost parents, and of those who survived but whose lives will be transformed by the loss of limbs or hearing or sight and by the addition of chronic pain. Then grieve for them.