If you'd turned on the news and saw wall-to-wall coverage about a fertilizer bomb that went off, killing at least 15 and injuring 150, you'd be horrified, and would completely understand every network reporting on it -- and only it -- all day. Yet the explosion in Texas on Wednesday just got some mention, a bit of national airtime, and the morning after was already a sub-headline in the news.
I understand the difference between an industrial accident, and a terrorist attack. I completely understand it. But I also understand the similarity, and too often that's what gets lost by the news media and much of the public. More importantly, what also gets lost is that the whole point of a terrorist attack is to create just that, a sense of terror -- and the media hype and sensationalism of repeating and repeating and repeating the same story of tragic devastation all day for days, and showing the exact same horrifying pictures over and over and over and over, for days, only feeds the beast and gives the terrorists precisely what they want. Precisely what they want.
The difference, of course, is that a terrorist attack is intentional. Someone is actually trying to kill you. Us. An accident is just that, an accident. But -- the difference can't only be "just" that if something is intentional that makes it deserving of 72 straight hours of coverage. After all, since the Newtown tragedy in December, the country has averaged 18 gun deaths a day. While not all of those were intentional, I suspect most were, most were someone trying very intentionally to kill somebody else. Purely for the sake of perspective, what this means is that around 50 people have been intentionally killed by guns since the bombing in Boston, where the number of people killed there was three.
Let me be absolutely clear: I'm not diminishing nor trying to diminish the horror and national sadness of the Boston bombing. I'm putting perspective on it to give it full meaning -- and trying to raise the horror and sadness of other tragic deaths that always get totally lost and diminished. In fact, to add even deeper perspective and horror, for anyone who might think I'm being too flippant -- since Newton a mere four months ago, there have been over 3,300 gun deaths!! And three deaths in Boston.
The point here is to put "terror" and the intent of terrorists in perspective. And to put media coverage, media focus, public perception, and national conversation in perspective, as well.
After all, we are rightly angered, saddened, horrified, frightened by the terrorist bombing in Boston where three people were killed, and yet just yesterday -- after 3,300 people have been shot to death since the gut-wrenching horror of the Newtown massacre -- Republicans in the Senate filibustered nothing more than having a vote on background checks for guns. (Something that 90% of American support.) If you want something for gut-wrenching 24-hour news coverage, that would be a good start. More people will likely die in a single day as a direct result of it than were murdered in Boston.
By the way, if another reason some people give for explaining the wall-to-wall attention poured on Boston is because of the pure randomness of the act, the reality that we just don't know when the next attack is coming -- step back and consider the larger reality: how many of those 15 killed and 150 injured in the Texas explosion saw that coming? How many of the 3,300 gun deaths woke up that morning seeing them coming? How many of the children in Newtown saw that massacre coming? Or in Aurora, or Virginia Tech, or Tucson, or Columbine? Or the 25,000 traffic deaths a year. All random, all unexpected, all sad, horrifying and achingly tragic.
At issue isn't if something is random or intentional, tragic and horrific. It's all tragic, and it's horrific. What's at issue is perspective. Death surrounds us. Unceasingly. Inexplicable random deaths, cold-eyed intentional deaths, the sickening deaths of massacres, all enveloping us, pummeling us, at any unexpected moment. In huge numbers, each day, all year, every year. And the reality is that they have for decades, and for centuries and even thousands of years. Don't think that we're anything special. When you hear that phrase, "History teaches us that the..." -- well, it's true. History does teach us. That's the value of history. It doesn't make the sadness and tragedy any less, but gives it a perspective to understand -- and in understanding, therefore keep moving forward. The people who need to grieve...grieve. The rest of society supports them and honors the loss by living.
Unless, that is, you're the gun-manufacturer owned-and-operated NRA outlier fringe group. Then, you double-down, convince your far-right lackey minions in Congress to do your bidding. And do your best to make sure that 18 more people will be shot to death randomly today. And tomorrow. And the days after...
Death shouldn't divide us. It's one of the things that should make us appreciate life all the more and bring people together. And the more perspective and understanding we have on life, and the less we play into their hands and let people who want to terrorize us have their way, whether domestic or foreign, the better we honor loss -- all loss -- and ourselves.
The bombing in Boston is a deeply-meaningful national story and graphically, wrenchingly tragic. The three dead and 170 injured are far-too devastating. But make no mistake, so too are the 15 dead and 150 injured in Texas to their loved ones. And the 3,300 dead since Newtown. And the 25,000 gun deaths the past year. And the 6,500 American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not to lessen the tragedy in Boston, but to raise the sense of loss that too often gets ignored. It is to keep everything in perspective, so that we can honor loss and life properly.
"The fault, dear Brutus," Shakespeare wrote, "is not in our stars, but in ourselves." It's up to us to do better and to live life and honor life to its fullest. And to keep life – all of life – in total, clear-eyed, open, honest perspective so we can best honor all our days. And not drive ourselves into a feeding frenzy.
The job of those who have suffered a loss is to grieve. The job of the rest is to live.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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