Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Competitive Grieving


Three people are dead, and over a hundred injured after the bomb attacks on the Boston Marathon on Monday. As yet, no group has been found, or perpetrator identified with certainty. The police are scouring the pathway of the marathon anticipating more explosive devices.  From what is trickling to media sources, pressure cooker devices packed with shrapnel were used to inflict the carnage.

The scene can do nothing but trigger sympathy. Civilians going about their activities of recreation; a sporting occasion of international stature, and then, bombs going off at and near the finishing line. An elderly runner knocked off his feet; the desperation as security forces moving in to secure the area; blood spattered and broken bodies carried or wheeled off.  All of this, filmed, live and ready, and for that reason, potent.

The ease here, and notably in the United States, will be to let such suffering obscure other cases of inflicted violence.  In far off lands, bombs drop from unmanned aerial vehicles and obliterate entire families in the blink of an eye.  Manned aircraft armed to the teeth with ordinance achieve the same result. There are few tears.  The car bombs that went off in Iraq on Monday were also savage with a higher death toll, killing 9 people and wounding 27.  On the weekend, similar attacks left 55 dead across the country.  The slain are worth a mention, no more.  Death can be another country.

The temptation is so often one that Fox News exploits: the desire to see harm if it comes from the “enemy” as unique, and its infliction as unforgivably demonic.  In the calculus of suffering, Americanism reigns supreme.  The news agencies, of whatever colour, are also falling into line.  “Young Boston bombing victim was waiting to hug his dad,” goes one headline with the AFP. Yes, we should mourn eight-year old Martin Richard who died near the Boston marathon’s 26-mile marker, but in the saturation age of the 24 hour news cycle, few will know the names of other children slain in other conflict zones.  It doesn’t make either Richard or any other child less or more fortunate – it simply means that the focus of suffering has varying weight.  Rolling cameras, and a keen audience, help.

The recent killing of Afghan civilians, as uncovered by an Afghan investigation team assigned by President Hamid Karzai, was a stark reminder that death at the hands of those capable of inflicting harm is global.  On that occasion, 17 civilians perished in a NATO-led airstrike in the eastern province of Kunar.  Such killings are but murmurs in the American media scape.  The infliction of death, and its commemoration, is often specific and selective.  Why one is killed varies – in the case of the fatalities from NATO airstrikes (directed or misdirected), there is always an apology that follows.  Militants were the intended target, even if they were amongst you.  Reckless indifference to human life is tolerated.

But in a situation such as the Boston bomb killings, eulogies can so often turn into security jerks and vengeful responses.  The victims become exemplar Americans who were killed by “un-American” elements, when, ironically, it may turn out that the perpetrators were as American as any other, reared on the milk of patriotic insensibility.  President Barack Obama, to his credit, has not put his foot on the accelerator of the US Security State – yet.

Such attacks produce another aberration.  The arm chair conspiracy theorist, going to seed behind the keyboard, will whizz of theories of government complicity.  The news cycle, ironically, deters reliability.  As Hank Suever in the Washington Post (Apr 16) remarked, “News, both as a phenomenon and a commodity, must now travel faster than it can be verified, and our demands for who-what-why-how must now come bundled with caution.”

The conspiracy theorist is not merely found in civilian ranks.  The Bush administration took irrational reasoning and myth-making presumptions of danger in the “War on Terror” to new levels.  It takes paranoia to feed paranoia.  The desire to inflate, to magnify the significance of a foe, can prove irresistible.  To that end, localised acts of terror can be given an international accent, a situation which we have seen played out, to a certain extent, in Mali.  The United States has an active list of domestic terror groups, not all of whom are that keen on following the light of the Prophet.  Conspicuous violence has been left to angst-driven teenagers with easy access to heavy weaponry.

Then there is that uncomfortable sense of disproportion, where one starts having sessions of competitive grief, or even competitive grief fatigue. Was Sandy Hook, a terrifying spectacle that brings warfare to urban environments, somehow less significant because it did not involve bombs at a sporting marathon? America is at war with itself, and one that extends to the school yards.

“Terror” comes in various guises – security fantasies of armed schools as suggested by the National Rifles Association; domestic dissidents with a grudge and genuine foreign enemies.  But for now, the implications of the Boston bomb attacks are still to be felt in their entirety.  In the meantime, the condition of competitive grieving, or not grieving at all, will persist.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:



Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”