FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Cho and Cheney

by BRENDAN COONEY

There is a look on the face of someone trying to understand the recent mass killing by Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech. Blank eyes, a furrowed brow, a slowly shaking head. The brain hits a wall of comprehensibility. The part of the mind that imagines what happens in other minds reaches its limit; a rational person simply cannot identify with what Cho did.

There was something familiar in that look. I realized it was the same look I have seen over and over in the past four years on the faces of those I talk to in other countries about what Bush has done in Iraq. “Why?” they ask me, as if my nationality might shed some light. “Is he mentally ill?” I have no simple answers. They shake their heads. I remember the eyes of a woman in Argentina tearing up at the senseless tragedy.

Within two days of the Virginia Tech shooting, people in the United States had moved through three stages: 1. Shock; 2. Realizing there is a problem and trying to identify it; 3. Grappling with ways to avoid a similar disaster.

The absence of this process with Iraq was, and still is, startling and eerie. A souring toward the Administration’s Iraq policy has moved into the mainstream, yet we skipped the shock. Critics rebuke the “management” of the war in the same measured tones used for other bad policies.

Should there be a difference in the level of moral outrage between the Cho shooting and something that killed 10,000 times more people? Yes. According to standard utilitarian morality (the greatest good for the greatest number, or in this case the least bad for the fewest number), one event was 10,000 times worse than the other.

The reason there was not 10,000 times the reaction is simple, and all the more troubling for its simplicity. Virginia Tech is closer to home, had a single perpetrator, and is easier to imagine. It happened to people who speak our language, whom we imagine to be somehow in our community. There was a single person responsible who did it with his own hands. And as horrific as it would be, we can imagine sitting in a classroom and being shot, whereas we have no idea what it is like to be bombed.

What single person can we hang the invasion on? Wolfowitz? Cheney? Bush? Rumsfeld? And even if Cheney made the decision, it wasn’t him in the cockpit pressing the button that delivered the bomb. Cheney wasn’t the one who gunned down 24 civilians in Haditha. (I’ll hang it on Cheney for the moment, less for the sake of alliteration than the fact that his snarling mug would go well beside the sort of “Mind of a Killer” stories that proliferated beside Cho’s picture. Given that Cheney favors bombing Iran, and still seems to relish the Iraq occupation, why haven’t we seen any “Mind of a Killer” stories beside Cheney’s picture? Why haven’t we seen stories speculating about how weak those five Vietnam draft deferments must have made the young Cheney feel?)

If this diffusion of guilt confuses people, so does the hazy area of rationale. So many voices were (and still are) flooding our airwaves with messages that there was a central aim of the invasion that justified the human toll. This propaganda requires a modicum of critical thinking to see through, and when our journalists bought it we were sunk. On the other hand, there is no central aim behind a classroom slaughter that could justify it in the minds of any healthy mind. In Cho’s case, of course, we are talking about a clinical mental problem; in Cheney’s we are not. That should not make one more shocking than the other. I would argue the reverse, that the lack of a diagnosable mental illness makes the latter far more dangerous. People like Cho may be able to buy guns, but people like Cheney lead the nation into war.

Two things must be explained: why Cho caused shock domestically but the invasion did not, and why the invasion caused shock around the world but not here. The answer lies in a growing intellectual and moral vacuity that leaves our journalists and citizenry not only vulnerable to blatant propaganda but devoid of the moral imagination that gives people around the world a gut feeling that something, such as a massive unprovoked invasion, is wrong.

To feel shock at something happening far away as if it were happening nearby; to feel shock at something happening to people who do not belong to one’s culture as if it were happening to people belonging to one’s culture; to feel shock at people being killed by airplane bombs even though one has not seen bombings depicted in movies as vividly as shootings; all of this requires a sort of moral imagination.

The death of this moral imagination in the United States is why there was such a discrepancy between reactions around the world and reactions here after the Iraq invasion in 2003. It is also why whatever U.S. administration wants to persuade the U.S. public that an attack on Iran is necessary will have an easy time of it.

Going back to the post-massacre process outlined above: Because there was no Number One (shock), there will be no Number Three, no serious work done toward figuring out how to avoid the next one. If Bush and Cheney decide to bomb Iran, for example, they will snow the people with propaganda and pull it off just the way they did Iraq. The disastrous ramifications for the United States, and the question of whether or not Iran poses a real threat to us, will be irrelevant.

BRENDAN COONEY is an anthropologist living in New York City. He can be reached at: itmighthavehappened@yahoo.com

 

 

More articles by:
January 18, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Destabilizer: Trump’s Escalating Threats Against Iran
John W. Whitehead
Silence Is Betrayal: Get Up, Stand Up, Speak Up for Your Rights
Andrew Day
Of “Shitholes” and Liberals
Dave Lindorff
Rep. Gabbard Speaks Truth to Power About the Real Reason Korea Has Nukes
Barbara G. Ellis
The Workplace War: Hatpins Might Be in Style Again for Women
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Sickness in May’s Britain
Ralph Nader
Twitter Rock Star Obama’s Silence Must Delight Trump
John G. Russell
#Loose Lips (Should) Sink … Presidencies … But Even If They Could, What Comes Next?
David Macaray
The “Mongrelization” of the White Race
Ramzy Baroud
In Words and Deeds: The Genesis of Israeli Violence
January 17, 2018
Seiji Yamada
Prevention is the Only Solution: a Hiroshima Native’s View of Nuclear Weapons
Chris Welzenbach
Force of Evil: Abraham Polonsky and Anti-Capitalist Noir
Thomas Klikauer
The Business of Bullshit
Howard Lisnoff
The Atomized and Siloed U.S. Left
Martha Rosenberg
How Big Pharma Infiltrated the Boston Museum of Science
George Wuerthner
The Collaboration Trap
David Swanson
Removing Trump Will Require New Activists
Michael McKinley
Australia and the Wars of the Alliance: United States Strategy
Binoy Kampmark
Macron in China
Cesar Chelala
The Distractor-in-Chief
Ted Rall
Why Trump is Right About Newspaper Libel Laws
Mary Serumaga
Corruption in Uganda: Minister Sam Kutesa and Company May Yet Survive Their Latest Scandal
January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail