Category Archives: Atrocity

Just. Plain. Wrong.

protestors syria

Image taken from theage.com.au

Oh, I’ve got plenty of things to say. Over the summer, I spent three weeks in America, where the citizenry still drink corn syrup for breakfast and eat bowls of bleached sugar dipped in lard for lunch. I spent two weeks in Ireland, where the good people of that island revel so much in death and misery that some humble Hibernians prefer to use rip.ie as their home page when they open up Internet Explorer (“Seamus! Seamus! Would you look at this now, Seamus! Guess who died! Go on, guess!”). It will soon be a fertile field from which to mine much pith and wit reflecting on life in general.

But first things first. War? With Syria? What are we, nuts?

Big deal. The American Londoner’s a peacenik. That wasn’t hard to call. Typical pansy liberal, right? After all, his (adopted) country voted to sit this one out while the real players (like France, because we’ve always loved the French) commit to doing all the dirty work on the front lines. Right?

But it’s not as simple as all that. Not by a long shot.

(And I’ve been meaning to say his for a while by the way, but what with being back at work, taking the boy to school yada yada… who has time in the end?)

I’d go so far as to say this is the most morally complicated case of threatened military intervention in my lifetime (Oh you don’t get me that easy).

I don’t pretend to be an expert. For balanced and more well-informed opinions, you’d have to go to Scott Erb’s excellent mainly political blog, World In Motion or The BBC or Huffpost or some gloriously legitimate and reputable news source. What follows is how I see the insanity in a subjectively truthful way from this side of the pond.

In what way is it complicated, Pete? (I hear you say) You then reach for a Teutonic comparison quicker than you can say Godwin’s Law. Assad is a barbaric dictator. It does not follow that all barbaric dictators are the same or indeed that it is the responsibility of more powerful countries to intervene on behalf of the wretched of the earth against their oppressive overlords. If recent history is any precedent or instructor, one would think it our responsibility to use those oppressive overlords to maintain the balance of power that served us best in a remote region.

Bottom line: is there a moral imperative? Well isn’t there? Aren’t we henceforth responsible for any atrocities that happen if we choose to do nothing? Aren’t the hottest places in hell then reserved for us?

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Still the world’s biggest copper? Image taken from azstarnet.com (Daily Fitz Cartoon)

Answers are good. Questions are even better. The Syrian Civil War has been going on for two years. Why haven’t we done anything before now? Chemical weapons, you say? Good point.

There we were, us not-in-my-namers, back in the naive noughties raging about Bush leading us on some bloated, ignominiously futile crusade to find WMD (eventually callously jokingin his trademark , pre-cro-magnon manner about it) and here we have a man who has actually used WMD on his own people. Put your money where your mouth is, lefties, and let’s send the troops in and smoke ’em out.

Oh. Hang on.

That last phrase certainly did sound familiar.

In fact, the last time I can remember feeling like that was when I heard our leaders say that they had “reliable” intelligence claiming that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction, which is a bit like saying you have high confidence that a dictator has slaughtered his own people.

Eerily familiar, huh?

And before you know it, you’re committed to another unwinnable quagmire of a conflict, being resented by the people you’re trying to help and doing more harm than good.

I don’t doubt that Assad probably did slaughter his own people, in their thousands. And Obama is refreshingly careful in his language compared to Bush’s bully boy tactics and cowboy diplomacy. One gets the sense that POTUS does not take these decisions lightly.

But if the chemical attack really is the smoking gun, why didn’t we remove Saddam when he slaughtered 5,000 in Halabja with chemical weapons? Why did he remain in power for another 15 years? Where were our guilt pangs and outrage when our military used white phosphorous in Fallujah in 2004, or indeed when the CIA helped Saddam to gas 20,000 Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War?

The fact is that our leaders have long lost the benefit of the doubt when it comes to leading us down us down the well trodden paths of military interventionism. I don’t blame Obama for the sabre-rattling and who knows but that it may have done some good as a deterrent in the end, but there’s always a better option to war and the infliction of further untold suffering on innocents.

The worst part of this whole issue though is not the limited and unpalatable choices we are left with though. The most horrific element of all is that we have lost the ability to talk about these matters in any way that means anything. Take the picture below that did the rounds on Facebook a couple weeks back:

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And this wasn’t the most brutal photo by far. Taken from politifake.org

First of all, the president does not genuinely actively support those who commit atrocities. Second of all, the extreme and brutal elements always rise to the fore in these sorts of situations. Thirdly, as this argument is based on glib, false conclusions, it can do nothing but hinder constructive debate and solutions and can only be credited by the truly paranoid.

Our world is complex. The only way to try to make it better is to try to understand those complexities instead of shooting horrific photos at one another. We need to do nuance more often.

That’s me for tonight. Next time, back to the trials and tribulations of an American Limey expat.

For Shame, Homeland

Trayvon Martin

Image taken from guardian.co.uk

Good God, America.

Good God.

I try to be a good ambassador. I really do. I argue that we have culture and intelligence and that we’re an ethnic melting pot built on the highest ideals. But you know what? You make it hard not to have contempt for you, my country, when things like this happen.

The internet is already awash with a raging war of words about Trayvor Martin, by individuals far wiser and more eloquent than myself, as is right and to be expected. This kind of case rips open the sensitive scar tissue of a nation. It sparks fears and riots and intense divisions.

One of the best that I’d seen though, shared by a friend on facebook earlier today was not from a pundit on either side, but from a great novelist. Ah those amazing observers of human behaviour and psychology. The storytellers. The novelists.

Trayvon Martin

image from frrole.com

The empty calls for calm ring hollow in the midst of such clear injustice and since your various feeds will be saturated, I’ll be quick and share a poem I like an awful lot about what use words, poetry or beauty are in the face of such callous disregard for the principles of fairness. It’s called “For Saundra” by Nikki Giovanni. You’ve got to stick around for the end. That’s the kicker really. Enjoy.

For Saundra
Nikki Giovanni


i wanted to write
a poem
that rhymes
but revolution doesn’t lend
itself to be-bopping

then my neighbor
who thinks i hate
asked -do you ever write
tree poems – i like trees
so i thought
ill write a beautiful green tree poem
peeked from my window
to check the image
noticed the school yard was covered
with asphalt
no green -no trees grow
in manhattan

then, well, i thought the sky
ill do a big blue sky poem
but all the clouds have winged
low since no-Dick was elected

so i thought again
and it occured to me
maybe i shouldn’t write
at all
but clean my gun
and check my kerosene supply

perhaps these are not poetic
times
at all
 

Jim Carrey Sort of Missing The Target

Jim Carrey Gun Control

Jim Carrey incisively sticking it to the gun lobby (image via theblaze.com, still from ‘Cold Dead Hand’ on Funny Or Die)

I like Jim Carrey and I admire his brave stance on gun control; I laughed at him for the first time in years when I watched ‘Cold Dead Hand‘. Over. And over. And over again.

So I hate to say this, but I think he’s missing the point here.

I know. I know. The twitterstorm about his refusal to promote Kick-Ass 2, in which he appears, is old hat (Geez, Pete, like epic #timeliness #fail. That is so June 24th, 2013), but bear with me for just a few seconds because this is an attempt at drive-by pith here.

Carrey’s backed out of promoting the film because he ‘cannot support that level of violence,’ which is fine. Anyone can have a change of heart and he probably wanted to appear consistent given the vocal stance he’s taken on Sandy Hook. Typically, howls of hypocrite have come frothing unpleasantly from the mouths of cadres of conservative do gooders looking to sort ’em out on earth like our Puritan forefathers.

I do not know what Jim Carrey’s response will be to these fits of verbal flatulence coming from the wrong ends of the twitter accounts of loudest mouths on fox, but I can’t help but feel like by backing out of promoting the film, he missed a real opportunity to confront this vicious political environment on its own terms by stating the obvious: there is no direct causal relationship between violent media and violent behaviour.

I watched all the Freddy Kruger films and the Friday the 13th franchise. I even saw one of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films in the theatre, but I somehow grew up to be a productive non-violent member of society. So have millions of others. None of these films lead to massacres or murders because they encapsulate and articulate the fears of us all during the 1980s about what lay lurking behind the rapidly decreasing family structure and what happens to our children when we aren’t there to protect them, but by articulating those fears, as awful as those films were, they functioned to help us deal with them. And yet, there are so many gun deaths and so much violent behaviour. I admit, I find some videogames irresponsibly violent, but that does not mean I hold them responsible for gun violence.

But don’t take my word for it. See what Dr Gene Beresin says in Psychology Todaybacked up by studies done by the FBI, the Secret Service and various other medical researchers who conclude that there is ‘no causal relationship between violent games and violent behaviour.’ So no matter how much blame-shifting the NRA does, there is no getting away from the corrosively unhealthy gun culture alive and well in America today.

I still think Jim Carrey is a good guy. I wish he’d made that point.

Three things I should have blogged about before now.

blogger stages expat writing

Taken from ‘The Five Stages of Blogger’s Life’, likeness is uncanny, innit? (www.dosbit.com)

February! It’s been since February. Bad, bad blogger. What happened? Well, life, you know. It does. I’d love to blog and write and get paid for it and then spend a life lecturing about Samuel Beckett. I haven’t quite got to that level of professional satisfaction yet.

So I’m teaching secondary school, which I also love (No tongue in cheek, really! I’m reconciled and happy). And we entered into the phase of the year in February where one can safely say the unsavoury matter hits the wall, that phase in which we send off student work to external bodies who would be within their rights to whimsically bring all the grades down a notch, violently shattering our collective professional confidence. Thankfully that has not happened and I’ve got slightly (SLIGHTLY), just slightly more time to myself at home now.

Slightly.

So what better way to use it than blogging?

A few, I know, but I’ve done those already.

So as I’m here, the world — most uncooperatively — just doesn’t stand still and wait for me to observe it pithily. It rolls on relentlessly and relentless and earth-shattering indeed have been some events in my absence from the blogosphere. I’ve picked a couple that have disturbed me and one that gladdens me. Let’s start with the former.

Our Epic Fail as a Nation of Gun Owners

gun violence Newtown

Sometimes you have to ask yourself, how many deaths will it take? (Photo taken from The New Yorker’s website)

We reach for the cliches: shocked, appalled, unspeakable, beyond words, horrific, inhuman.

They don’t seem to suffice. That’s probably because we shouldn’t have any cliches about gun violence and mass shooting incidents. Yet, here we are with lessons not yet learnt.

Back in July of last year, I wrote about how frightened I was for us as a nation after Aurora. Between it, Columbine, Newtown and various other mass shootings in America, you might think that we would finally collectively stand up and just slightly reconsider how we approach gun laws.

That would mean those in favour of sense and peace would prevail. Alas, they did not.

There are times when I feel like an alien in conversations with my own countrymen. Whenever any national convesation about gun control billows forth into the national consciousness, this alien moment takes hold.

For example, I heard friends and high profile commentators suggesting there should be more armed guards in schools.

The sight of armed guards in airports and possibly even in hospitals suggests reassurance. In schools, it suggests police state in which a fragile peace is bound together by bullets.

The Gun Nuts Owners of America suggest that we as teachers should be armed. Um, no.

We become teachers to impart knowledge and ignite the fire of imagination in young minds, not to fire loaded weapons to blow someone’s brain apart. We are the prevention, not the scorched-earth cure that would see us become deputised sheriffs in the classroom. And, not for the first time in proposing an exteme solution to gun violence in America, this ignores the real problem, that our attitude towards guns is unhealthy.

So we buy more firearms, stockpile ’em up. No Wash-ing-ton bur-o-crat is gonna take my gun away from me, dagnabbit. They ain’t even ‘lowed to check my crim’nal record (‘cuz who knows? They might find out where the bodies are buried. Shhh.)

Personally, I’ll take Jim Carrey’s response every time. Funny and effectively and resonantly stinging. Even funnier and scarier is the response from the Repundits uncontrollably foaming at the mouth. They don’t half lose control, do they?

I fear, homeland. I really do.

The Ways In Which We Are Losing The War on Terror

(It’s not quite what you think)

boston bomber wmd

The Most Powerful Weapon of Mass Destruction here is fear (photo taken from policymic.com)

There is no doubt that Dzhokhar Tsaernaev is a murderer and that he committed an atrocity, an act of terror, the betrayal of the sacrosanct principal of respect for human life and the exploitation of fear to penetrate to our souls and to our sense of certainty in the existence of goodness in the world as opposed to an ever encroaching and all-pervading sense of menacing and violent evil.

But weapons of mass destruction? Seriously?

As my favo(u)rite conservative prime minister once said, ‘a crime is a crime is a crime.’ As I’m fond of saying, the devil may cite scripture for his purpose, but wrong-headed and vile though Thatcher’s criminalisation of the IRA was, it at least made some pragmatically ideological sense. The minute you confer a certain status on human scum that awards them a title higher than scum, you legitimate their authority.

What are we afraid of, that Tsaernaev won’t get the death penalty? Despite my moral objections to the capital punishment, if that’s the justice you want, nail him on multiple counts of murder, an act of terrorism even. Charging him with WMD transforms him into a demonic  Goblin-like figure of myth who will rise to haunt us from well beyond — for I’m sure one way or the other, we’ll kill him, we can’t help ourselves — the grave. And once again, a national conversation about the polarising, marginalising and therefore radicalising American foreign policy that fosters these ticking time bombs will be buried with Tsaernaev’s body.

Make him into some looming evil dictator with great power over some lethal arsenal and he wins . Terrorism wins. It continues to set the agenda. Has this young, bitter man succeeded in continuing to rain fear on us? Yes. Terrorists: 1. American citizenry: 0.

The Lady Might Well Be Turning

Thatcher Dead

A Cult of Personality? (Taken from The Telegraph’s website)

Tis said that it is bad to speak ill of the dead. Well, late the fates rain down on me because I feel obliged (not as a blogger with some inflated sense of self-importance) as a human being to dissent amidst the wave of warmth for Thatcher that’s come about not just at her death but in the past few years with all sorts of making over of the Iron Lady’s image from Gilbert and George claiming that she did a lot for the arts to Meryl Streep playing her in a biopic that I refuse to see for the same reason I refuse to pay tribute to her: she is an overglorified bulwark of tyranny that left destruction in her wake. Call me a party-pooper, but I just can’t seem to stomach a sentiment for an MP who let a fellow Minister of Parliament die on hunger strike in Belfast. Not only did she refuse to recognise the political status of Irish prisoners, which I understand many could debate, but she made light of their struggle in which ten prisoners died, claiming they were trying to demonstrate their virility.

Shortly after Thatcher’s death, my mother asked me, on the phone, “Tell me, was Margaret Thatcher a…,” and here she paused to gain breath and the correct phrasing, “popular politician over there,” to which I could not help myself. I laughed. “She was divisive, Mom. Let’s put it that way.” It seemed that people in America and around the world were confused by the celebrations, the jubilant singing of “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead.” Why was Britain trashing one of its most famous, long-standing and influential prime ministers in the wake of her death? It’s far from perfect, in fact it is ridden with as many problems as American society, but one thing that Britons seem to do well is to speak freely and, although they are good at standing on ceremony, they are individualistic and freethinking and happy enough to trounce on fictions like blind reverence as well. From the hollowed out factories in the North to the countrywide housing shortage, the sooner, the Iron Lady’s influence is shook off, the better.

To Conclude…

Well, that’s it. I’m back now or at least I intend to be.

I did say I would give you pith on two disturbing events and one reassuring one. Didn’t I?

Lest you think I am reassured and my heart is warmed by death (every death diminishes me. I feel bad for Thatcher’s family), I’ll end on a high.

When Harry Met Jersey

Harry Jersey Shore

How bromantic! (Taken from People Magazine’s website)

I can’t help it. I’m a bundle of contradictions, but I find Harry to be the least repulsive member of the royal family.

In fact, in weak moments, I find him downright endearing.

He is, it has to be said, a frat boy in prince’s clothes and most of the time seems more comfortable in army fatigues than cricket whites, but that is probably his charm. He’s the fun brother.

That and his visit to the state my birth, that under-rated storm-torn little fighter, New Jersey.

Perhaps not being the next in line after Charles has done wonders for his independence and therefore he’s been free to practice that almost-of-the-people charm to perfection and he’s done some great work in the process for various charities.

Thanks to my cousin Samm who did an incredible job in running Backpacks for Brick in the wake of Sandy for sharing this bit of news with me and cheers, Harry, most humbly from Jersey!

Clouds from the Past: My Reflections on Sandy, Gloria and the Jersey Shore

The effects of Hurricane Gloria Hurricane Sandy

Many meteorologists say the last time we saw destruction on this scale, it was wrought by Hurricane Gloria in 1985 (Photo from  Wikipedia)

I feel confident in saying I grew up on the Jersey Shore. I don’t mean that in the way that many would nor do I mean to offend proper Jerseyans. Anyone who has read this blog much at all knows that I am a de facto Pennsylvanian.

But most and the best of my summer childhood memories are rooted firmly in that area of America. I was born in Northern New Jersey and spent my childhood there. My mother used to take us down to the shore for a couple weeks every summer, leaving my father alone with his annual fortnight of peace to do the tax returns. So we’d stay with my grandmother in an affluent (I perceived it as affluent then and still do) little town called Normandy Beach with a sweet little bay not more than two minutes away and a vast expanse of beach just three or four blocks in the opposite direction from the bay. I learned to associate the salty smell of the sea air as we passed The Amboys on the Parkway with the anticipation of long sunny days spent lazily frolicking through waves, collecting shells, and cautiously avoiding jellyfish (I went through some very cautious phases).

Sucking the marrow from life doesn’t quite capture it for me and The Shore. I learned to swim with and against the waves there. I came home with my belly raw-red from the friction of awkwardly attempting to ride my cousin’s boogie-board as long as my skinny little body could manage with teeth chattering and skin pruny by the end of the day. I learned how to play Spite and Malice with my grandmother and heard many tales of the Irish side of the family at her house down the shore. I played skee ball in Point Pleasant and Lavallete, stayed up nights with bloodshot eyes watching my cousins play family reunion Monopoly and spent mornings eating bagels and reading discarded sections of The Asbury Park Press. I envied extended family that lived on the coast for their regular proximity to a place that, to my imagination, seemed to embody paradise.

Point Pleasant Beach before Hurricane Sandy

Point Pleasant Beach in happier times (Photo taken from best-beaches.com)

So it is great horror and no adequate articulation that I have watched events unfold over the last week.

As a seven year old child, I lived through Hurricane Gloria. My memories of that storm, destructive though it was, are tinged with a sort of romantic nostalgia. Our power went out, we gathered candles, we sat on our lawns with our neighbors and other neighborhood kids, we played cards and we had power restored soon after. It felt like an adventure with no tangible sense of impending danger. Of course, time plays with memory and you imagine that nature can do damage when it wants to, but — and this goes without saying — nothing prepares you for the destructive force of nature when it hits hard close to home.

Manasquan after Hurricane Sandy

Manasquan after Hurricane Sandy (taken from Manasquan’s facebook page)

Much intelligent thought has been published about the aftermath and the lessons of Sandy. Scott Erb’s Blog does a good job of summarizing what way forward for the elections and the flawlessly non-partisan job that Governor Christie has done in the wake of the disaster. Naomi Klein has posted several articles, as you might expect, that are well worth a read about disaster/venture capitalists vampirically profiting from all of this.

And I’m tempted to ponder platitudinously and quote from Melville and Jack London about the awesome power of nature and our infinitesimally small position standing against it. I certainly think discussion, not silence, is the best way forward.

But here and now, when things are raw, when my cousins have been without power for a week and my parents are cooking with a propane tank and a Coleman portable grill even high up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, I mourn. My heart goes out to those suffering and I mourn for that place of childhood sunshine and wish it a good and steady recovery in the coming months.

All the best, Jersey. I am thinking of you.

Hurricane Sandy aftermath

To quote Gov. Christie, “Unfathomable”. (Photo taken from the Asbury Park Press website)

Under Any Other Business (for now)…

Even in times of crisis, and maybe especially, working for good causes is of great importance. I raised over £200  for Movember last year, all of which went on research and awareness of men’s health issues, especially prostate and testicular cancer. I hope to more than double last year’s result by the end of the month. In order to do that, I need your help. Please take a couple minutes to donate to a fantastic cause. Even the smallest donation can make the biggest difference and it doesn’t take much time or money to make that difference. Follow the link below to give to my Movember page.

Pete Lawler’s Movember Page

And follow the progress of my facial hair growth through Movember here. I’ll take requests if it helps you to donate!

Flying the Flag

Burning of The American Flag

I had just begun to feel comfortably at ease with my nation being, if not the object of affection, at least, as Happy Loman put it, ‘liked but not well liked,’ widely generating respect and general good feeling around the world.

I lived in the UK during the Bush years, when that right honourable Texan went around brazenly offending the world for eight years, storming out of Mexican state dinners, invading Middle Eastern countries under false pretences and rather callously joking about it, and doing his best to alienate Muslims and the whole of Europe at the same time (no mean feat).

I’m familiar with the generic reaction — ‘Who cares? We’re American Dammit! We do what we want and if the rest of the world has a problem with it, they can go take a jump in a lake! U!S!A! U!S!A! U!S!A!’ Which is fine. There are plenty of other countries who adopt similar attitudes, China, Iran and Malaysia among them, but I for one would like to avoid odious comparisons, not invite them.

And our current president, for whom I have great respect, has made great headway in healing the wounds opened and liberally salted by his predecessor, building bridges and consciously acknowledging America’s important part in and dependence on the global community.

Which, I suppose, is one of the reasons why it seems such a shock to me that the divide between the Middle East and the West is still so acrimonious and so filled with the bitter bile of irrational, mutual antipathy.

It puts me in mind of September 11th, 2001, when I lived in Dublin, and saw first hand how Dubya inevitably failed to even attempt to open channels of communication between America and the moderate voices in the Middle East, but instead, went in, unilateral guns blazing, ingloriously entrenching us first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. In doing so, he effectively obliterated the genuinely heartfelt outpouring of sympathy that the rest of the world had expressed for the indescribable tragedy that was 9-11 and very quickly ignited and fanned the flames of Anti-Americanism for the rest of his time in office.

The barely elected man-child gave the world every excuse to berate America in terms of the laziest and shallowest of stereotypes, condemning me as an American abroad to morning break monologues and dinner party diatribes decrying the loudness, brashness, obnoxiousness, arrogance, and naked belligerence of Americans. After the kind of battering foreign policy and countless Bushisms did to our reputation abroad, it became damn difficult to defend our nation. I did my best, but I wasn’t a paid diplomat.

I ended up playing devil’s advocated on both sides, which I suppose is a tautology in terms of devil’s advocates. I argued with friends and family back home who astounded me with their support for what seemed to me to be a catastrophic and vindictive military action. But I also argued with my colleagues who persistently encouraged me to attend anti-war demonstrations in Dublin, to which I would always frown, shake my head and say, ‘No. It’s simply uncritical anti-Americanism at its best. I can’t go.’

Due in part to their repeated insistence that it was ‘anti-American foreign policy not anti-American,’ and in part to curiosity about something happening so close to me and to which I felt so intimately connected, I did eventually attend and take part in one of the largest anti-war demonstrations at the time. Nothing unusual there: placards, posters, beards, megaphones, chants, the usual. I was taken aback however when I saw one young member of the Socialist Workers’ Party flying Old Glory. And then I realized it wasn’t. The stripes and the colours were there all right, but in place of the stars were neatly lined swastikas, all 50 of them. Sanctimonious as it may sound, something bilious lurched in my stomach. After all, this was just a flag, but it was also a national symbol that I had stood to attention for and adored, hand on heart pledging undying allegiance to every day of my childhood. That kind of indoctrinated loyalty doesn’t just fall away because you criticize your leaders. And here was the symbol of my nation superimposed with a symbol of everything that is loathsome and base in humanity.

Swastikas and Stripes

Taken from aconstantineblacklist.blogspot.co.uk

This did not bolster my colleagues’ case about the nature of the demonstrations and I felt at least temporarily vindicated in thinking both sides were uncritically dogmatic. But, as a friend told me on recounting the demonstration years later, a flag is a symbol and means very different things to different people. The Irish tricolour, which means freedom fighting and resonates with phrases like ‘tiocfaidh ar la!’ (‘Our Day Will Come!) is never flown in schools in Ireland for fear associations with militancy. The Union Flag (sometimes incorrectly called the Union Jack), once indelibly associated with imperialism, has acquired a cult status cool that’s gone from punk rock right into the main stream and onto toilet seats and SMEG fridges.

Hard and bitter a pill as it is for us to swallow, there are many who see the flag above as more representative of the kind of American foreign policy that’s struck a dangerously Machiavellian balance of sabre-rattling, ‘devil-you-know’ funding, and bombing back to the stone age that’s left many with the bitter taste of ash on their tongues.

It is certainly more difficult to engage with other nations while being a critical friend to our own, and infinitely more complicated, but the fundamentalists of the right wing of America have spent too long nourishing the bitter nightmares of a sleeping tiger (forgive the exotic metaphor) and unless we start to engage with the rest of the world in meaningful terms, I fear we have only begun to feel its bite. Yes, it is easier to be an American abroad now than it once was, but as we revel in our current chic, we also find ourselves, as another great American writer once put it, ‘borne back ceaselessly into the past.’

Violent Trauma, The Aurora Shootings and The Way of Lunacy

There are a number of ways to deal with the experience of violent trauma.There’s therapy, which of course takes many forms: talking through the experience, associated memories, feelings and thoughts with a paid professional; art therapy, premised on giving vent and voice to your negative feelings and emotions through the creative impulse in a medium such as painting, sculpture or music; there’s hypnotism, drawing the suppressed negativity to the surface whilst in a mesmerised state; there’s repression, which we all do a bit of every day, i.e. we suppress the impulse to throttle our bosses because we submit to certain types of behaviour in order to live in civilized society; and we repress a certain amount of stress in order to function in every day life. Men are actively encouraged to repress their sentiments and affections for fear of appearing too soft, the long term effects of which are often cited as, among other things the reason why shaking baby syndrome occurs more often in boys and the reason Irish males between the ages of 18-25 account for one of the highest suicide rates in Europe.

And of course there’s fantasy, not in itself a terrible or deleterious element of a constructive course of psychotherapy, but when prescribed by an amateur or a petition of social media users as a way of helping 58 shaken victims by confronting them with an image directly associated with the violent trauma they have experienced, as the above appeal that I came across posted on facebook three days after the shooting, started by Emily Sanchez, requests of Welsh-born star of The Dark Knight Rises Christian Bale, then it starts to sound a little bit less healthy and a bit more deranged.

The request tacitly acknowledges that the film will be indelibly associated with the horrifying experience inflicted on theatregoers by James Holmes. Else what would be the efficacy in having Bale dress up as Batman except as some kind of reparation of the image in the victims’ minds for the upset that it may still be continuing to cause as a psychological symbol. But let’s stop for a second. If you are dealing with the mental trauma associated with gunshot wounds or even being witness to an attack like this, in which your memory is clouded with smoke, gunfire, bodies falling, running all around and screams of terror and anguish and hovering above it all in your grey matter is the image of the DC Comics hero, larger than life looming towards you on a cinema screen, what is going go be the effect of seeing the actor himself, striding purposefully towards you in a hospital bed, wearing the exact same costume, replicating and amplifying the imaginational icon of fear for you? I can think of nothing more fear-inducing.

Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed and I do think it’s good and noble of the actor to have gone to visit the victims of the shooting as himself, but isn’t there a strong chance we’d be seeing a second set of headlines about further upset caused if this insane appeal had been acted on? The philosopher Slavoj Zizek, in an analysis of The Joker, Batman’s nemesis and the character that James Holmes allegedly identified himself with before opening fire, says that the clown prince of crime is ‘not a man without a mask, but, on the contrary, a man who is his mask — there is nothing, no “ordinary guy” beneath it.’ What kind of message are we sending if there is no ordinary guy beneath the mask of The Dark Knight, that there is no piecing together the brokenness of violence, no dissembling the experience of trauma?

Not only is this attempt to deal with the tragedy dangerous, but it is also insultingly trivialising for the victims. You would not see an appeal like this with any other situation in which a group from the public have been deliberately terrorised: not a Holocaust survivor, not a refugee from Iraq, not a family member who has lost a loved one in an IRA bombing. You may as well send Adam West, belly sagging over his utility belt, Robin at his side smashing fist against palm crying, ‘Holy travesty Batman! We’ve just made light of an unspeakable horror!’ And if that sounds flippant, it is only to illustrate the undeniable flippancy in Sanchez’s probably well-intentioned and unfortunately popular effort.

The worst part about this campaign is that it seems to actively deny the real problem. It attempts to engage with nightmares through the use of escapism, instead of engaging with the issue in real, complicated terms. That poor, unfortunate community in Colorado, has sustained terrible loss and yet, as is the worrying trend in the wake of gun violence in America, firearm sales have spiked for fear that those pesky legislators in Washington DC may try through their dictatorial power of democratic process pass a law in some cockamamy attempt to protect the scaredy cat, commie citizens of this beloved nation. Fascists masquerading as elected representatives seem oblivious to the fact that we have to bear arms to protect ourselves from the fearsome colonial overlords trying any minute to quarter themselves in our homes. We must continue to perpetuate a perfectly healthy paranoia in the national psyche about ourselves and continue to desensitise our children to violence while guillotining any serious, difficult discussion about the real reasons individuals end up blurring the line between the value of human life and the enacting of a twisted psychological vision.

Until we, as a nation, recognise our collective culpability and initiate difficult national discourses about these issues, without leaders who only seem to grudgingly acknowledge days after the event that something must be done by the government of America to protect the citizens of America, I fear these unspeakable acts of violence will continue. Much will come out in the next few weeks about James Holmes and the unregenerable evil within his dark pit of a soul. It is almost certain that somewhere, he confused symbols of fantasy with his version of reality. Let us try to fight the good fight and refuse to give in to the same temptation. What do we become otherwise?

And I do know how it is. You see something in the sidebar or in front of you as you’re scrolling down and it’s a nanosecond of your time and an iota of effort to ‘like’ or ‘share’. I’ve liked everything from Matt Smith to Debbie Harry and I’m pretty sure I’ve shared a map of Panem because I thought, ‘Yeah, that makes sense with what the book says,’ but there must be a line at which you stop and think about spreading an arguably callous, wrong-headed campaign. I also think that Facebook and other social media can be a force to effect great social change and information sharing, as jives with Tim Berners-Lee’s great vision, but we also have to act conscientiously in what is by nature a superficial environment that often feels like it is all surface and no substance.

I have a feeling there are those who might think that I am spoiling a well-intentioned act, but there are many well-intentioned efforts that have ended in a jeremiad of despair, attempts to create a stronger German state for instance in 1938; more recently the attempt to prevent bloodshed through the location and elimination of weapons of mass destruction annihilating thousands of innocent Iraqis in the process; the effort to monitor the usage of libraries and the internet by free citizens in the name of preventing terrorist atrocities, swapping freedom for an anxious sense of security. We all mean well, but the extent to which we carry out our ‘good intentions’ can pave the way to a better world or a very bad place, as the adage goes.

I would end by saying that if I have caused offence, ‘that you have but slumber’d here‘ but that would be to attempt an escape again, to elide the real and dark chapter in our nation’s history that we must scrutinise unflinchingly if we are to avoid repeating it.

Do remember, I may disagree with you, but I’ll do as Voltaire would have done to defend your right to say it.

This post was informed by the following article:

http://www.globalnews.ca/should+bale+visit+shooting+victims/6442684935/story.html

And Jason Farago speaks to our tendency as a nation to avoid complex national discussions in this article:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/27/james-holmes-dehumanisation-causes-violence

This BBC Radio show features a fascinating discussion. Only about 28 minutes does someone finally call in and add a sensible voice to the discussion:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00vlk83/World_Have_Your_Say_WHYS_60Can_shootings_like_Aurora_be_prevented/

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