Friday, January 14, 2011

To our forgotten victims

The shooting in Arizona, like all such tragedies, shocked us.  We were enraged.  We were saddened.  We mourned those who died so senselessly.  We wept for the little girl, that flower of hope and promise, whose life was so brutally ended.  We rejoiced in the heroism.  In the news that those who survived may indeed be able to continue on with their lives; though I am sure it will never, ever leave their memories.  We watched as our nation's leader and other dignitaries set aside all other business to come to Arizona and share in our grief, and our celebration of the good we witnessed. 

And yet, that's how it works, isn't it.  We're often told that history is written by the winners.  That's been a gnat-hole through which many modern historians have shoved a camel of biased interpretations and academic agendas.  Yet there is a core of truth to it.  We really don't know much about the average Roman citizen, or Medieval Peasant, or Ming laborer, except that which was written for, or by, the ruling elites. The winners.

We know all about William the Conqueror, but scant little about the soldiers who filled his army's ranks.  We know almost nothing to nothing at all about individual soldiers.  Most of what we can do in terms of history is paint with broad brushstrokes.  We can say this is the way the Medieval peasant lived, or that is how a 10th  century Islamic peasant got on in life.  There is no comprehension of individuals.  When the Mongols sweep into Eastern Europe, and put entire cities to the sword, that's how it's written - an entire city is put to the sword.  We can tell who the leaders are and what they were doing.  We learn about the powers that be and how they react to this or that event, like having a city razed by invading hordes.  But the individuals are typically reduced to 'entire city put to the sword', or perhaps a statistic: 27,000 died that day (with numbers rounded off due to lack of specific data).

Well, how have things changed?  They really haven't, have they.  Yes, I was stunned by the news of the Tuscon shootings.  I was appalled at the flagrant exploitation of the suffering and the dead for the purpose of ideological and political agendas.  I was moved that our leaders took such time to help a grieving country.  I was gladdened by the raising of the 9/11 flag at young Christina Taylor Green's funeral. 

But then it hit me.  I realize that because this involved elected leaders, it has ramifications for how we, as a society, conduct ourselves.  But we are aware of the fact that such tragedies have happened before.  We've had mass shootings with far more casualties that didn't rate a presidential visit.  We have smaller crimes and shootings every day.  All around the world, people are killed, sometimes brutally, sometimes mercilessly. 

Today, soldiers still die overseas.  I don't know why, but except for locally, we don't hear about it much any more.  But behind each death is a devastated family.  Behind each murder victim is a child or parent or sibling whose life will never be the same again.  Many of those same individuals no doubt watched the coverage, watched the memorial, will watch the funerals, will follow the glad news of recovering wounded.  But I can't help but feel that somewhere deep down, they will wonder where all the cameras were when they buried their little girl.  Where was the president when their mother was murdered during a break in.  Where was the government shut down or flags flying at half staff when their son died in service to the country.  They are left with their grief, and their loneliness. 

None of this is to say that this is wrong or right.  Based on the history of humanity, it appears that this is just the way it is.  We have famous people, celebrities, and rulers who capture our attention and receive our documentation.  A thousand years from now, historians will or won't know about Christina Taylor Green.  They will know about Barack Obama, either as a chapter heading or a footnote.  They may or may not remember this period in time we call 2011.  But I know one thing.  They won't have a clue about all the people who suffered, mourned, and grieved outside of the light of cameras and videos and media attention; outside of the pages of our reporters.  At best, they will be part of some vague statistic some narrow focused scholar will study.  And that's about it.

So knowing that things haven't changed, and in likelihood won't change, I thought I would send one out to all of those who have suffered and wept over their own personal losses.  Out to all of those who suffered the way we have witnessed this week, but outside of the attention of the media, and thus outside of our awareness.  Not to diminish the pain and heartfelt compassion we have for the victims of the Tuscon shooting, but to include those that neither our scribes and chroniclers today, nor historians of tomorrow, will notice or remember.


  1. I salute you in this. Yes many people do suffer throughout history with out a notice.
    I join you in a nod to all of them. We may not know your names, but we know you have suffered.

  2. What a beautiful post. This almost took my breath away. I've never thought about this the way you present it. I know it. I'm aware of it and thought about it during the memorial this week. But I never thought about it in terms of history. How many times have I seen a statistic like that, and never gave it a passing thought. Definitely well said. You need to write a book about history from that perspective.


  3. I agree. Beautiful post. Great perspective. I know that keeps me coming back.


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