December 26, 2004

Tsunamis and Terror

John Hinderaker at Powerline wonders why the destruction wrought by tsunamis in Asia is somehow less shocking than acts of violence.

It's always struck me that casualties resulting from natural disasters inspire less horror than those caused by violence. More people have been killed today by tidal waves in Asia than have been killed in the last year and a half of violence in Iraq. Yet it is unlikely that today's earthquake will stay in the news for more than a day or two. I'm not sure why this is, but, frankly, I share the tendency to pay much greater attention to political violence than to natural disasters.
Political violence is more horrible. In part that’s because human violence of any kind is more horrible.

Think about it this way. Would you rather be killed by a tsunami or drowned by a hit man? Would you rather lose a loved one in a car accident or to an axe murderer? Which would be easier to accept?

Murder horrifies because it’s on purpose. It is tainted by evil. It causes more emotional damage because you know someone is happy your loved one is dead.

A tsunami is a very bad thing that just happens. A murder, a rape, an act of terrorism, a campaign of genocide, is shot through with malice. We recoil not only at the event, but at the mindset behind the event. Tsunamis aren't malicious, and nobody plans them.

The entire world can share in the grief and horror of the thousands dead in Asia. Thousands dead in an act of violence is different. The grief and horror of 9/11, for example, was not shared by everybody. Some people wanted 9/11 to happen. Some people celebrated the toppling of the towers. We all remember seeing Palestinians dancing in the streets that day. And we remember those who said we deserved it.

Some people hope to repeat 9/11. They have our undivided attention. (At least they have the undivided attention of some of us.) If someone had managed to trigger tsunamis in Asia it would be much the same. Partly this is because the event would have been much more horrible. But also because it would mean something is terribly, dangerously, wrong with the world – something that can and must be fixed.

UPDATE: The death toll is now over 19,000 and climbing. God. I can't even process this yet. That's just way too many people to die by a wave all at the same time.

UPDATE: Joe Gandelman has an Asian blog roundup. (Shudder.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 26, 2004 8:11 PM
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