“What a senseless waste of human life.” Customer, played by John Cleese, in Monty Python’s Cheese Shop Sketch as he shoots the shop’s proprietor.
You wish President Obama were mocking the “senseless” part of the “senseless violence” phrase he applies relentlessly to past and current destruction of life. But he’s caught the virus and doesn’t seem to be aware that he has now dropped into his huge “senseless violence” grab bag of human horrors:
- The July 12, 2012 movie theater shooting in Colorado, after which he promised that “we can do something about the senseless violence that ends up marring the country.” We can, but we didn’t.
- The attack on the American diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 that killed four Americans
- The attack with knife and meat cleaver in London on May 22, 2013 that killed British soldier Lee Rigby. Our State Department announced that “there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence.” Nile Gardiner of London’s Daily Telegraph disagreed, writing one day after the attack that “these are not acts of ‘senseless violence.’ These are acts of brutal terrorism…”
- The October 22 shooting in Ottawa, Canada, killing Corporal; Nathan Cerillo. Canada’s Prime Minister Stephan Harper disagreed with Obama, labeling it a “terrorist attack.”
Conservative journalists, led by Mark Steyn, have pointed out the absurdity of slathering “senseless violence” on murder committed by individuals, organizations or states. A few recoiled in horror when Obama, speaking on Holocaust Remembrance Day, declared that he understood “the pain of losing loved ones to senseless violence.”
Is our president unaware that, as historian Timothy Snyder writes, “in the middle of Europe in the middle of the twentieth century, the Nazis and Soviet regimes murdered some fourteen million people… Yet not a single one of these fourteen million murdered was a soldier on active duty. Most were women, children and the aged; none were bearing weapons; many had been stripped of their possessions, including their clothes.”
Snyder calls this “a history of political mass murder.” It is that indeed and it is not “senseless violence.” Nor are the recent killings that America’s leader and his State Department insist on calling “senseless violence.” They insist because they suffer from mental laziness, moral blindness and historical ignorance.
They are not willing to explore and then confront the “sense” or roots of the violence inflicted on Colorado moviegoers and UK soldiers today or on Jews, Poles and Gypsies in Eastern Europe seven decades ago. Millions of Germans believed that “The Jews are our misfortune” and paved the road that led to the Holocaust. The men who hacked Lee Rigby to death announced that “We swear by the Almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you.” The violence in Poland in 1941 and the violence on a London street in 2013 was not “senseless” to its perpetrators and supporters.
Understanding the roots of and roads to violence would lead to confronting uncomfortable and morally murky matters about our society and our history. Instead, it’s easier to toss all violence at home and abroad into the huge “senseless” grab bag.
And that would include, just for one example, asking questions about our bombing of at least eight wedding parties in Afghanistan and Yemen since 2001, killing many women and children, and perhaps a few Al Qaeda attendees. We have not called these acts of violence “senseless.” It is time for journalists to add another category of violence to the official “senseless violence” (SV) one. Let’s call it “meaningful violence” (MV). And then the White House and State Department could follow these easy rules for violence labeling:
- For international violence, it’s senseless (SV) when they do it to us and meaningful (MV) when we do it to them.
- For domestic violence, it’s senseless (SV) when it harms adult voters or children but meaningful (MV) when it crushes enemies of the established order.
Let Monty Python’s Flying Circus be Washington’s guide.