Selective empathy

April 16, 2007 | By | 1 Reply More

We’ve had a horrible tragedy back here in the United States.   Thirty-three students are dead at Virginia Tech, with many others wounded.

Our papers are going to spill a lot of ink on this story, as they should. 

But on the other side of the world, multitudes of innocent civilians are dying each and every day in Iraq.   For the Iraqi civilians, it’s as though they’ve been going through a Virginia Tech massacre every day for four years.  But how often do we feel any deep empathy for those innocent Iraqi victims?  How hard do we have to look to find even one microscopic story buried in the back pages of the newspaper about the grief felt by the parents of a recently murdered Iraqi child?

The Virginia Tech episode reminds us how horrible it is to be hunted down by people with weapons.  To be hunted like rabbits.  To have people trying to kick down doors to kill you and people you care about the most.  It has happened far too often as a result of American weapons.  It has happened more than I can bear to think about, even judging by the estimates of those who count dead Iraqi bodies conservatively.   

There’s not really a lesson here, merely an observation.  When people die in great numbers, it’s not a big deal to us, unless the dead people are Americans.  


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Category: American Culture, Current Events, Good and Evil, Iraq, Psychology Cognition, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (1)

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  1. Mindy Carney says:

    An excellent point, Erich. I was utterly sickened by the Va Tech story – as I walked across my own campus yesterday afternoon, on the first beautiful day we've had in a while, I felt . . . different. No where feels safe anymore. I watched the students walking, huddling in conversation, tossing a frisbee, riding their bikes, sharing a smoothie – all the things students are supposed to do after classes on warm spring day – and felt this underlying, unspoken uneasiness I hadn't felt since the days after 9/11. When weapons are available to the masses, they can, and will, be used for unspeakable, unexplainable, and worst of all, unstoppable violence. He was set on killing many, and I seriously doubt that anything the school might have done differently would have stopped him. It might have been different people in a different building, but he'd have done it. We may never grasp what snapped in his mind, what made his life feel so unliveable as to drive him to this sort of horrendous act. All I know for certain is that each of these incidents changes us, and that it could not have happened with guns.

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