« Belligerence | Main | Quote of the Day »

December 30, 2004
Scope and Scale

The scope of the loss of life in the recent natural disaster in the Indian Ocean has become harder and harder for me to wrap my brain around. From initial reports of 15,000 dead we're now hearing over 120,000 dead, and some are saying it could go much much higher. We'll never know with certainty the final toll, either in lives lost or in lives otherwise shattered.

What seems odd to me is that I was more effected by 9/11 than I am by this. Am I alone in this? Is that heartless?

Perhaps it's because we expect natural disasters from time to time — though admittedly not on this scale. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados, volcanos and floods have always happened and always will — there's nothing you, I or anyone can do to stop them. Despite (or perhaps because of) the lives lost every year, we get used to the notion, and we move on.

People who were not personally affected by this disaster will barely remember it twenty or thirty years from now. Think I'm kidding? Folks over 35 or 40 years old may remember this:

The highest earthquake death toll in modern times was caused by one that hit Tangshan, China, on July 28, 1976. The official figure of 655,237 deaths was first adjusted to 750,000 and then to 242,000.

But I'll bet most of you didn't remember it. Those of you who are under 35 or 40 have probably never even heard of it.

We come to accept such losses, as bad as they are, as part of living on Earth. But the Earth is just ball of rock spinning through space, covered with a paper-thin veneer of biosphere. There is no "Gaia" plotting some kind of vengeance on mankind (protests from the tinfoil hat crowd notwithstanding.)

But there are people who would cheerfully cut your throat, and mine, and that of every person you know and every person we have ever met during our lives, given the chance. History notwithstanding, we never really expect that some people would deliberately inflict death on a massive scale, committing acts designed to take as many innocent lives as possible. But there they are, nevertheless.

The genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, the Soviet Union, China, and of course the Holocaust all took more lives than this recent earthquake/tsunami. Not as suddenly, indeed, but just as certainly, and with evil intent.

[And before some idiot suggests it: no, I don't include Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the firebombings of Tokyo — those were done as part of a harsh wartime calculus designed, ultimately, to save lives.]

The murder of nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11, done right before our eyes, might naturally resonate more than a disaster of virtually any scale occurring out of sight, on the far side of the world. But it's not, to me, a question of magnitude or visibility, but rather of deliberation, of intent, and of hate.

If that doesn't have an effect on you, I can't think of what would.

Posted by Russ at 02:53 PM, December 30, 2004 in News

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


9/11 effected me more than this, too...though it doesn't change how devastated I am about this natural disaster. I'm dumbfounded as to how people knew about the warnings but did not inform anyone that it could happen as they didn't want to affect tourism. I am dumbfounded as to how many people lost their lives.

Posted by: emma at December 30, 2004 04:05 PM