Why Some Deaths ‘Don’t Seem to Impinge on Our Lives’

Having covered the U.S. war on Afghanistan at his TomDispatch website from the outset, Tom Engelhardt marvels (4/23/09) at how, “almost like clockwork, the reports float up to us from thousands of miles away” of “so many lives snuffed out so regularly for more than seven years now.” But at this point, “unfortunately, those news stories are so unimportant in our world that they seldom make it onto, no less off of, the inside pages of our papers.” And the context of such news, when it does make those inside pages, is cookie-cutter awful:

Like obituaries, they follow a simple pattern. Often the news initially arrives buried in summary war reports based on U.S. military (or NATO) announcements of small triumphs–so many “insurgents,” or “terrorists,” or “foreign militants,” or “anti-Afghan forces” killed in an airstrike or a raid on a house or a village. And these days, often remarkably quickly, even in the same piece, come the challenges. Some local official or provincial governor or police chief in the area hit insists that those dead “terrorists” or “militants” were actually so many women, children, old men, innocent civilians, members of a wedding party or a funeral.

Engelhardt writes of this automaton coverage that “it’s true that we forget these killings easily–often we don’t notice them in the first place–since they don’t seem to impinge on our lives.” But the irony right now is particularly startling to Engelhardt because “only this week, our media was filled with ceremonies and remembrances centered around the tenth anniversary of the slaughter at Columbine High School. Twelve kids and a teacher blown away in a mad rampage. Who has forgotten? On the other side of the planet, there are weekly Columbines.”