Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Moment of Silence for Norway

I can't blog a moment of silence, but I can spell out a few facts that should evoke shocked silence. Yesterday in Oslo, a car bomb went off outside the Prime Minister's office and killed eight people. Norway was "lucky" that this occured during a national holiday when a lot of people weren't at work. One of my old Atlantic College schoolmates works for a news company based in one of the buildings that took damage. He was in France, and all of his colleagues were evacuated and are reported to be fine.

That's not the worst part. After the bombing, a man in a police uniform showed up at a Labor Party youth camp on an island, Utoya, in scenic Lake Tyrifjorden. He explained that he was there to increase security in light of the bombing. He collected several youths, most of whom were 11-19 years old, around him, pulled out a gun and opened fire.

Even that's not the worst part. For the next ninety minutes or so, he patrolled the island, coaxing other youths to come to him in his uniform and then shot them at close range. Those he couldn't coax, he shot as they ran away, even if they were in the water, swimming to escape. While private citizens who owned boats in the area ferried some of the teens to safety, the gunman nevertheless killed sixty eight people, at last count. The police apprehended him, and now Norway must figure out how to pick up the pieces.

To put this in perspective, the Virginia Tech shooter killed 32 people. The two Columbine High School shooters killed 13 people. The Utoya shooter (or shooters, though at this time there's only one suspect in custody) killed a person almost every minute and a half for an hour and a half. This is a new record - though it's rather disturbing that we have to keep records like this. It's also worth noting that of the atrocities that happen all over the world, many don't ever make it to our eyes and ears, either because there are no surviving eyewitnesses, there are no reporters, there is no freedom of press that would allow reporters, or the catastrophe is so unrelenting that it falls off our radar due to viewer fatigue. Still, this one, if not actually the worst of its kind, is in that league. If this had occurred during a war, this man would be guilty of numerous war crimes. It takes an unthinkable level of depravity to kill people who are a) unarmed, b) not fighting back, c) running for their lives, and d) children. To kill one is inconceivable. To kill sixty eight... words fail me.

My own connection to Norway is tenuous - a childhood pen pal, some housemates at boarding school, some friends through Girl Scouts, a week long vacation there in college, and a husband who is mistaken for Norwegian by Norwegians (who wonder why he won't talk to them) - but that doesn't really matter. One doesn't have to have set foot on Norwegian soil to feel horror and disgust at what happened there. My heart goes out to everyone touched by this tragedy, and the people of Norway should know, they aren't alone in that respect.

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