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OPINION: Shooting Down From Very High Places


by Jules Rabin

The shock of the Las Vegas shootings has dominated our attention for days. Anonymous terror from out of the sky, resulting in 58 deaths and an additional 489 wounded.

How — HOW? — could such a thing occur?  What under heaven could have motivated the perpetrator, the man with the fanatical passion for guns (to the number of 40 or more) who carried out that mass killing with machine-gun dispatch from his invisible perch 32 stories above his massed victims?

And the culmination of the slaughter of complete strangers was for him to take his own life as police gathered in the corridor to break into his luxury suite, thereby sealing up in his cadaver the reasons behind his unfathomable action.  The rest of us are left to speculate ….

Like millions of others I was affected for days afterward by the drama that had played out. Like others, I queried myself — and -Google — about other mass killings that have stunned the country.

For a start, I ascertained the frequency of “mass shootings” in contemporary America.  “Mass shootings,” that very specific kind of mayhem, are defined officially as occasions when four or more persons are shot or killed in a single episode.

The frequency of mass shootings in this unique country of ours, I learned, is greater than anywhere else in the world, numbering so far this year (from January 1 to October 2), over 270, an average of one a day. From 1966 to 2012, nearly a third (31%) of all mass shootings in the world took place here in the United States.

With five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. experiences an incidence of mass shootings that is six times greater than the world average. If we are “A City On A Hill,” as the most nationalist of our politicians like to boast, that multiple of “six” is a fact that we are enjoined not to hide (“A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid,” Matthew 5: 14).

As a sobering reciprocal of the shock we felt last week over Las Vegas, I think that our common humanity compels us to look at other places where death, at American hands, came out of the sky unexpectedly, on people massed together in celebration of a joyous event. Have we a place in our minds to think how comparable events feel to people in other parts of the world?  The question becomes urgent if it is our country that turns out to be the shooter from the sky at massed celebrants, wherever they may be.

In the last 15 years, as the United States has busied itself in Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been recurrent news stories of wedding parties being mistaken for gatherings of militants and hostile “others.” I’ve selected here a summary account of wedding parties in those countries that have been mistakenly identified as “hostile forces” and have been bombed and rocketed by U.S. aircraft.  The common thread in the component accounts is (1) a gathering of wedding celebrants (2) who suddenly find themselves targeted on the basis of the mistaken reading of evidence by aerial sleuths, or of tendentious charges by third parties bearing a grudge.  My source here is “Tomgram,” December 20, 2013:  (https://www.thenation.com/article/us-has-bombed-least-eight-wedding-parties-2001/

The relevant text is:

TomDispatch has attempted over the years to record and point out the cumulative nature of these “incidents.” Check out, for instance, “The Wedding Crashers,” or a 2012 piece, “It Couldn’t Happen Here, It Does Happen There.” What follows, gathered by TomDispatch’s Erika Eichelberger, are links to the other seven wedding massacres with brief descriptions of what is known: December 29, 2001, Paktia Province, Afghanistan (more than 100 revelers die in a village in Eastern Afghanistan after an attack by B-52 and B-1B bombers); May 17, 2002, Khost Province, Afghanistan (at least ten Afghans in a wedding celebration die when U.S. helicopters and planes attack a village); July 1, 2002, Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan (at least thirty, and possibly forty, celebrants die when attacked by a B-52 bomber and an AC-130 gunship); May 20, 2004, Mukaradeeb, Iraq (at least forty-two dead, including “27 members of the [family hosting the wedding ceremony], their wedding guests, and even the band of musicians hired to play at the ceremony” in an attack by American jets); July 6, 2008, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan (at least forty-seven dead, thirty-nine of them women and children, including the bride, among a party escorting that bride to the groom’s house—from a missile attack by jet aircraft); August 2008, Laghman Province, Afghanistan (sixteen killed, including twelve members of the family hosting the wedding, in an attack by “American bombers”); June 8, 2012, Logar Province, Afghanistan (eighteen killed, half of them children, when Taliban fighters take shelter amid a wedding party. (This was perhaps the only case among the eight wedding incidents in which the United States offered an apology).]https://www.thenation.com/article/us-has-bombed-least-eight-wedding-parties-2001/ )

The totals: Seven weddings and 263 deaths.

Believe the allegations/evidence in these reports, or not.  If you give credence to any of them, whether one or three or all seven, I suggest that, with the massacre in Las Vegas as a base of comparison, you try to conceive the feelings of people associated with any of those wedding parties, when they learn of their kinsmen killed by that eyeless death rocketing down from their native sky.  And second, their conception of our country, the United States, that follows for them in consequence.

Robert Burns “Ode to a Louse,” 1786, suits the case:

        O wad some Power the giftie gie us

        To see oursels as ithers see us!