July 23, 2011
Yesterday morning as I perused the internet, reading the latest news and gathering links for a friend’s newsblog, I ran across a breaking news story about a bomb blast over in Oslo, Norway. Government offices, seven people believed dead. My first thought was that this seemed unusual – there in the “city of peace,” home of the Nobel Peace Prize. I captured the link, added it to others I’d gathered, sent them off to my friend and went about my day.
By yesterday evening, when I sat down to watch the news, the original story of the bomb blast had been tied to a shooting at a youth camp in which, at the time I believe, eleven young people were known to be dead. A growing tragedy, accompanied by video of the shoreline at the island where the summer camp was held. The video – apparently shot from a news helicopter – showed the shoreline and surrounding water dotted with several bodies – really just small, unrecognizable lumps from that distance. Shocking, but like the story itself, somehow still disconnected from my own particular reality.
This morning, as I checked another favorite news site for the early news before settling down to finish what I thought would be my blog post this week, I felt a sudden shock of horror at the headline, “Norway: 84 Killed at Summer Camp, 7 Dead in Oslo Blast.” I quickly read through the four articles linked there for details, then went to other news sites to comb through the related articles there – trying, I suppose, to gather enough details to put together a coherent picture of what had happened and form some type of rational response to the insane events.
Most of the stories had similar details, although each one put their emphasis on a select few – that both the mass shooting and the bombing in Oslo had been carried out by the same man. That the summer camp was a “political” camp run by the Labor Party for “Labor Party children”. That the perpetrator might be a “right-wing, Christian fundamentalist”. And the one detail contained in every single one of those early stories I read, that he was a blond, blue-eyed Norwegian – a detail I found exceedingly odd about a country know to be populated by a fair number of blond, blue-eyed Norwegians. Odd, until I realized it was probably news-speak for either “Relax, people, this was not a terrorist attack by some (dark haired, dark-eyed, dark-skinned) fanatical Muslim terrorist group” or “Oh, my God, this was done by one of our own (blond, blue-eyed Norwegians). Perhaps, both.
As I read the details of the camp shootings, I found myself weeping – the ages of the young people (13-19 years old), the length of the siege (the shootings went on for two hours), their terror as they watched friends die while they hid under beds, in tents, even a small cave along the shoreline, (literally under the feet of the murderer,) certain they would be next. The young people who’d been shot while leaping into the water or swimming away from the confines of the small island.
The details broke my heart. My oldest grandson turned nineteen two months ago. My nieces and nephews (who I can still picture as teenagers, themselves) now have children near the ages of those trapped in that mayhem. The clench-fisted knot of black terror at the thought of their being caught in such a situation overwhelmed me for a moment.
Over the next days and weeks, there will be many responses to the unfolding story. One can hope that, in the clamor for more safety that always follows such events, the Norwegian government will make a more rational and nuanced response than the lockdown of personal liberties that followed September 11, here.
Much pontificating will be done by politicians, religious leaders and media darlings around the world, as they busily examine the entrails of the sad events in order to divine the meaning of this tragedy in their particular grand scheme of things.
Here, in our own ideologically fractured nation, there will be a plethora of irrational blog and media pieces spewed forth as left-wing sites rush to emphasize that the killer was some “right-wing fundamentalist Christian nut” and right-wing sites rush to note that the dead children were attending some “evil socialist political indoctrination camp.”
And in the midst of this hurly-burly cacophony of responses, parents around the world, watching the unfolding horror played out repeatedly in news videos, will reach out – as Norwegian parents are undoubtedly doing at this moment – and pull their children into a tight hug of both sorrow and relief. In these frightening times with their quick and shallow answers, that surely will be the most rational response of all.