Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Valiant and the Victims

What’s the difference between a victim, a fatality, and a dead hero? Let us consider some lives and some deaths. Let us see if there may be a thread that connects them.

Over on The Neighborhood of God I described the bloody death of a 7th century young woman who’d valiantly fought off and escaped her incestuous father, only to die by his sword anyway, far from home. In my view because she refused to submit, Dymphna therefore was not a victim. However, one of my commenters disagreed. Did the simple fact that she failed ultimately to escape her father's sword seal the meaning of her life? I can understand why someone might see it that way, though her death is not how I choose to characterize Saint Dymphna; to me she is defined in her refusal to submit the core of her integrity to another person. Yes, her refusal contained her death warrant, but it was that very defiance which ultimately trumped her father’s rage. Dymphna’s courage and determination resonate down the centuries, bearing a signficance she could never have imagined.

And yesterday, I heard about the long awaited, the hoped-for, the tipping point death of the war in Iraq: Staff Sgt. George T. Alexander Jr. was # 2,000 in the line of soldiers who have fallen in Iraq while serving their country and liberating the Iraqis. The meaning of his life was dumped into the total “body count” cauldron that the unscrupulous keep on the fire in aid of an enemy who would see us vanquished and the Iraqis returned to hell. As one commenter said of him:
     I’ve been thinking about the cries that he is being victimized by the left-- and how ignoble a title “Victim” to bestow upon a warrior.
Instead, he is, with his family, a warrior whose service goes beyond merely his life, and includes bearing the weight of fools.
My commenter is exactly right: the sergeant is a Warrior and the burden of fools who latch onto his death desecrate his life and do themselves dishonor.

Last year, there was another death in Iraq, one which stood out from the thousands of victims of this ugly war. Remember Fabrizio Quattrocchi? Remember his defiance? Mr. Quattrocchi didn’t choose death. But when it showed up wearing the visage of evil, he turned and faced valiantly what he could not escape. Attempting to tear off his mask, he yelled his last words: "Now I'll show you how an Italian dies." Was Quattrocchi a victim or did he choose valor in his moment of dying? Whichever you choose, his defiance ruined his captors’ plans to show the video of his death; his bravery was dangerous and had to be hidden from view. If anyone in recent times can be said to have taught us how to die, it is this Italian contractor, lifted out of his anonymity for the purposes of an evil propaganda machine which he then broke, at least for the moment.

Just three examples: the girl, the sergeant, the contract worker. None of them chose to die, but all of them chose how to face death. One in defense of her integrity, another in the defense of his country, and the last because, like the first, he refused to submit to evil.

Meanwhile, back here at home, in 2003 — the year the war began in Iraq — forty two thousand people victims died in traffic accidents. They died for no reason. 42,643 people are gone and from none of their deaths can we salvage some small shred of consolation. These horrible deaths are merely wasted lives, cut off without reason.

So where is the hue and cry? Where are the headlines? Where are the protestors demanding that something be done about this on-going annual carnage right here in our country? Extrapolating from the figures for 2003, we can reliably estimate a death toll from traffic accidents (in the United States alone) of at least 125,000 men, women, and children dead since the start of the war in Iraq. Where are the Cindy Sheehans to carry on about this ignoble carnage? Where are the placards blaming…blaming whom, precisely? The car manufacturers? The highway engineers? The government for not setting a lower speed limit? The people who exercise their freedom to drive?

In our rural county, the annual death toll of inexperienced adolescent drivers is high. Or so it seems, given that our population is small and mostly we already know those kids who don’t make it around the curve. Their deaths fell their families; we weep for youth and potential cut off so suddenly and if we have teenagers, we wonder if our child will soon lie among the others. But our tragedy has no edge of valor to soften it. There is only the ugly specter carrying his scythe, reminding us how indiscriminate and cruel is his harvest.

I leave it to you to sort out and assign the labels and their meanings. The valiant and the victims already know who they are.


Wally Ballou said...
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Wally Ballou said...

(deleted and reposted after minor edit)

Thanks for the perspective. We have a tendency or even a need to try to attach meaning to a person's death by assiging a villanous cause or a tragic heroic meaning to it. That may even be true. But in each individual case, the death is real and immediate and individual. An experience we must all go through alone, although it may be deeply felt by those we leave behind.

The meanest kind of meaning is the statistical body count, since it denies what is the most significant thing about death - its absolute indiduality.

When I watched my father dying, I was struck by how alone he was- even with us all there. He was all by himslef sometimes, staring down that hole and struggling with the changes that overtook him and shook his body apart, and finally let him slip peacefully into "the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns".

El Jefe Maximo said...

Posted something myself on the 2,000th casualty, but I like your post better. Thank you, also, for reminding us again of Signor Quattrocchi, and how well he died.

Calling our fallen soldiers, and martyrs like Signor Quattrocchi "victims" is both a solecism and an outrage, but to be expected of lefties and others ready to bow down to any humiliation, or to close their eyes to the destruction of others, if it means their own sordid and miserable existences may proceed without interuption.

Yaakov Kirschen said...

Wonderful, thoughtful, intelligent post. Here in Israel, with the ongoing and relentless murder of the innocent by terrorists and the death toll of all our wars (48, 56, 67, 73, intifada1 and intifada2) the number of Israeli highway deaths is still greater!
And yes, we too understand the difference between the senseless auto deaths and the deaths of brave soldiers!
thanks for the post.
Dry Bones

American Crusader said...
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Dymphna said...


The hardest meme to fight is the one which sees our soldiers as victims. In order to change that, we have to examine what it means to be a "victim."

One of my biggest disagreements with what has become of the "domestic violence movement" is its insistence on calling the women they serve "victims" or "survivors." It's a lot more complicated than that and those are demeaning labels.

I remember how stunned I was the first time I ran across the word "victimology."

As Cato says, we all die alone. Those who remain behind supply the feelings. I intuit that to the person dying, it is not a passive process but one that we surrender into at some level.

dirty dingus said...

At my blog I looked at the 2000 dead in another way. It may come across as callous but it isn't meant to.

Coincidentally I also wrote about two sets of Japanese warriors one of which I think it fair to say were heroes and the other more like victims. Oddly enough it seems that more public attention is given to the victims

Wally Ballou said...

My point was partly that we need to be careful in appropriating the deaths of others to our own purposes, either as heroes or as victims. In the end, each death stands for itself.

The whole hero/victim question gies beyond deaths, though. To the left who "support our troops" by demanding they be sent home so they can stop committing atrocities (but they can't help it because they're just helpless victims), there are no heroes except for the secular saints like FDR or JFK - the new "hero" is indistinguishable from a victim, and victims are what it's all about.

Baron Bodissey said...

Cato, re: secular saints --

Do you think they'll canonize good ol' Jimmy, too, once he's safely pushing up the daisies?

Dymphna said...

Cato says:
In the end, each death stands for itself.

It doesn't seem so to me. Each death "stands for" what the mourners contribute as they try to deal with the great sucking hole left by the death of someone they cared about.

We aren't born alone and neither do we die that way. Though my mother died in her sleep at 3:00 am -- after being told she was to be discharged -- her death was not a solitary event. The shock waves of her going reverberated through her circle upon circles. Like a stone thrown in the water.

Birth is like that,too: when we arrive, there's a whole bunch of people waiting around for us to get here.

The problem is that both passages lack the words to express them, so it's left to the witnesses to tell us what it means.


airforcewife said...

This is a very good way to describe it, I think. As a military wife, I think you for it.

I make sure that I read each and every name of those that die in Iraq, as well as those of the wounded. I have known more than one - in fact, my husband was working out with one of the contractors only a few weeks before they went to Fallujah. Things like that hit hard.

But, to me - as our family faces what might come, to call us victims; to call anyone in our situation victims, diminishes our servicemembers. A victim has life done TO them. Our servicemembers do TO life (if that makes any sense at all). It is a life that is chosen, not forced upon one. No one came in the middle of the night and hauled my husband or my brother off, and I tired of hearing that innuendo long ago.

Mark Tempest said...

Stop the death machines!