The horrendous events in Colorado on Friday brought out the best in most Americans. Both presidential candidates were eloquent and thoughtful. State authorities acted with impressive professionalism Yes, there were those who insist that tragedy is political, but mostly the mood was somber and reflective.
We saw an outpouring of grief and empathy for 12 dead (and dozens injured) whom the vast majority of 312 million Americans don’t know. It gives meaning to the phrase “American family.”
But as I thought about the number of dead and injured, I wondered if it might also be instructive about atrocities beyond the water’s edge.
Consider that America has about 312 million people. The death of 12 precious fellow Americans has gripped the country.
Israel, with about 7.8 million people, saw five of their own murdered on a bus in Bulgaria. The United States has 40 times the population of Israel so it would be the same as 200 Americans being taken out by Iranian- backed terrorists. (That would be a mass murder of the magnitude of the Pam Am 103 atrocity in 1988.)
Syria has about 20 million people and has suffered (according to some estimates) the deaths of about 14,000 at the hands of mass murderer Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. population is approximately 15 times bigger than Syria. So that would amount to 210,000 (!!) dead Americans.
What do we do with such data? It should give us some perspective. Lela Gilbert, an American Christian living in Israel who writes on the plight of Christians in Muslim countries, e-mailed me: “Everyone in Israel has lost someone or has otherwise been personally affected by terror and/or war and/or the Holocaust. Matters of life and death are emotionally relevant to Israelis and attacks are ALWAYS possible — could happen right here, while we’re eating in this cafe, while we’re riding this bus, while we’re shopping in this mall.”
We should look at events in Israel (the building of the security wall, the response to attacks launched from Gaza and the Sinai) in that light. I don’t know that Americans would act with the same restraint as Israelis have exhibited if the proportionate number of Americans were periodically murdered.
And we can perhaps imagine that the Syrian people, with a mass atrocity of such magnitude, would be resentful, even furious, that the West dawdled while their countrymen were mowed down. A mass killing on that scale might even give the entire region the idea America doesn’t give a darn.
Numbers alone don’t determine policy, but they should at least inform policy. With empathy and appreciation for the magnitude of others’ suffering we can, at the very least, understand what motivates other countries and how our support (or lack thereof) affects America’s image in the world.