the 90th minute

Until September 2007, when my oldest daughter was born, this blog covered daily life and politics in Israel, as well as Hebrew-English linguistic issues, from the perspective of an American-raised journalist and translator living in Israel. Now it mostly serves as the SmunchMonk&Bear news agency, a portal into the bizarre universe of the little people. Read more at:

Monday, April 23, 2007

The great equalizer?

The Associated Press reported yesterday that a Virginia Tech freshman who had just returned home after last week’s shooting rampage on campus was killed in a car crash Friday. As the Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) siren is about to go off to commemorate soldiers killed in Israel’s wars as well as terror victims, such reports drive home once more the hard truth that death is not, after all, the great equalizer.

Would AP have bothered to report that a Virginia Tech freshman died in a car crash had his campus not recently been the site of a shooting? Obviously not. There’s that call of (perceived) irony that we the media can’t resist - to the extent that, on the other side of the notebook, I started getting excessively paranoid about dying in a terror attack in the weeks before my wedding, because the news reports at the time made it seem that just about every terror victim had been about to get married, just as every soldier killed in combat seemed to be on the verge of finishing his army service. (Back on the media side not long after, I contributed to the general impression by writing this article about a young woman who was indeed killed in a terror attack the night before her wedding.)

And so it is that a mundane car crash becomes a wire story somehow connected to the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history. Let’s face it: For all the heartache of the student’s family, from a media perspective, the car accident is not much of a national story - only one victim, and at that, one who’s not a child, a saint or a celebrity. Happens all the time. But somehow, that connection to a larger tragedy - or, more specifically, to the feeling that, Oedipus-like, this student evaded his fate only to encounter it as he attempted to flee - makes the accident (debatably) newsworthy.

I have often thought since moving to Israel during the intifada, when such thoughts were inescapable, that if I had a choice, I would much rather be killed in a terror attack than in a car accident - though my chances of the latter are far higher than my chances of the former. Of course, I hope my family and I live long and healthy lives (ptu ptu ptu), but perhaps this morbid thought is fitting on a day in which we are supposed to think of death.

The families of Israelis killed in terror attacks, as in combat, are afforded a kind of honor and prestige - not to mention the crasser element of financial assistance from the state - that the families of accident victims could never hope for. A family member dying in a car accident is a personal tragedy, while a family member dying in war or by an act of terrorism is a national tragedy. I often think that it must be harder for families of accident victims to deal with their loss because it just seems so pointless, whereas the others can at least comfort themselves with the knowledge that their loved ones sacrificed themselves to some more noble cause than the rehabilitation of a drunk driver.

As the national emotional manipulation machine goes into gear once again - the same slow songs on the radio that they play right after a terror attack, the TV movies about death - I join the country in mourning the loss of the men and women whose early departure from this world is commemorated today. All the same, I can’t help but entertain a sneaking, possibly heretical, sensation that due to the perhaps inevitable value society assigns to some kinds of deaths and not others, their families are - in a way that I certainly do not envy - the lucky ones.

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Blogger Jack Steiner said...

When it is your time to go, there is not all that much that you can do.

April 23, 2007  

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