Friday, November 22, 2002

It's the Grief, Dummies

Friday, 22 November 2002

Brian Deegan, father of Joshua Deegan, one of the Bali bombing victims, is getting a lot of stick for his open letter to the Prime Minister. Instead of playing the honourable and socially acceptable role of outraged relative, happy to accept a little US military payback for the loss of his son, Deegan has raised questions about John Howard's possible role in creating the political climate that led to the outrage. A lot of commentators (including the Prime Minister himself) feel that this is a little out of line, which is hardly surprising in a political climate where there is a wide-spread bipartisan agreement that the best thing to do about the War on Terrorism is to terrify the electorate with dire warnings about the state of the world, then pacify them with promises of new police powers to deal with the threat. Civil liberties? Phooey!

Anyone who has experienced the death of someone they love or a close friend will understand what Deegan is experiencing. It's called grief, and it's a very messy business, an uncomfortable emotional rollercoaster ride through extremes of anger, black depression and above all the pain of irreparable loss. Even if the death is from natural causes, you can feel anger about it and the desire to strike back at something, anything - but when my best friend from University days died of leukemia a few years ago, the last thing that I felt like doing was to go and punch his oncologist's lights out for stuffing up his therapy. When the death occurs as a result of human action, it's understandable that the desire to punch out some lights is even stronger but I suspect that any relief it gives to the anger of the grieving is going to be equally suspect and short-term.

And I am talking about anger here - not the self-righteous outrage that thinks a supportive friend is one who will go out and get you a little payback and sod the collateral damage. I'm quite frankly sick and tired of hearing this sort of stuff. If it's indecent for anyone to raise the question of why the events of September 11 and the Bali bombing occurred, it's at least equally indecent to insist that the only proper response is a hectoring moral outrage that insists that the only solution is to go out and play Command and Conquer with live ammunition and live targets. I like to think that I am a civilised person and that it is possible to defend civilisation without resorting to barbarity. If we can't we're all in a lot of trouble.

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