To Look Away (#95)

Peace for Paris - Jean Jullien
Peace for Paris – Jean Jullien


My roommate says, “Why do you keep watching?! It only makes you cry!”

I watch anyway. The hardest part comes later in the day, as I watch long lines of Americans waiting to donate blood.

There are less than 5 survivors to receive it.

July 22, 2011. Oslo Bombing, Utøya Massacre.

The phone rang. I answered with a sniffling, “Hello?’

Andy says, “You okay?”

Me: “You didn’t hear? Families – kids – gunned down while camping on an island!”

I fill him in. He tells me to stop following the news.

I ignore him. For days.

Which means I get to hear an American right-wing idiot compare the victims to the “Hitler Youth.”

Even though some were Chechen refugees. And heroes.

December 14, 2012. Newtown School Shooting.

Twenty dead. Most of them six years old. A stanza of the Longfellow poem turned Christmas carol plays on an endless loop in my mind.

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

I follow the news at my desk, hoping for something. Perhaps there will be a miraculous story of survival.

There isn’t.

April 15, 2013. Boston Marathon Bombings.

Andy says, “This CNN coverage is terrible. They aren’t even giving us new information.”

He turns off the TV. I take my tissues to my computer and stream news reports live.

A young American woman, a student from China, and an eight-year-old boy.


Thursday. Yesterday. Today. Beirut. Paris.

I’m on Twitter. Facebook. CNN. BBC. Aljeezera. ABC.

Andy watches the pile of tissues grow. He thinks I’m crazy, “Why do you torture yourself?”

It’s a good question. It’s not that I like blood and death. I’m not even brave enough to watch the raw footage. There are sights you cannot un-see in life, and I want no part of them. Seriously. If there was one thing I could erase from my memory, it’s that snuff films exist. (Or Michael Vick.)

Yet I am compelled to watch, to hear the stories of the victims and the survivors. Despite man’s nearly unbearable inhumanity to man.

If I don’t watch, I feel guilt.

Some of it is because I can turn off the TV and walk away. There are many people without that option.

But there is more. One of the boys killed in Newtown was Noah Pozner. The killer shot Noah’s jaw off. His mother, Veronique Pozner, insisted on an open casket, and she insisted that Governor Malloy of Connecticut view her son’s body. He did, and he wept.

So should we all.

As Americans, we should see what we have allowed to happen, thanks to our refusal to enact reasonable gun control laws.

We should see what our foreign policy has wrought as well. Yes, yes, the world is complicated. There are more factors at play in the rise of ISIS than there are words in this post. Unlike the neoconservatives, I cannot break it down to black and white, good and evil. I can go back over one hundred years and point out a a hundred wrong turns in Western foreign policy, but right now? There is, in fact, precious fucking little that I can do to ensure that there’s never another Paris. Or Newtown.

But I can bear witness.

So I watch.

Howard Taylor's Overlay
Howard Tayler’s Paris- Beirut Overlay 

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

11 thoughts on “To Look Away (#95)”

  1. I get that insane TV viewing thing too. It used to be for snowstorms. Watching the same clips of cars sliding and reporters putting yardsticks in the snow. Those were the good old days. I remember being at the beach the week after 9/11. We had the TV running all day. It was hypnotic. There wasn’t anything new but interviews with those who were there or had a relative killed. There must be a psychological term for this obsession. (There must be a term for our inability to act too.)

  2. I’m the same way, Autumn. I’m one of the lucky ones who can turn the tv off and walk away but I watch. I watched reports on 9/11 for a week. And then I rented the most ridiculous, check your brain at the door, movie that I could to give myself a break. The tv was on in our conference room at work during Newtown and Boston and I’d watch when I got home at night. I was in NYC this weekend with friends; we watched the news about Paris until 1:00 am. The news reported beefed up security around Times Square but we didn’t notice. Sigh, wish I was watching news for weather forecast.

  3. I did watch the weather forecast today, only to see the rain split apart and go around us. A bummer, but it felt like “Ode to Joy” compared to the international news.

    Eventually we will wrap our heads around it. Somehow.

    Thanks for letting me know I am not alone. 🙂

  4. I understand what you’re talking about. I too like to know what’s happening. I feel a responsibility to know … and to care.

    Before long, though, my interest shifts to the larger story. Not how we can hide from all danger, not diatribes on evil or talk of revenge. What interests me today is motivation. What’s the attraction of becoming a terrorist? I think the answer is not as simple as some would have us believe. I just heard one expert say that a big part of it is the desire for adventure, glory, and self-sacrifice. He said many of the recruits come from non-religious backgrounds and know very little about the Koran and the original Caliphate they’re hoping to revive. One more piece of the puzzle.

  5. I heard a piece on NPR tonight about the lead terrorist in Paris. Marginalized kid in Belgium. Loner in school, dropped out of school, arrested for theft, and then radicalized in prison. I don’t think they are so different from our homegrown terrorists. All kids who went through the cracks and found themselves alienated from society. Maybe looking for someone to hate, to feel better.

  6. I am the same way – I think it is important to bear witness. When the Lindt Cafe siege happened in Sydney (I am not sure if you would have heard about this but a gunman held the people in the cafe hostage for many hours before shooting someone and then another person was killed when police stormed the building) I was in an office directly opposite the cafe. Seeing the hands up at the window is something I will never forget. Whether it was watching it from 100 metres away or sitting in front of the TV as a 13 year-old watching the horrific footage of 9/11 that ran on loop I sometimes think not looking away is the only thing you can do.

    1. I do remember the Lindt Cafe siege in Sydney. Not as well as some of the others, but yes. Oh, Cat, that must have been something terrifying, to see it in person. I am so sorry. How is it remembered in Australia?

      And yesterday we had another right wing nut job male in Colorado. It is never-ending, at least in the US. How I wish we’d done away with most of our firearms — as Australia did years ago.

      1. I just felt terrible for the people inside – everyone in the office had been in that cafe before, it could have been anyone there that day. The most surreal part was calling my family and telling them what was unfolding 100 metres away.

        Yes, I definitely think it was a good thing that Australia got rid of a lot of firearms after the Port Arthur massacre. From what I have read the US has a very different relationship to guns than Australia – watching from the outside it seems baffling that after so many tragic shootings stronger gun control laws aren’t brought in.

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