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.