The Language of Blood and Death: Terrorists, Militants, and Attackers Then and Now

Narrating war and terror. A historical perspective.

For those of us in developed societies, it is hard to overstate the importance of words and images and the effect they have on our lives. Although we live in a world in which many people don’t have the time or energy to read much in the way of books or hard news, words and language are as important now as ever before. Whether we’re aware of it or not, those of us in modern, developed societies are immersed in an ongoing narrative that’s constantly swirling about us, informing and transforming perspectives. Powerful forces in over-extended economies desperate to generate infinitely increasing profits focus tremendous energy on creating and broadcasting information to influence how we should feel about ourselves, others, and the world in general. While the Shakespearean stage has never and will never really exist for many of us, an unceasing flood of commercially-generated narrative holds us transfixed in a rush of words, images, and archetypes that are constantly chiseling away at our brains: shaping, directing, urging. We exist within and are caught up in this narrative even though most of us are merely observers and bit players in it.

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Underlying Causes of Mass Shootings in America Seethe Below the Surface

Conventional explanations for recent mass shootings, like Sandy Hook, are overly simplistic and fail to help society fully grasp the reasons why these tragedies keep occurring. These ready-made answers often tempt society into narrowly focusing blame at the expense of searching for deeper answers and devising needed solutions.

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Since the horror of the Columbine shooting in 1999, there have been 31 school shootings in addition to a number of other mass shootings. Each time one of these tragedies occurs, we understandably engage in a public dialog that asks why. Unfortunately, each time the dialog is cut short by a barrage of ready-made answers that steadily and thoroughly whacks each question away.

Viewed within the context of Columbine, the past six months raise these questions again, since this time period contains three mass shootings that urgently cry out for a level of understanding that transcends these overly simplistic, self-serving answers.

Why, after shooting and killing his mother, did Adam Lanza, 20, walk into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and shoot 26 people, 20 of whom were children? How come, three days earlier, Jacob Tyler Roberts, 22, opened fire in a Portland, Oregon mall food court with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle? Tragically, two people were killed, but Roberts’ intention was to kill a lot more had it not been for the gun jamming. Or why is James Holmes, a 24-year-old former neuroscience graduate student, believed to have opened fire on an audience in a crowded movie theater in Aurora, CO, with a 12-gauge pump action shotgun?

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