Mass murder has finally come to Upstate New York with the Binghamton Massacre last Friday morning and yet, for me at least, it doesn’t seem to carry the impact of other recent massacres. Is it just because Jiverly A. Wong chose to commit his heinous crime on a Friday, which is traditionally a slow news day, or are we just becoming immune to these frequent atrocities?
As it happened, a number of local high school students were on their way to Binghamton Friday to participate in the State Finals of the Odyssey of the Mind. It was because of this that I first learned of the Massacre after a concerned mother of one of the students posted on Facebook Friday afternoon.
I was very busy Friday preparing to set up a booth for the annual Farmer’s Night Dinner sponsored by the Livingston Chamber of Commerce and didn’t hear about the shootings until I checked my Facebook page on my iPhone around 5:30 pm after setting up my booth. I quickly did a news search and got the basics of the story, but then didn’t think about it much, other than a moment of silence offered during the benediction.
When I got home I didn’t turn on any of the all-news cable networks and so did not get immersed in the usual wall-to-wall coverage that these outlets traditionally provide of these tragedies. Again, it being the weekend, I did not watch much news on Saturday or Sunday either. I did look at a few news photos on the Internet, but I was not drawn into the story like I had been by recent tragedies such as the Buffalo plane crash or the the Virginia Tech shootings two years ago.
This is painful to say, but could it be because of the nature of the victims that this story failed to carry the emotional impact of other tragic deaths? I related to the Flight 3407 victims because I have flown into Buffalo on small planes many times and it literally could have been me on that plane. I related to the Virginia Tech story because I have children myself in college and it could have been them.
Should the fact that most of the people killed Friday were immigrants with foreign sounding names make a difference? Theoretically no, and yet we have become so used to hearing of tragic killings occurring around the world to foreign people that we may tend to discount it, even when it happens so close to home.
All these thoughts, and a chance meeting last week, made me think about the Holocaust. The partner I spent last Tuesday electioneering with was a Jewish attorney from New York City. As we rode around the beautiful country (See last week’s blog) I asked him where his people had originated from.
He told me that they came from Belarus, an area I admit I’ve never thought much about. Although his immediate family got out before the war, he also told me that after the Nazi’s got through, there was absolutely no trace of any of his family, or for that matter any Jewish community left. This is hard for Americans to imagine, that an entire people could be eliminated from a country without a trace.
My reading on this subject brought me to the history of anti-semitiism and the true meaning of the expression “Beyond the pale.” I’ve used that term all my life, but never really knew its origin. It seems that the word Pale refers to a fence, and that “The Pale” was an area in eastern Europe in which Jews were required to live by the Russians. Jews were not allowed into Russia proper but required to live “Beyond the Pale.”
Because of additional restrictions within the Pale, these areas became full of crowded villages and ghettos, where impoverished Jews struggled to survive. Over the years, the Jews also became a convenient political scapegoat. If things went wrong, in anything from public health to the economy, there was usually someone willing to blame it on the Jews. Out of such alienation, victimhood and inhumanity to our fellow man, the seeds of the holocaust were planted.
In thinking about the Binghamton tragedy, and my muted reaction to it, I wonder if the seeds of a new holocaust could not be planted on our soil. Were those nameless immigrants who died last week seeking to become Americans living beyond our Pale? When we lose sight of the basic humanity of our fellow men, it is perhaps not such a long step to closing our eyes to crimes against them.