Here’s the truth: I don’t get us. Us lot – humans.
I mean, I do – I can yelp at the moon with the craziest of them. But we are mad bastards.
I mean, how is it that we can meet each other in the street on most days and more or less come off as grounded, sensible neighbours who can be trusted to help each other out in an emergency – and yet manage to produce armies of flesh-eating zombies as soon as someone rings the Oh Shit bell?
I mean, really – where do all the monsters come from? Where are we hiding them?
Something I’m largely ignorant of is the conflict in Sri Lanka. What sparked the Tamil Tigers’ two decades or however long of dissent and fighting against the government, I don’t know. I’ve not been to the country. I hear it’s beautiful.
But lastnight, I heard just a clip of an interview with a woman who’d escaped from the final throes of the war in the north of the island, earlier this year. She described scenes of carnage beyond counting.
She said that in one place she found herself, ‘everywhere was bodies’. Everywhere she looked she saw corpses. Not just fallen or left, but piled.
She ran to the local hospital. They had no more room for bodies of people – there too, they were piling them in corridors and side rooms.
Where did all these dead people come from? And, more to the point, where did their killers come from?
This morning, an account by a woman who walked for miles to escape the fighting in the Somalian capital Mogadishu, left me wondering the same thing. She said she was so repeatedly robbed as a refugee, and so subsequently malnourished, her dreadful appearance must have been the only thing that saved her from being raped. She said that most other women with her had been, by the time they reached the coast.
It resonates with stories from the genocide in Rwanda more than a decade ago. And perhaps, in a sense, with others from the war in the former Yugoslavia – neighbours and ordinary locals appearing to develop an overnight thirst for eachother’s blood and suffering.
In the case of Sri Lanka, it was government forces apparently dishing out the death. In Rwanda and in Yugoslavia, in the broadest terms, tribal friction had embedded itself in identity like a sleeper cell, so they say.
But whatever uniform you’re wearing, or given at birth, you are still you when you make your choices. Even when you’re part of a system trained to execute orders.
You’re still you. Aren’t you?
And in Somalia? Well, it’s just about every conceivable element of conflict all thrown in together, isn’t it? Identity, politics, poverty, money, geography – it sounds like every slavering, blood-shot, howling vision of hell ever hallucinated. It sounds like Dante’s fucking Inferno. And yet, the woman this morning could still remember ‘how beautiful Mogadishu was before the fighting’.
Can anyone imagine the Dish as beautiful? From the ignorant snippets of it we digest quickly from the news, it has become another Beirut or a Belfast – a place synonymous with destruction.
It seems incomprehensible. I don’t understand where the sheer numbers of rapists and murderers appear from, when the trumpet of chaos bleats. And the level of depravity and cruelty lept to so quickly in war zones. I can’t picture that happening in Bournemouth.
I feel sure that young men and women serving with British forces in Afghanistan at the moment might be able to look me thoughtfully in the eye as I say this.
So interesting, as an aside, that two of the most level-headed, likeable and positive people to have perhaps ever appeared on Channel 4’s post-supper comfort Location location location were lastnight’s couple, Chris and Nikki – a major in the Paras and a flight lieutenant in the RAF, respectively. If you were looking for it, at least in the edit, there was a self-effacing note of dignity brought to the usually agonising proceedings of middle class people enjoying their freedom by whining about only having a £500,000 budget to buy a home.
I shamelessly love Phil and Kirsty. And I whine about property often. But its interesting to observe people who are trained in the art of self control – trained specifically so they can be fit to defend our right to make TV about banal comforts.
As the debate around healthcare in the US begins to pull in ever more inflammatory language, and a barking, screaming, hair-pulling, goggle-eyed, yelping madness seems to be supplanting the country’s pragmatic conversation about how best to sustain its society, I wonder how close to childish lunacy even the most idyllic models for living really are.
Is there a better dream than America? And are more petulant, ignorant voices to be heard hollering so loudly anywhere else on Earth?
But whether Bournemouth, Beirut or Belfast; Berlin, Boston or Baltimore – we humans are the only common factor in these different scenes. And, if you think about where people in these different cities find themselves in 2009, our ability to rebuild, to transform, to totally re-invent our vision of these places, and of eachother, seems as remarkable perhaps as our lurking and utterly universal weakness for fear.