Jewish World Review Jan. 6, 2004 / 12 Teves, 5764

Stanley Crouch

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Rising sense of risk unites America with the world | Some people may be more than lightly disturbed by all the violence that surrounds us, either the result of natural catastrophe or the workings of the human mind. Old Mother Nature is always ready to suddenly snuff out thousands in, say, an earthquake or sweep of water. If not that way, then through a disease like AIDS.

Then there is humankind, which has been competing with nature to see how well our species can measure up or exceed natural phenomena when it comes to killing. At least since World War I, the bodies have been stacking up in larger and larger numbers, going over the 50 million mark during World War II but slacking off in its wake because nuclear weapons have held us in check, forcing expressions of animosity to be financed through small conflicts (some of which blow up in our faces) rather than global warfare.

We now see armed camps all over the world in which children kill with no compunction, sometimes firing off weapons that seem too big for them to hold. The financing of small or large conflicts, the business of weapons sales, the struggles between ideologies or tribes have created international death squads of both right- and left-wing persuasions.

The dead play the same role that they have always played in these dramas: They give numbers to the nature of specific threats in particular locales. This spreads to the tourist agencies, which have to warn people that this place or that has become off-limits to travelers due to a murder rate that has gotten out of hand.

Of course, we seem to have developed in our midst a type of criminal who is not new to the world but now appears as normal as poisonous snakes are to certain rivers: the serial killer. Once the profile for such a person was white male blah, blah, blah; but I recently saw a black man on New Orleans television who had been linked by DNA to the murders of about five women. And, of course, there was the D.C. sniper team of John Muhammad and Lee Malvo. Integration is all. There's nothing like equality.

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We've now got mad cow and the red or orange terrorist alerts. Some meat might do you in, or you might be the victim of an Islamic fundamentalist nut, who is a cousin in brutality to the type represented so well by Timothy McVeigh, who felt that the very best letter to Washington was the Oklahoma City bombing.

But when we follow the international chain of corpses destroyed by nature - or far more often by other people - I have to say, finally, life is a tragic affair in which we wage war against pain and death. That is the story of civilization.

It is only because we have the idea of universal humanity so firmly in place that we are so disturbed by the deaths of others that we hear reported on a daily basis. No longer are they merely numbers, digits of corpses from another culture. It no longer matters. We know that they are human beings.

And that, my friends, is a bittersweet victory to build upon.

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JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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