Day 13: Send a letter to a mass murderer.

The Book even provides a few suggestions:

…and so on. Maybe it’s just a matter of dialect – the Book was originally written for a European audience (it uses guillemets instead of inverted commas) – but it seems to me that these men (with the possible exception of Ted Kaczynski, who seems like an outlier) are serial killers, not mass murderers. Of course, the difference between them seems to be how close the murders are to one another, and it only takes four (four!) murders to qualify one as a “mass murderer,” which strikes me as an absurdly low number. (I mean, John McClane kills ten people in the first Die Hard, and upwards of sixty over the course of four films – but he’s a good guy, so those don’t count, right?)

I don’t mean to suggest, of course, that murder is fine as long as a particular murderer keeps his body count in the single digits. I do think, however, that the term “mass murderer” has no real meaning – except “really bad person” – if it only takes four kills to become one; it is a term used by politicians and pundits to stir up public fear – and fear leads to a desire for safety, and ‘the people’ allow power to be further centralized in exchange for (the illusion of) safety. (Relevant.)

We have no real way of talking about murder on intermediate scales: there’s regular murder (a few victims), “mass” murder (4 or more victims), and genocide (a number of victims so large it becomes unreal: hundreds of thousands, millions, tens of millions). Often, it seems, the people who murder on the scale of hundreds or thousands are labelled “terrorists” – and they often are terrorists, but the word “terrorist” has to do with methods, motives, and politics, and not with the number of victims.

All of this is to say that I take issue with the Book’s list of murderers, and offer the following revision:

…and so on.

But what does one say to such men? Heart of Darkness, Night, The Great Terror, Cambodia: these are attempts, partial responses – necessary, but also necessarily incomplete. There can be no final word on these crimes until long after we are all dead and gone; after all, who still feels outrage at the deaths and devastation of the Thirty Years’ War?


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