Posts Tagged ‘human beings’
The news today that the crash in the French Alps of Germanwings Flight 9525 was almost certainly caused intentionally by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was the talk of much of the world today. News media around the world, and investigators in Europe, are already dissecting the life of one apparently normal young man who not only decided to kill himself but to murder 149 other people. Why did he do this?
When I first heard of the plane’s odd course yesterday, its calm preprogrammed descent into a cold mountainside, I thought of William Langewische’s November 2001 article in The Atlantic examining the 1999 crash EgyptAir Flight 990. That plane, too, was intentionally crashed by its pilot, one Gameel al-Batouti. The consensus seems to be that al-Batouti killed hundreds of people because of personal problems, the consequences of reprimands from his employers at EgyptAir ranking highly. What will we find out about Lubitz?
This intentional crash, this mass murder, seems to have created a certain sense of unease. Philip Gourevitch’s essay in The New Yorker, “A Bewildering Crash”, caught the reality that, from the perspective of victims and non-victims alike, this seemed almost a random occurrence. These people died for no reason, and nothing could have been done to prevent this.
They could have been any of us, anywhere—whoever flies or rides a train or takes a bus or in any way entrusts her life to strangers, as we all must regularly and routinely to get through this world. That sense of investment in calamity—it could have been me—is true, of course, of accidents and targeted acts of terrorism as well. But to be told that a scene of mass death is the result of an accident or terrorism is to be given not only an explanation of the cause but also an idea of how to reckon with the consequence–through justice, or revenge, or measures meant to prevent a recurrence. After the massacre at Sandy Hook, we could at least dream of gun control. But the story of Lubitz, suddenly in control of a plane flying all those aboard to their deaths, offers us only a cosmic meaninglessness and bewilderment.
It would almost be more comforting if the Germanwings crash did turn out to be some sort of terrorist attack, after all, if this terrible action can trace its roots to some sort of dark conspiracy. It would almost be nice if, as seems quite possible, this wasn’t the action of a single man who had a single bad morning and decided, kilometres above the ground, to commit mass murder. Then, there would be a proportionality between the act and its origins. Things would match up. As things stand, as James Follows observed earlier today, there really is very little that can be done to prevent future occurrences of this sort.
But then, this sort of thing is common in all catastrophes of this kind. Look at September 11th conspiracy theories, particularly the ones alleging the active involvement of the American government. Yes, it would be a terrible thing if there was a conspiracy by powerful people in the United States to destroy two skyscrapers at the cost of thousands of lives in order to manipulate global politics, but at least the terrible outcomes of 9/11 would seem to have proportionately weighty origins. The reality of 9/11–the fact that a couple dozen men working on a shoestring budget directed by people on the other side of the planet could wreak such havoc, could change the world–demonstrates how fragile our civilization is.
If Germanwings 9525 means anything, it is as an illustration of the reality that modern globalized civilization relies on the good will of its members to avoid catastrophe. Knowing about this fragility is unsettling, I grant, but it’s rather better to know about this than to remain in ignorance. We need to be prepared.