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Western Press Review: Killings At A Colorado School, Kosovo

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba



Prague, 23 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Kosovo still dominates the editorial pages of many western newspapers. But an incident in the American West earlier this week -- when two high school students using guns and bombs killed several classmates -- is also attracting widespread comment.

WASHINGTON POST: Easy access to lethal firepower is a devastating fact of American life

The Washington Post said yesterday in an editorial that the incident in the town of Littleton, Colorado, had many causes. But, the U.S. newspaper points to what it calls "One devastating fact of American life ... the outlandishly easy access to lethal firepower." The paper continues: "How else could two high school students terrorize their world, kill and maim many classmates and then do themselves in so efficiently? Outcasts seeking attention get it when they are armed and trigger-happy. Kids who 'feel a need to strike out at society' can do it dramatically with real bombs and bullets. The gross national arsenal of America is notorious worldwide."

BOSTON GLOBE: US shows no resolve to ban handguns

The Boston Globe today echoes that thought. It editorializes: "After the 1996 Dunblane massacre of 16 elementary school children and their teacher, the British government swiftly banned handguns of .22 caliber or more and set 10-year jail sentences for anyone caught owning one. But the United States -- with its active gun lobby, easy access to firearms by just about anyone of any age, and the continual celebration of violence by the entertainment industry -- shows no such resolve."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Now Americans have no norms

The Wall Street Journal Europe, however, sets out to look for a deeper problem. It says in an editorial: "You know that a culture is confused when in response to two kids ... gunning down 15 people inside their high school, tossing bombs on the roof, booby trapping their cars and then turning the guns on themselves, [and the] only sense that the referees of conventional wisdom can come up with is this -- America needs more gun control."

The newspaper points to what it suggests is the real cause: "The United States has spent about 30 years trying very hard to prove that no one, not even children, should be fettered by anyone else's idea of proper behavior. Now Americans have no norms. Or at least none that they hold in common."

In the same editorial, the newspaper expresses revulsion at the U.S. TV coverage of the event and others that preceded it. The editorial says: "There comes a point nowadays when one begins to sense that something rather close to the brutal event's glorification is occurring. The TV coverage -- interviewing the umpteenth eyewitness, plumbing the thoughts of an ambulance driver or the local trauma surgeon -- eventually begins to look as if it is in fact reveling amid the anguish and empathy. Princess Di's death became a similar media revel, and TV's eagerness to drive these recurrent tragedies toward an oddly numbing mindlessness is disturbing. Past some point, it no longer is watching television. It's voyeurism."

EL MUNDO: A fascination with violence has developed into a cultural sickness

Two European newspapers decry what they describe as the U.S. society's penchant for violence. Spain's El Mundo says: "Six massacres in US schools in the past 18 months should prompt thoughts about a generation that has grown up with violence in the movies and TV. One doesnt have to be particularly sharp to imagine the effect of the flood of violence, crime and murder on a developing brain [and why] a fascination with violence has developed into a cultural sickness."

TAGES ANZEIGER: The madness is no longer taken seriously

Tages Anzeiger in Zurich says: "Death has become such an everyday occurrence in American society that the madness is no longer taken seriously by many. Currently, hundreds of movie theatres are legally showing films in which Terminator imaginary belligerents are axed by the dozens to feed a lust for violence. Everyone harps on national consciousness and glorifies Wild West attitudes and big business."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: It is important to foster social integration and a new culture

German sociologist Withelm Heitmeyer, commenting for a Sueddeutsche Zeitung interview yesterday, said that what happened in Littleton Tuesday arguably would be likelier in Germany if youths had U.S.-like access to guns. Heitmeyer also said: "In special circumstances which make violence possible, the availability of weapons makes structure very important for certain groups. These groups' norms develop their own dynamic; if the group is not recognized by another, it in turn recognizes no outside norms."

The sociologist said that U.S. President Bill Clinton's appeal to Americans to lead their children away from the path of violence was irrelevant. He said: "What Clinton said was just talk that can't really be taken seriously - otherwise the lobby for the American firearms industry would long since have been defeated. Instead there are the so-called 'zero-tolerance' policies which put massive numbers of American youths into prison and thereby create social disintegration and even more violence. It is important to foster social integration and a new culture of acceptance and recognition which is not based on owning prestige objects. But developments are going in the opposite direction."

FOERT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM: Acts of horror are manifestations of evil incarnated



A columnist for the influential U.S. regional newspaper Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram finds related tentacles of a single evil force in events such as the school massacre, ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and other events. Cecil Johnson writes: "It is unfortunate that modern, civilized men and women have become too sophisticated to speak seriously of demon possession or to describe acts of unspeakable horror as manifestations of evil incarnated. If that were not so, it would be so much easier to explain the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, the Rwandan genocidal rampage, the hideousness of the killing and mutilating in Sierra Leone, Saddam Hussein and the massacre of the innocents at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. To suggest that the devil makes them do it is to risk being branded as naive, although no one else has a better explanation."

Whatever the cause of evils such as Kosovo, various commentators today perceive the possibility of numerous results -- some even positive.

BOSTON GLOBE: War is the mother of unintended consequences

The Boston Globe isn't among the optimists. It editorializes today: "War is the mother of unintended consequences.

President Clinton has said that the Balkans will not get better until democracy comes to Serbia. The NATO attack, however, has drastically harmed the prospects for Serbian democracy. Political forces allied against Slobodan Milosevic have been routed as Serbs rally to the defense of the country. President Clinton said the air war is necessary to prevent the conflict from spreading. Yet the war has destabilized the surrounding countries by threatening the fragile peace in Bosnia."

The newspaper cites other paradoxes, such as: "President Clinton said the war was necessary to prevent ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Yet the ethnic cleansing has accelerated under cover of the NATO attacks."

BOSTON GLOBE: Nations based on Christianity are at war to defend a persecuted Muslim community

But Fawaz A. Gerges, author, and professor of Middle East studies at New York's Sarah Lawrence College, describes a possible positive consequence. He says: "Bloody and costly as it is, the conflict in the Balkans has the potential to transform the historically hostile relationship between Islam and the West into a partnership, particularly if it succeeds in restoring and empowering the more than 600,000 displaced Kosovo Albanian Muslims. For the first time, the United States and its European allies, whose cultures are primarily based on Christianity, are going to war against a sister Christian country, Yugoslavia, to defend a persecuted Muslim community."

GUARDIAN: Milosevic faces the prospect of war on two fronts

Defense editor and analyst John Keegan, writing in The Guardian, London, says another significant consequence is the binding of Slovakia to the West. He writes: "By far the most significant war news yesterday, quite overshadowing in importance the reports of the NATO leaders more emphatic language, was the report that Slovakia had agreed to open its borders to NATO forces. If it does so, a key piece in the strategic geography of southeastern Europe falls into place in NATO's favor, making the deployment of ground troops altogether easier and confronting (Serbian leader Slobodan) Milosevic with the prospect of war on two fronts."

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