29 July 2008

Violence and National Character

Since no one has died this time, the latest Japanese slashing rampage has received relatively little attention from the American media. But the report that did appear at the MSNBC site did note that the attack, apparently provoked by a bungled suicide attempt, was just the latest in a series, the most notorious being the combined vehicular-blade attack with fatalities of a few months ago. For some observers, these Japanese incidents will only prove the argument that people will find a way to kill or lash out at others even without guns -- which some take to be an argument for letting people have more guns. Would anyone say that the Japanese crimewave proves the necessity of a law allowing the Japanese to carry concealed knives,daggers or samurai swords?

It makes for an amusing image, but to laugh is to admit the absurdity of the idea. But at the same time, I'm sure some Americans would say that the answer to a knife-wielding nut is the same as the answer to a gun-toting nut: another gun. If they do, that would suggest to me that they don't advocate gun ownership as a mere equalizer against crime, but as an empowering end unto itself. Such people would want the particular power of the gun, just as the killers do. Gun violence is meaningful to both the criminal and the ostensibly lawful American, probably in the same way that the blade is meaningful to violent-minded Japanese people. In either case, the weapon is a form of expression for the perpetrator (though the woman in the present story seems simply to have snapped and lashed out on sheer impulse). The archetypical Japanese slasher is still closer to his or her firearmed American counterpart than either is to the Islamic suicide bomber, for whom personal expression is irrelevant apart from the farewell videos they make. For the American or Japanese killer, the weapon is the instrument of the wielder, while the suicide bomber, be he Muslim or Tamil, more likely perceives himself as the instrument of a higher power. For his admirers, the proof of that power might be found in higher body counts than even the worst American mass-shooters have scored. If alienated Americans ever learn to romanticize the gesture of blowing themselves up, we'd have a war on terror here without any help from al Qaeda, and one even harder to win.

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