On January 17, 1989, a man named Patrick Edward Purdy took an AK 47 into a schoolyard in Stockton, California and opened up on the children, firing 105 rounds. He then killed himself. He was wearing a shirt that was inscribed with the phrase, Death to the Great Satin [sic], and he’d carved the word Hezbollah into the stock of his rife, as well as the words freedom and victory. Nobody, then or now, has ever claimed that Purdy had the least relation with either Iran or Hezbollah.
I have been thinking of Patrick Edward Purdy as I’ve been reading about the latest slaughterer of children, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, in Nice. Although I understand why Bouhlel is being discussed as a terrorist, to my mind he is closer to the Stockton murderer than the team that attacked in Paris last winter. That is to say: if Hezbollah had not been fighting with the US, and had not gotten its name attached to the blowing up of the US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, I do not think Purdy would have carved their name into his rifle. Perhaps his desire to die would have taken another form. I suspect that the same thing holds true for Bouhlel. His rapid “radicalisation”, as the police are putting it, was an act not of politics in the broad sense that would include the terror attacks in Paris (and the terror strafing of Yemen city neighborhoods by Saudi jets), but in the narrow sense of politics as a personal pathology. Madness calls to madness in some damaged neural pathway in the killer’s head.
One of the great changes that I have noticed, in the transition from the Cold War world to the post Cold War world, is the fading away of peace as a political goal. It used to be a standard piece of political boilerplate: every political candidate in the West was for peace – even if on terms defined by the overthrow of the other side. And the same was true of Soviet boilerplate. I never thought I’d miss Cold War hypocrisy, but I do. Nixon’s gravelly unction voice saying peace was better than nobody saying peace, ever. Plans for peace – another boilerplate phrase – have gone the way of central planning.
Peace doesn’t break out spontaneously.
As I was crossing the street yesterday, holding hands with my boy, a truck stopped for us. And I measured it with my eyes as we passed by it and I shuddered.