If you've been on the Internet or watched the news in the last 24 hours, I'm sure you've heard the terrible news out of Newtown, CT. A gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary school this morning and murdered 27 people, and apparently shot his own mother, who worked at the school, in his home prior to driving her car to the school.
I saw the news on Facebook pretty quickly after it happened. Everyone else was recording samples of a new opera for the composer this morning, but I got the day off because there were only 3 horns. Seeing such terrible news so far from home was much harder to take then I imagined. I'm not from Newtown, and have no real connection to it, but it's still my home state. Connecticut is not that big. And the woods look the same, the license plates on the cars, the state troopers, the vast majority of Irish/German-looking white people were all the same. The accents were right. That just as easily could have been Oswegatchie Elementary in Waterford, CT.
I spent a little too much time watching Channel 3's live stream online, completely horrified and shocked that such a terrible thing happened so close to home. Then we went upstairs to a pasta dinner at Mattia's place, he and Ingrid made a delicious carbonara pasta with meat from Italy and cheese from Albania. While we were eating, the TV was on an Italian news station and they did a story on the Newtown shootings. I felt like I was on another planet; I don't speak Italian but I can imagine what the anchor was saying. The juxtaposition of something so familiar and so foreign was incredibly bizarre.
But the most thought-provoking event of the evening was our conversation after dinner. Adi, one of the flute players in the orchestra, started talking with Mattia about the war in Sarajevo and living here during the 1992-1995 siege. He described the amazingly creative survival tactics people came up with, many involving IV needles and thin wires to siphon off natural gas or electricity for light. I knew about the siege, but it's much different to hear someone talk about it as a personal history than to read about it on Wikipedia. They had no electricity, running water, food, or reliable transportation for four years. Adi ran to school to avoid being shot by snipers; elementary school children would cross the streets in pairs and run in zig-zag patterns. The kids knew not to cross in a group of three, if there were more than two it gave the snipers time to line up their shot and the third person would likely be killed. The most incredible part was hearing the jokes and humor Bosnians used to stay sane. They learned to laugh at everything, even grenades and tanks: Two guys are standing in the street, and one has lost his ear from a grenade. He's looking around on the sidewalk, so the other guy asks if he's trying to find the missing ear. He says "damn the ear, I'm looking for the cigarette I had behind it!"
Hearing these stories made me realize how little Americans understand about war. I am in no way saying that the shooting in Newtown is not a terrible, horrifying thing. But as hard as it was for me to see the footage from those shootings, how much harder is it to see your home bombed and burned for four long years? More than 18 children certainly died in the siege of Sarajevo, the total death toll was around 11,500. Buildings were destroyed, people had to leave their homes and make do with abandoned apartments or living in the streets. Americans can't understand what real impact a war has because we don't experience it. We haven't had a war on our soil since 1865. Sarajevo lost triple the number of people that were killed in the 9/11 attacks, and this entire country has the same population as the state of Connecticut. When we hear about terrible things happening in other countries, we have no experience to draw on and empathize with people forced from their homes, or who have seen their hometown sacked and destroyed. We are shocked and horrified by a gunman in an elementary school, but in Sarajevo snipers shooting at school children were a daily fact of life for four years. Adi said a Romanian sharp-shooter came to Sarajevo to practice for the Olympics, because running Muslims are more challenging targets than paper.
Sarajevans watched Yugoslav tanks roll into the city in 1992 and cheered for the army, thinking they would be safe. A few months later, the tanks turned on the people to begin the long siege. It's easy to disconnect from a story on the news when it happens half a world away, but did these people really deserve to wait so long for help from America? Why did we take so long to send assistance? Politics be damned, there was a genocide here. We get outraged about 28 deaths in an elementary school, who's to say there weren't more in one day here followed by another 1400 days like it? Muslims have families too, and love and care about each other just as much as any other person. We're all humans, and I think Adi had a good point when he said politicians use the poison of nationalism to their advantage. They want us to forget that we're all people. We have different origins, religions, scripts, but they are different words for the same things.
I'm not sure if I have a point to make so much as a thought process I wanted to share. I'm starting to really understand the value of living outside the comfortable walls of America in a place that has suffered so much.