Saturday, 5 July 2014

One Bloody Afternoon and 102 Minutes

Sometimes you have to wonder about people. They do surprisingly silly, horrific and weird things every single day. And then sometimes you just have to admit to yourself that, given past examples, you really shouldn't be wondering about the little oddities of humanity anymore when we have plenty of examples of humans doing truly evil things with a depressing regularity.

I'm back on the book wagon and in the last few weeks I've devoured my way through two horrific accounts of human brutality and suffering.

One Bloody Afternoon tells the story of the Hungerford massacre. Michael Ryan, after a failed rape turned to murder and his attempt at escape foiled by a broken down car, terrorised the residents of Hungerford as he murdered and injured his mother, neighbours and even an ambulance crew and police officer sent to the scene. People going about their everyday business, tending their gardens, washing their car or walking their dog, lost their lives so suddenly and needlessly that it is difficult not to shed at least a few tears when reading this book.

And yet among these sorry tales there are stories of bravery, the off-duty soldier who followed in Ryan's wake tending the wounded is one of the stand out moments. But, in typically British style, it is the brief one line mentioning one of Ryan's elderly neighbours berating him before being hastily dragged inside a house that really brings home how this massacre wasn't some Hollywood production and how truly, frighteningly real it was.

102 Minutes is the story of what happened inside the Twin Towers from the moment the first plane hit on September 11th 2001 to the moment the North Tower collapsed. Like the Hungerford massacre, this event occurred on just another ordinary day to ordinary people going about their business. Attending meetings, taking telephone calls and just generally settling down for another day at work, thousands of people's lives were destroyed in such a short space of time. And again for no reason whatsoever.

The sliced bodies, the trapped, the burning and the jumpers are proof positive that humans can be the most awful of creatures. And yet again, among the tragedy stand stories of sacrifice and bravery that almost redeems our species. The colleagues who stayed with those with disabilities (even when they were just acquaintances), the Port Authority employees in the North Tower who spent the entire time rescuing those in the area where the plane hit and who didn't make it out, the people who went running in when others were running out.

Humanity is just one confusing mess of virtue and horror. Right now my reading of "Raven", the story of the Peoples Temple, is not helping me find much of the virtue unfortunately.

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