There has been a lot of well-meaning commentary in the media that it was too shocking – too visceral, too intrusive, too disrespectful – for many media organisations to show the footage of a young American news reporter and her colleague being shot in America.
We respect those arguments. One of the better ones is here.
We also, respectfully, disagree.
One of the issues with gun violence – indeed, violence of all sorts – is that it is frequently sanitised before being presented to us. Filmed from outside a scene. Or blurred. Bodies are pixelated. Streams of blood are avoided or covered up. Body parts are swept away.
But in our view, only when people confront the truth might they be shocked into actually doing something about the problem.
The exactly similar debate occurs when we consider photo coverage of wars, or for that matter famines. Not for nothing was the Iraq war coverage reduced to mostly nonsense through “embedding” tame journalists. The Governments concerned knew that was the only way they could maintain support for the obviously illegal invasion.
In our view, we must all be made to turn our eyes to the reality of the state of the world. not glimpse it in a stilled frame or hear it in a sound grab. We need to look our world square in the face, and take responsibility for it.
Not because we are voyeurs, or because real life real time violence is manna for our satiated media-swamped pallets. Both those criticisms are fair, but they are not the point. We need to confront shocking truth because as the poet says “if any man dies, his death diminishes me”.
Alison Parker and Adam Ward deserve to be remembered not only for how they lived, but also how a mentally disturbed man with a legally-obtained gun ended their worthwhile lives, and cast their loving families into misery.
Because if we have the willpower, we can do something about mad people with guns – we can improve the connectedness in our society, we can improve respect for law, we can make guns more difficult to get and keep, we can improve mental health provision, and we can build a world view that says taking another human being’s life should be the hugely horrible exception and not the norm. We can do all this, if we are moved to act together, and with determination.
We will never make our societies perfect. That way lies madness and the simple sloganeering of fools.
But if we are to create coalitions of the willing to oppose the steady and seemingly inexorable slide towards casual violence and disrespect for others, then we need to face up to the truth.
If the innards of Dachau and Auschwitz and the rest had been seen in popular media in America and the United Kingdom in 1942 the Second World War would have been over sooner and fewer lives lost.
If the Gulags of Siberia had been exposed rather than just whispered about, Stalin would have been overthrown.
If the murderous indifference of Mao that led to umpteen dozens of millions being deliberately starved to death as political policy had been exposed in all its shocking brutality then he would never have come to rule one third of the world as a heartless despot.
How did Pol Pot do what he did? Why did the West stand by and support him – step forward Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan – because he was a bulwark against Vietnam? Because that disgusting realpolitik judgement was never balanced by pictures of two million Cambodians slaughtered with pick-axes, machetes, sticks and pistols. No lens ever captured their suffering until it was too late.
Do you know why Kim-Jong Un is still in power in North Korea? Because saying “mothers are made to drown their babies in prison camps” does not have the same effect, even though it should, as showing those mothers’ hysterical, tear stained faces and the floating corpses of their children.
Too harsh? Too horrible?
Maybe. But it’s the truth. And the truth is also that the look on Alison’s terrified, innocent face as she confronted her insane, hate-fuelled murderer needs to be seen.
She deserves us looking into her eyes, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.
Because only then will people demand that she is the last – or if not the last, sadly, then a very rare event indeed – of all those innocents slaughtered for no good reason by sociopaths who hold their life to be unimportant – or at least, not as important as what their own sick views or desires.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, and all those traumatised by this horrible event.