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Beyond Comprehension

Natalia J. Garland

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During those first few days of shock after the attack on the World Trade Center, people were describing the attack as beyond comprehension. The human mind could not fathom the mass murder of so many innocent people. Everyone was asking why. Some people seemed to have a tendency toward self-blame, perhaps in an attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible. Other people renewed their patriotism, or even discovered for the first time feelings of patriotism. I am still trying to understand why, trying to grasp some explanation for it with my social worker's mind.

What kinds of feelings prompt someone to kill the innocent? There was, for example, a mass-murder many years ago known as the Massacre of the Innocents. All the babies were killed. It happened just after Jesus Christ was born. King Herod feared that the baby known as the King of the Jews would take over his position as king. Herod sent out the wise men as spies to find out where Christ was born. Upon finding the Christ child, however, the wise men became believers and they did not return to Herod. Herod then went into a rage over this. Herod had all the children, under age two who resided in the Bethlehem area, killed.

Such killers seem to defy diagnosis. Are they mentally ill? Are they, as President Bush says, evil? Can they be both? Are mental illness and evil mutually exclusive? If they are mentally ill, then are they not to be held responsible for their actions? Is it possible to put these killers into some sort of category? If not, is it possible to find certain traits which are common among these killers?

Such killers seem as likely to focus on an individual as on whole populations of people. Back in December, 2001, there was an article in the Irish News about Sister Philomena Lyons, a 67-year-old nun from Ballybay. She was sexually assaulted and murdered on her way to Dublin for the holidays. She had been a teacher for 40 years, having spent 30 of those years in Ballybay. What kind of person would kill a senior citizen nun? And during holiday time? What does such a person feel?

Here are my rough impressions which are by no means scientific. This is just my own mind searching for a few pieces of the puzzle. Some people seem to react to stress, to perceived or real wrongs, with intense feelings of hatred and vengeance. These people have possibly experienced deep narcissistic wounding and are possibly very immature. They choose easy targets such as babies, enormously tall buildings, and old nuns. They do not retaliate against the ones who they believe have wronged them, but choose a representative or symbolic person or population.

These killers would not fall into anything like the Battered Woman Syndrome. Battered women resort to killing their abusers because they believe it to be an act of self-defense. Perhaps this is why our leaders refer to terrorists as cowards. It would seem to take a lot of courage to fly an airplane into a building, a lot of cool nerve to maneuver oneself through the airport. But the target is innocent and easy. Such killers will possibly be found to be self-righteous, arrogant, angry, and desperate for narcissistic validation. I daresay, sadly but necessarily, that we will have opportunities to get to know and study such killers much closer. (Written 02/18/02 - Revised 12/01/03: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2002, 2003 Natalia J. Garland