Two Tragedies

Virginia Tech and Iraq.

UPDATE: Reader Jason Varitek emails to point to this excellent James Carroll op-ed in the Boston Globe, which meditates on the connection between the two tragedies:

But instrumental violence is different, and may or may not be wrong, depending on how means and ends are measured. The move to this level of abstraction prepares for the more difficult moral and political question: What about the American war in Iraq? Even those of us who opposed the war from the start must acknowledge that, in the beginning, the Bush administration's violence toward the Iraq of Saddam Hussein was instrumental. Regime change was the purpose, and whether one opposed or supported it, the war's violence could be defended as aimed at something beyond itself.

But where is the purpose now? If war is violence “to compel the opponent do as we wish,” what, actually, do we wish at this point? Obviously, everyone wishes the killing to stop, the Sunnis wish to regain some measure of power over Iraq and its resources, the Shi’ites wish to assert the control proper to their superior numbers, and varied factions want the American occupiers out. But what, actually, does George W. Bush want?

Last week marked the dawning of a horrible American question: Has our once-instrumental violence become merely expressive? Since our purpose no longer has to do with Iraq (no regime change, no democracy, no connection to global terror, not even oil), does it have to do now only with ourselves (maintaining “credibility,” avoiding catastrophic defeat, denying that more than 3,300 US soldiers died in vain)?

American violence is the condition within which Iraqi violence explodes. The removal of American violence may or may not dampen Iraqi violence. But Iraqi violence of various stripes still aims for power, control, or, at minimum, revenge. Iraqi violence is purposeful. Last week puts its hard question to Americans: What is the purpose of ours?

Chris Hayes is the host of All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

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