How much does history account for our hate?

In the wake of the massacre in Norway last year, there has been a Scandinavian soul searching that is really moving, especially for someone (me) who lived in the wreckage of the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s and then around New York City after September 11 and who now cringes at all this American celebration of death, whether it be Bin Ladin or Qaddafi.

Dagens Nyheter recently ran a feature about Bud Welch, an Oklahoman who lost his daughter in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings.  The headline is “My road away from hate was a long one” and he is now a death penalty opponent and featured in places like the Forgiveness Project. 

I was struck by one quote from the DN story, about why Scandinavians have reacted so differently than Americans to terrorism (you know, with openness and sorrow instead of war).

I’ve wondered about that question. Few in the United States have the attitude that seems to characterize many of the victims in Norway. Maybe it is that American culture is so impacted by hate. We have experienced a civil war, and many struggled against the civil rights movement.

I wrote in the Christian Science Monitor over the summer about the bliss that comes from a Swedish forest that has known no war for 200 years. (Yes, I am well aware of all the Swedish hypocrises on this – Sweden in World War II is not a fun story – but I’m talking about the effect, not the process.) Is that the answer?  Has the United States simply seen too much violence, whether it be slavery, war, the Wild West, or the war on terror?

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2 thoughts on “How much does history account for our hate?

  1. To answer your last question: I think so. And I think one important aspect of that is that in a traditionally Swedish family there are very few stories about war and violence. Very few men, the grandfathers, fathers, uncles, brothers, sons, and grandsons, are absent due to war. When I moved to the US and started getting to know people I was struck by how war, any war, is always present. Scratch the surface of any family, and it’s right there.

  2. You are so right. I had a grandfather in World War II, a great-grandfather in World War I, and lots of near miss stories about the Vietnam draft, about riots in Detroit and LA. And then I lived near New York on 9/11, have worked with homeless Vietnam vets, wrote a lot about Iraq (remotely). And I come from a family with few military ties … But the wars are always there.

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