Some numerical perspective

Hilzoy has a terrific post up about the latest hostilities between Israel and Palestine, and I'm only going to add this as perspective to this really salient point that she's made.

I imagine what people on both sides are thinking is something more like: do you expect us to just sit here and take it? Do you expect us to do nothing? To which my answer is: no, I expect you to try to figure out what has some prospect of actually making things better. Killing people out of anger, frustration, and the sense that you have to do something is just wrong.
I agree wholeheartedly, but to give a sense of just how much killing has happened in just this latest attack by the Israelis, look at the numbers this way. There are nearly 300 reported dead in Palestine out of a total population of about 2.6 million, which is just over 0.01% of the population. That same percentage of the population in the US would be about 30,000 people, if I've done my math correctly (which is never a certainty), or the size of a small town like the ones I grew up in.

Now remember--as a nation, we lost our collective minds when an attack took the lives of ten percent of that number in September of 2001. We wound up in two wars, one that was sold to us under false pretenses, and re-elected the guy who lied us into it, even though we knew he was incompetent, because as a group, we lost it after a single attack that killed one tenth as large a group as the Palestinians lost in the last couple of days. We've managed to restore some part of our sanity because we weren't being barraged with repeated shocks every day, every week, every year. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have that luxury, because there are too many people vested in keeping the violence going. There's too much power at stake.

It's easy to sit back from a safe vantage point and make grand pronouncements about who's right and who's wrong and that one group or another deserves to be retaliated against for their actions. The reality is far more complicated than that. Even if we were able to point back to some initiator, to some person or group and say "you are responsible for this," it wouldn't matter at this point. There are too many grievances committed by too many people--all are to blame.

And the ones in the worst situation here are those who see the senselessness of the violence, the ones of whom Hilzoy speaks when she writes "I expect you to try to figure out what has some prospect of actually making things better." They're out there, and they're trying, but the forces arrayed against them are mighty, and without compunction and without conscience, regardless of which side they're on.

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