Twenty years ago there was a movie called To Die For in which Nicole Kidman starred as an aspiring TV anchor who hires three teenagers (one of them played by a young Joaquin Phoenix) to kill her loving husband when he kindly asks her to take time off from her job as a weather girl. It became a cult hit that most people remember fondly but I never cared for it. The twists and turns always struck me as too absurd, even for a black comedy, but then again I’m the guy who thought Gone Girl was ridiculous from the outset and became only more so as it droned on and on and, even as we speak, on some more somewhere else.
Still, I couldn’t help but think about To Die For (Note: I refuse to consider Gone Girl for even one more second) in light of our latest terrorist attacks last week in Paris where 12 people were gunned down at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. As best as we can figure this was because Charlie published a series of cartoons that depicted said killers’ historical religious leader in offensive and disrespectful ways. Three of the killers are now dead after murdering eight more citizens and the fourth – the girlfriend of one of the deceased – is the subject of an international man, er woman, hunt and, given that, her time on earth seems limited.
Imminent death clearly didn’t bother the above mentioned quartet – they are believed to have gone to special camps that give you training in this sort of thing with the full expectation that they would eventually die in a blaze of glory but for a higher cause. Hmm, I thought, and then asked myself – what would you DIE FOR???
As it turns out, not much. Oh, certainly if someone were holding up a gun to the Significant Other, a family member or friend I adored, or perhaps even some passing stranger who looked innocent enough, I’d likely step in during the heat of the moment to thwart the bad guy. I do that weekly against the criminals who cut me off on the road or try to take my parking space, so clearly that’s not too big of a leap to make. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Terrorist acts are planned in the name of an idea and the people involved clearly know they will likely die. So again I ask myself – what would you DIE FOR, Chair?
As it turns out – uh, nothing. No, really. Not anything. Nada. Blank comes to mind. I’m a pretty principled guy but the idea of putting myself in mortal danger for a belief instead of a loved one is not going to happen. Clearly, I would not have made a good soldier – for this and so many other reasons. And before you go there, I’m going to just say upfront don’t throw Hitler and World War II into the conversation. That was basically about stopping a madman taking over the world.
Politicians and religious zealots of all sorts like to cloak violence in terms of ideas and goals and extreme needs and defenses. But the instigators of most wars can’t cite direct dire need on their doorsteps as the real reason to be killed or to kill. They, meaning many of us, can argue a good case in the name of violent death and destruction but as a former high school debate team member who had a pretty good score card I can assure you that just because you win an argument on your presentation of “facts” does that mean you’re correct. See exhibit “A” below, if you still don’t believe.
Religious beliefs and the distortion thereof is a sticky subject for public and even private consumption. I never quite understood why. Perhaps this is because I am not religious even though I consider myself Jewish. How can this be? Well, not everything is logical but the best I can figure is that it has something to do with my love of chicken, arguing, guilt, Barbra Streisand, and deli food. And even though I have claimed in my life that I would kill over any one of them, I confess now to meaning it in only the most metaphorical of ways – even at the times when I proclaimed that any one of them were my Gods.
So you can see why I don’t get the outrage over the desecration of a religious leader or even patriotic symbols like, dare I say it, the American flag. Really? Yes. These are ideas, things. Paint a swastika on my door and I’ll be outraged and offended. Continually make AIDS jokes as Eddie Murphy did for a time back in the eighties and I will do my best to never see one of your movies again. But murder and death – really? Are you kidding?
It is easy to chalk up those committing acts of terror as insane, demented and otherwise crazy. Most certainly, there are those that fit into those categories. But just as certainly there are any number of other perpetrators and silent supporters of these acts who have reasoned out their positions in rational ways that make a certain kind of intellectual sense. A healthy percentage of these have been used through history to start wars (Note: The Crusades, anyone?) and other international conflicts (Second Note: How about most of the conflicts in the Middle East?). Others have been used to strong-arm those weaker and unarmed into doing what we want them to do on a smaller scale. (Third Note: See the movie Selma).
But it’s A LOT easier to believe in non-violence – or perhaps in all of your minds, cowardice – when you do not believe in Heaven, Hell or Reincarnation. While it would be appealing to spend my life up above eating pizza and listening to Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler records with my S.O., who would clearly also want to sandwich in episodes of Saturday Night Live and Big Bang Theory – but hey, who said there is no compromise in heaven – I just don’t think this is realistic. So here I sit, cynic that I am, wondering: you’re going to risk your life over a cartoon, or some land, or for a natural resource, or for revenge? Really? This of course does not account for the various leaders and zealots who claim to be believers (Note: Not BELIEBERS) but send people to do all of the dirty work for them. Meaning former Vice-president Dick Cheney never served a single day in the military and in fact received not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE military deferments. Yes, it’s a whole other set of mass destruction when it is not your personal body that is a primary weapon of said mass destruction.
None of this is to mean that there is not a principle in this world worth fighting for. But dying for and killing for unless you under direct threat – especially when you believe this is the ONE and ONLY stop? I’m not sure. And before you call me an immoral coward consider this – if no one in the world believed in Heaven, Hell, Reincarnation or any sort of After-Life at all, how many terrorists attacks, real wars or random acts of violence do you really believe we’d have? Would there be less or more than are already occurring on any given day? Imagine a world where we’d be forced to truly believe this was THE LAST STOP.
Then ask yourself, if they were taking volunteers, what would you, DIE FOR? But only before asking yourself, what do you want to – LIVE FOR?