Living with evil in the world: some thoughts on Manchester, England


It is Tuesday, May 23, 2017. I am on Golders Green road in London. Golders Green Road a lively, eccentric, colorful, street in a historic Jewish neighborhood in London. In walking around this London neighborhood, I had memories of the where I was raised in Saint Louis, Missouri, off Lemp and Arsenal Streets, a neighborhood of Germans, Hungarians, Poles and Irish working class families of different faiths in the early 1960s. We were two blocks from the massive Anheiser Busch brewery, which I walked through each day, on the way to Saint Agatha's, my school for kindegarten and first grade. The local stores, the local restaurants, the corner food store, and Gus' Pretzels, where my father sold preztels twenty years before, still stood, and was part of my lively childhood in the ealy 1960s. I recall finding bottles and selling them to the grocer, for a small bag of candy. My mother was not amused that I was crossing the big street (always at lights) to go to the corner market.

But, I have digressed.

On Golder's Green Road, I love the sounds of the voices, with different accents, and different languages. I love the different types of Kosher food, from Japanese to Chinese, to Lebanese. I love the kids, in their school outfits, being kids, in a neighborhood where they feel safe, where they see their uncles, aunts, cousins and grand parents on a daily basis. Walking through small markets for fresh vegtables, a bakery, and a butcher shop, all add to the flavor of the neighborhood. That was my life as a kid, and I treasured those experiences. I love the ability, for many, to, sit down at the end of the day, and have a coffee or a beer. So many of those things we miss each and every day in life in the United States.

Last night, around midnight, I was working outside at the Express Cafe, as a young man told his friends that an explosion was heard in Manchester. That is how I heard about the Manchester explosion.

This piece is about living with evil in the modern world.

During the second World War, many of neigborhoods around the docks of London were bombed incessantly. The Heinkel bombers used the flames from the docks on their long flights from occupied France as guidance for the German bomber crews. The way that normal Londonners protested the Fascists was to live their daily lives as normal as they could. If one walks through Saint Katherines Way, or journeys across the Tower Bridge to Butler Wharf, one can see the burn marks from seventy-seven years ago.

In 1996, an IRA bomb was detonated, and injured over one hundred people in the main shopping center in the center of Manchester. In response, the city of Manchester went on with their collective lives, as the pure act of living is an act of defiance in such evil circumstances.

The past two years, I have been fortunate to spend nearly a week walking around Manchester, writing about the Great City Games and Great Run Manchester. Last year, I went into the crowd and took video, asking people about the city of Manchester, the race and City Games and living in the city. A fun, colorful, eccentric crowd. A crowd of ten to fifteen thousand viewed the City Games, even in cold and rainy weather. The events, put on by Great Run Company, are part of the finest series of major running events in the UK.

This year, the Pre Classic conficts with the Great Run, so I had to decline visiting Manchester. But, I found myself in London, covering the Highgate 10k Night of 10,000 PBs. A wonderful event at Hampstead Heath, on Saturday night, with five thousand British athletic fans of all ages enjoying runners completing 25 laps of the Hampstead Heath track in fine weather.

I had heard about the explosion in Manchester as I was writing outside at the Express cafe, enjoying the cool wind, and the wonderful weather on Monday night. But, for all of us, the wonderful Monday evening changed around 11 pm London time. I paid my bill, and headed back to my room, to check BBC.

I began watching the BBC report just after midnight. My stomach fell as I heard the numbers go up on the dead and injured. The videos from iphones of the explosion, and the, the 20,000 fans exiting the Arena in a panic were emotional. Then, it hit me. This was an Ariane Grande concert. The music star attracts a very positive young female crowd. For many, it is their first concert, the first time that they get to see someone that they lipsynch her songs, someone who understands them, and someone who takes such fashion risks.

Nineteen dead and 50 injured was how BBC reported the explosion.

In these circumstances, it is the calculation and obvious planning that makes this pure evil. For a group that professes religious beliefs, there was religion used, perhaps, to rationalize actions, but the plan was, it seems, to destroy and maim a new generation of women, and turn neighbor on neighbor in Manchester. In the U.S., I was told, that the news, six hours earlier, was even more traumatic.

Some thoughts...

Why is this done? Caleb Carr is trained as a historian. A decade ago, he wrote a book on terrorist movements, and noted, that in all cases, the terrorist groups would cause damage, but in no cases did they win for their cause. Barbara Tuchmann, the amazing historian who wrote The Proud Tower (about the US becomng a global power) and The Guns of August (about the origins of WW1), noted, in another book, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, about the march of war machines. In The March of Folly, the finest historic writer of her generation noted that, man, from the time he could scratch on the wall of prehistoric caves, had coveted neighbor's land, goods and communities, and had not looked, seriously, at alternatives to war.

Manchester, England is a wonderfully diverse community in Northern England. It has, like all cities of its size, its issues, but, the suicide bomber who apparently choose the Ariana Grande concert to unleash his damage found something to destroy. This was calculated evil.

What was it about Manchester, England that was both focus and example of the hatred this person, and his apparent supporters, had for the community? Why did the suicide bomber choose a concert full of young woman, who were enjoying a night of dancing, singing and fun with friends to attack?

We may never know.

The truth is this. All major religions have been used as rationalization for human motives, senseless wars, imprisoning non combattants, and the destruction of cities and countries. This is nothing new in human history. Remember, while most of Europe was at peace from 1936-1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany tested their tactics and armorments on the nation of Spain during their Civil War. Saturation bombing was practiced on the Basque city of Guernica. Pablo Picasso was so disgusted, and moved by the senseless bombing, that he painted the brooding, nightmarish 'Guernica', in black and white, not hiding any of the brutality.

Let's get back to Manchester.

The bombing of Manchester is an example of evil in modern life. This is not a religious attribute, this is a humanist attribute. It is said that, the nightly announcement on the CBS evening news of the U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam that day, during the Vietnam War, by Walter Cronkite, inflamed many Americans to loose faith in the war in Vietnam. Killing children will put them on global news, and will feature in social media, spreading fear of terror now and in the future.

Modern terrorists use social media, and are apt at making film and gruesome testimonials to death to put fear in non combattants. The truth is, in the modern world, there is no place "behind the lines". The goal is to terrify and control.

But, so far, it seems that while he caused carnage, was he truly successful?

The city of Manchester did not collapse after the bombing. Taxi drivers turned off their meters to get people home. Locals came out and provided water, and housing for people. A moment of silence was held today, Tuesday, May 23. This coming weekend, 40,000 runners will run the Great Run 10k, and the CityGames may be held, in testement to the resiliance of this community. The upcoming events will have to be decided, depending on safety for the people involved. That is a fact of modern life.

The residue of such events is long lasting.

I recall the Boston Bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon. It is now nealry four years later, and I remember the time. I have nightmeres still, knowing what could have happened. I was a few blocks away, as I heard the two thuds, and then, saw them on the computer screen. Our lives are just not the same after such terror.

And they will not be the same for those in Manchester, as they are in not Paris, Saint Petersburg, New York, London, Moscow, and Istanbul, plus other nations and cities who have been attacked. Yet, in all those cities, good people live, work, love and enjoy their family and friends. And that is how evil is conquered. One kind remark, one smile at someone lost, one time helping a person you do not know, buying a cup of needed coffee or helping with the final dollar in the supermarket line. That is how we must live each and every day.

Evil exists. Simple thing to say, not sure how to grapple with it.

For the living, in honor of those fallen, we must live our lives with purpose. We must answer the children's questions that no one has all of the answers. But, we do need to live.

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