- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 13, 2002

The French writer and surrealist Andre Gide has a character in a novel toy with the idea then follow through and push a stranger out of a moving train. It's a random, senseless killing that reminded me of the recent shootings in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.
The way CNN first described it on its Web site that Thursday afternoon, it was both calculated and random. "Police hunted a very calculating killer or killers on Thursday who they believe shot to death three men and two women in apparently random separate incidents, all outside, over a period of 15 hours in affluent Montgomery County, a Washington suburb."
It was the combination and irony of blending the words "random" and "calculated" that struck me. How something can be both random and calculated strains the oxymoronic.
Seen through the cross hairs of the marksman's high-powered rifle, that sight beholds a microcosmic view of our world as well as a distant one. Why? Because we live in a world, once again, where so much of everything is chance.
We're staring back into the early part of the last century. A world of Dada. A movement that preceded surrealism at the outset of World War I whose philosophy was that everything is chance. The Dada movement in art and literature also challenged the thinking and morality of the time through nihilistic works and outrageous behavior.
And what started much of that notion of chance? Well, how about when a German U-boat sunk a Cunard passenger liner, the Lusitania, in the Irish Sea in 1915 with great loss of innocent life? Its sinking caused worldwide anger. Sound familiar?
Gide wrote that short novel around the same time. From that era on, the world has never been the same.
At this point, there's no rhyme or reason for why anyone would gun down innocent people who were going about their daily lives. And, I can bet there never will be any rational explanation.
Futhermore, because the very definition of terrorism is that you don't know when it will strike, how it will strike, where or when, this recent barbarity will add further debate over terror precautions in an already wary country.
Why would anyone take out James D. Martin who, while heading home, stopped at the Shoppers Food Warehouse? Or, Sonny Buchanan, who was mowing the lawn? Premkumar Walekar, who happened to stop at a Mobil gas station? Sarah Ramos, a cleaning woman sitting on a bench? Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera,who was vacuuming her Dodge? Or 72-year-old Pascal Charlot of Washington and the unidentified woman shot in the back in Virginia?
On Monday morning, the victim was an innocent kid on his way to school. Then another on Wednesday night, Dean Meyers, was killed as he stopped for gas in Manassas. Va. And on Friday morning a sniper's bullet killed another gas station patron in Fredericksburg, Va.
There is no reason for these shootings and the tragic deaths that followed. There never will be.
Through CNN and the like, the wider world will hear about the events of the last week. The world also still lives with the hangover left by the last century, because it lives with the terrifying prospect of mass destruction at any given instant.
Today's weapons may be bigger and smarter. But when your loved one is dead, it doesn't matter how. They're gone, and you hurt.
Compared to the bombing of cities, the past week's killings are what the English playwright Edward Bond once called "a negligible atrocity."
But just as a short story can be more penetrating than an epic novel, just as a single still photo can be more profound than a 3-hour movie, last week's killings halted us in our most mundane daily routines and turned them into a big bad dream. Maybe it's because those killed were doing the mundane at the time, things we would be doing, that it became a surrealistic nightmare. A pointless act of senseless violence.
We were reminded, once again, of the terrifying fear of knowing that nowhere can we be safe. Whether in a skyscraper or sitting on a park bench.

Abe Novick is senior vice president of Eisner Communications in Baltimore.


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