I don't remember what day it was, the name of the village, or who else was in the room. But I remember it being a sober morning. Just after breakfast I took my turn at radio watch. We had a camera set up to watch a village a few miles away. Not quite satellite resolution, the kind that can not only see you sunbathe from geosynchronous orbit, but count every individual hair you missed the last time you shaved your legs. This one just showed us where people were and more or less what they were doing from several miles away.
The village was essentially third world flyover country. There were a few others you could run to in a few hours. But getting to anything like a market was probably several days by donkey cart. On the few occasions we bothered to visit, they were friendly, but asked us to leave them alone. Anyone seen in earshot of an American in uniform was going to spend some time getting yelled at and maybe slapped around by Taliban. And that was for those they didn't think were snitching.
We didn't have the people to protect the village and everyone knew it, so we left them alone for the most part. Kept an eye on them, but left them alone.
Then that morning we saw a crowd on the camera. One of those worth noting in the logs but not worth waking anyone up deals, since they weren't openly carrying weapons or moving tactically or anything. What they did do was lead some poor bastard to a gate on the outskirts of the village and hanged him from it.
Again, nothing we could do about it, some miles away. Oh, if we really wanted to, we probably could have rolled out. And then what? Assuming we didn't hit mines and IED's in the road and have further problems before we even get there. We had nowhere to put him, no way to protect his family, none of that country's authorities anywhere in the same valley.
We didn't even know what he was being strung up for. Maybe someone thought he was spying for us. He might have been gay. He might have raped his chai boy and found the only village that cared enough to do something about it. He might have screwed over someone in a business deal. I'll never know.
No torches, no pitchforks, no celebratory gunfire. No audio, so I couldn't tell you what or if they were shouting. Mostly illiterate farmers, so no way to make signs and no reason to wave them. Just a farming village, late enough in the morning that the animals had been fed and watered. Taking time out of their day to hang one of their own.
The job done, they all just dispersed. There was work to be done and plenty of day left.
By lunch someone had cut him down. I'll say this much for third world shitholes I've visited, they don't fuck around when it comes to taking care of the dead.
A decade later, and it's the mundanity of it all that gets me. A community coming together to lynch one of their own, and putting less effort into it than changing a tire, and about as much further remarks on it.
This is why I get so persnickety, I think, when people blow off steam with threats of violence.
I don't care where you are on the political spectrum. I don't care what your battle cry is.
I care that you're either not noticing or not admitting how close we are to that kind of mundane savagery.
And how easily any one of us could wind up on either end of the rope.
Pratchett might have said it better in Small Gods.
"'I remember, before I was blind, I went to Omnia once. And in your Citadel I saw a crowd stoning a man to death in a pit. Ever seen that?'
'It has to be done,' Brutha mumbled. 'So the soul can be shriven and-'
'Don't know about the soul. Never been that kind of philosopher,' said Didactylos. 'All I know is, it was a horrible sight.'
'The state of the body is not-'
'Oh, I'm not talking about the poor bugger in the pit,' said the philosopher. 'I'm talking about the people throwing the stones. They were sure all right. They were sure it wasn't them in the pit. You could see it in their faces. So glad it wasn't them in the pit that they were throwing just as hard as they could.”
I'm not saying It's necessarily a bad thing to be outraged.
I'm saying the ability to stop before you start picking up rocks is something that should be practiced on the regular. At least as regularly as giving voice to your outrage is, for a start.