Russell Jacoby: The Terror From Within

Roundup: Historians' Take

Russell Jacoby, a historian at the University of California, Los Angeles, is the author of “Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence From Cain and Abel to the Present.”

“ISN’T it kind of scary that one man could wreak this kind of hell?” Timothy J. McVeigh said of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people. Indeed, it is.

Automatic weapons and potent bombs allow the deranged and begrudged to slaughter scores of innocents in mere seconds. Witness the shootings at the University of Texas in 1966 (14 killed), Columbine High School in 1999 (13 killed), Virginia Tech in 2007 (32 killed), or, for those with a sense of history, see Bath School disaster of 1927 in which an angry school board member blew up 38 children and 6 adults in Michigan. The recent massacre in Norway fits this nefarious pattern, although in number of victims it eclipses all of its antecedents except Oklahoma City.

It is not only the firepower available to the unhinged that is scary. Our inability to confront a simple but unacknowledged truth is equally troubling. Most threats and violence tend to emerge from within a society, not from outside it. John F. Kennedy, Anwar el-Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin were all assassinated by their fellow countrymen. Cautious citizens may push for better street lighting, but they have more to fear from a spouse, ex-spouse, friend or co-worker than from a stranger on the street....

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