Why do we care more about a life lost in Boston than a life lost in Iraq?

Residents will never feel safe again

This post was first published on The Drum and has been republished with full permission.


It was a bad day for the violent, senseless killing of innocent people.

In Boston, as you will have seen, three people died after a pair of bombs exploded near the finish line of the city’s legendary marathon. More than 100 have been injured, some with life-threatening severity.

In Iraq, around 50 people died in a series of attacks, most of them involving car bombs. About 300 people were injured.

Both were events of evil intent and ruthless execution, designed to kill and maim; the Boston bombs in a crowded public space, the Iraq bombs in the high traffic of morning rush hour.

Days down the track, the local coverage of the Boston bombings continues to nudge at saturation … a well-trod media path that flows seamlessly from shock to surprised horror to first rattled reactions, through emerging detail to consequence, blame and retribution.

At very few points along the way is the overwhelming flood of content committed to air, screen and print backed up by a proportional flow of fact. Most of the stuff we see and read will be airy guesswork, great wads of repetitive padding around a central core of avid voyeuristic interest, all presented without the normal news-sustaining mechanism of observable evidence.


The point on the disproportionality of Australian response to Boston and Iraq is simple and obvious.

A death is a death. All dismembered bodies suffer varying degrees of appallingly identical agony … and yet only one of these events dominates our media-fed consciousness; only one set of the dead and wounded will have become fixtures in the popular consciousness by week’s end.

But we tend not speak of this, fail to wonder why violent death through an act of terror is so intrinsically, almost morbidly, interesting when it occurs in America – in the family, if you like – and so remotely sterile and stripped of its common humanity when it strikes with idle inevitability in the streets of Iraq.

ABC News breakfast presenter Virginia Trioli copped flak when she addressed that very disproportional dichotomy on Tuesday morning.

The contrast of course with what goes on in, I mentioned Iraq in passing just before, what goes on there and also in Afghanistan on a weekly basis has not been lost on many people this morning.

We did report this morning of course that there were a series of bomb attacks overnight in Iraq and it’s important to mention that again, 37 people dead and more than 270 others were wounded.

Several cities were hit in those bomb blasts, the capital Baghdad, Kirkuk in the North and Nasiriyah in the South. They were coordinated attacks according to police there during the morning rush hour and they mainly involved car bombs.

That’s the contrast that we always have on a day like today when it seems to many where we are overly focusing on what happens to rich white people in the West, versus what happens on a daily basis in those countries.

Andrew Bolt was quick to attack:

ABC television host Virginia Trioli, a rich white person in the West, interrupts her station’s non-stop coverage of the Boston Marathon explosion to wish it were otherwise.

Was it “racist”, as Bolt’s headline and the subsequent wash of commentary suggested, “to worry about people much like our own being blown up”?


Well no, but Trioli’s moment of unease raises a necessary question. We should wonder how it is – if media profile can be an indication of worth – that we accord such differing values to different human lives.

The obvious answer is that a bomb blast in Boston is a shock. In Iraq it is a commonplace. The more disturbing but no less obvious answer is that we instinctively put a greater value on familiar American lives; that subtly, the patina of violent death in the world’s war-torn places diminishes each individual tragedy.

Soon we will know the names of the Boston dead, the detail of their lives. We have already picked apart every inch of the scene, studied the first instantly transmitted videos, the image galleries of blood and scattered clothing.


From Iraq we know only the bald fact that an electoral process is being sabotaged through bombings, shootings and worse.

That the chaos in that country, as in others, so closely linked to Western interests and interventions continues. But we know this almost in abstract; a vision of horror held at arm’s length.

Somehow these deaths are stripped of the elements of empathy and surprise that would propel them – like their kindred departed spirits in Boston – into the eager vacuums of our news cycles.

You might wonder when Australia, geographically remote, apparently dispassionate, might summon the independent interest to treat all these events on their simple merits.

The easy global flow of information gives us the opportunity, but still the gatekeepers of mass media seem tied down to the old ideas of shared cultural values, the loose empire of the wealthy and the white.

The sad consequence is surely that the routinely forgettable deaths of the constantly embattled world will go on until they each resonate as loudly as any tragedy closer to our tribal home.

As I write, we don’t know who was behind the Boston bombing, but the search for sense and logic after other acts of terror has raised the claim that the perpetrators “hate our freedom”. If that wasn’t instrumental in this attack, it may well be in the next, and in truth it might be that they hate only our freedom from the constant shadow of violent death; a deadly resentment.

Finding a mutual respect for shared existence across the boundaries of geography, race, religion and class might also help us find peace. Giving each death its due would be a start.

Green has been a journalist for more than 25 years. He has worked for a range of newspapers. He is a former editor of Crikey and was the founding editor of ABC online’s opinion portal The Drum. He now presents Sunday Extra on Radio National. This post was first published on The Drum and has been republished with full permission.