Colson: You do what you can, no way to understand | AspenTimes.com

Colson: You do what you can, no way to understand

with John Colson

Will the date of the attacks in Paris, 11/13/15, become as iconic in France as 9/11 is here in the U.S.?

If gauged by the sheer numbers of people killed (129 at the latest count for the Paris attack; 2,977 on 9/11), perhaps not.

That's because France in general, and Paris in particular, has been the scene of so many atrocities over the years that it may be difficult in the future for people to single out one specific attack as the worst ever.

This one, however, already has been characterized as the worst act of violence in France since World War II, which is a pretty heavy statement.

And given the death toll (apparently still rising as of this writing, on Nov. 16) and the more than 300 injured, there is no denying that this one has hurt worse than most.

And while I know there have been whole oceans of text, videos and other commentaries about this horrible attack and its consequences, which might dissuade me from adding my inconsequential droplets of thoughts and questions, the plain fact is that it's all I can think about.

Recommended Stories For You

I first heard about the attacks on Friday afternoon, when I overheard somebody talking about it and thought, "What the hell? What happened in Paris? When? Whom?"

I checked, learned and digested the barbarity of it all, and went on to other things, but not before I had a startled thought: How would I feel if such a nasty turn of events were to happen in a place where I lived and worked?

It's a thought that I had on Sept. 11, 2001, the day after my 50th birthday, and a day marked by at least as much infamy as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 — an assault that left more than 2,000 American military and support personnel dead, and 1,000 or so more wounded.

As last weekend progressed, and the story of the Paris attacks spread around the world, I would stop every now and then and wonder at the utter inhumanity of anyone who believed that such acts could be justified, or could ever be wholly understood, much less forgiven.

And then I would think about Hitler and the estimated 12 million Jews and others he killed during World War II — and about the relatively new estimates from the Washington Holocaust Museum that Hitler's forces may actually have killed as many as 20 million in more than 4,000 death camps and ghettos across Europe.

I thought about the Rwandan genocide that, over about 100 days in 1994, left as many as a million Tsitsi and moderate Hutu tribal members dead at the hands of Hutu extremists.

I thought about the hundreds of children and other victims of random shootings around the U.S. over the past couple of decades.

I thought about a lot of things.

And I understood that there truly is no way that we, the people, can prepare ourselves against this kind of thing, no way to anticipate the feelings generated when senseless slaughter visits a bistro, or a theater, or a sports stadium near you.

Understand, please, that "we, the people" is not meant to include the thousands of people in the intelligence field (here meant non-skeptically, and without irony) who supposedly are keeping their eyes and ears open and attuned to the mutterings and plans of extremists everywhere.

We, the people, can only hope the intelligence community is living up to its name, and that we will receive alerts, or warnings of some sort, if an attack is imminent at any locale we may intend to visit.

We've already seen, of course, what it's like if we don't get the warnings, in the horrific aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the East Coast.

At such a point, we in the hinterlands can hunker down with our family, neighbors and friends and ride it out, or, if circumstances allow for it, we can hustle our butts out the door and down to the scene of the crime to do what we can to help staunch the blood and stem the tide of fear that inevitably come from such attacks.

The images of humans putting themselves on the line for the welfare of fellow humans are among the most enduring and endearing images to come out of the 9/11 terror attacks.

I heard a report, on National Public Radio, about a young German musician who was hanging out in the northern reaches of his homeland when the attackers struck in Paris, and who hit the road to reach the stricken capitol city as quickly as he could.

He knew he wouldn't be much use in helping the victims in the immediate aftermath, he told a reporter.

But at the very least, he continued, he could use his musical talents to inspire, comfort and renew the faith of the victims and those working to help them.

And that's an image I can happily carry into tomorrow.

jbcolson51@gmail.com