Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

How Could Anyone Do That? Expert Gives an Answer

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

How Could Anyone Do That? Expert Gives an Answer

Article excerpt

AFTER THE BOMBER or bombers of the federal building in Oklahoma City have been brought to justice, after their surface motives have been laid bare, a deeper and more disturbing question will remain.

How could any human being, or group of human beings, do this?

James Shucart, a reader in Kirkwood, framed the question eloquently in a letter that reached my desk just hours after the bombing.

"Even the dark motives of revenge and hate (Branch Davidians, Middle Eastern extremists, you-name-the-group) seem somehow to be unrelated to the reality of such an action," wrote Shucart. "How does the blowing up of a building and killing a lot of innocent children advance a cause or purpose?"

The chilling answer, says Dr. Vamik Volkan, an expert on the psychology of terrorism, lies buried in the heart of a broken child. Terrorists are simply saying, "Notice me. I exist."

"Notice me," says the IRA member, dandling his infant son on his knee while gloating over the murder of a mother and two children.

"Notice me," says the Hamas guerrilla who has blown up a bus full of Israeli soldiers in Gaza.

"Notice me," says the Serbian sniper, picking off a woman carrying food to her starving family.

"Notice me," says the Oklahoma bomber, high on rage and death.

Even if their goals are clearly defined, and many are not, most terrorists know their goals will not be realized. But fueled by deep-seated rage, feelings of impotence, a lack of impulse control and a group mentality that eliminates guilt, the need to terrorize The Other cannot be curbed. Nor, in cases like the Oklahoma bombing, can they be predicted, Volkan said.

A psychoanalyst by training, Volkan has spent the better part of his 62 years examining the psychological motivations of individuals and ethnic groups that embrace terrorism. He is a tall, energetic man with snowy curls, a neatly trimmed mustache and mirthful eyes the color of sea glass. Volkan was in St. Louis Friday to speak on racism and violence in the United States. He delivered the first Paul A. Dewald Lecture Friday night at the Ethical Society, sponsored by the Psychoanalytic Foundation of St. …

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