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The Public Tragedy of Shuttles (But Not Rape)
Dana Williams
This past Saturday I drove to Cleveland to attend a sexual assault conference. On the radio that entire morning (and afternoon and evening and next day...) was news about the space shuttle Columbia’s ill-fated return to the US.

The voices of the many commentators revealed the horror, sadness, and sense of loss that they felt over the death of the 7 astronauts (or maybe just the blow to the American space program). They all remarked about how tragic it was, how devastating this would be to the American people, and how this would “set us back”.

For some reason I felt a bit of disconnect from their statements. It did not hit me in the visceral way it seemed to strike them. Part of me felt bad for not mourning in the same way that the radio personalities did -- or how the American people did -- but the rest of me felt a bit put-on and jerked around.

No, it isn’t because I’m a cold, heartless human being. And I don’t think it’s because I don’t care about human life -- it is tragic that those 7 lives were lost. I’m sure their families will mourn them (and in a more real way than the American public will). And I don’t believe that my less-than-“adequate” response had much to do with what some would call “anti-Americanism” (which I think is nothing of the kind, and would properly be called “thinking”).

The two main reasons I did not feel the same emotions about the shuttle disaster are as follows: 1) the American media creates disasters for the public to be distracted by, thus allowing other tragedies to be ignored or minimized, and 2) the American space program has very little to do with neutral space exploration, but everything to do with ideologically-driven US expansionism.

Regarding the first issue, I must admit that I’m nearly always aghast at what the media chooses to cover and emphasize, especially in this unrepentant fashion. But, even with that said, what makes this loss of human life worse than the dozens who died that day from handgun murders, or from suicides, or from cancer, or from high-speed traffic accidents, of from AIDS, or (as was on my mind at the time) women being murdered by their (so-called) lovers.

Being at this conference the same day as the explosion put everything into a proper context. The same day the shuttle disintegrated in midair, killing seven people, hundreds of women in this country were raped. If this were a sane country, we would expect the headlines to read: “AMERICAN MALES CARRY-OUT SYSTEMATIC RAPING SPREE”. Can you imagine? What might appear to a competent law enforcement apparatus as a decentralized conspiracy of predatorial men, is totally ignored. Honestly, what paper would even consider printing something like the above title? However, the scary thing is, that the headline could appear every single day.

And the newspapers still wouldn’t care.

I know there’s logistical reasons for this. Had all the rapes happened in one room, or in one city even, there would likely be an outcry. But, since no journalist makes it their job to look at the macro-scale issue of rape in this country (let alone a day-by-day basis), it can slip by without notice.

When massive car accidents happen, train derailments, plane crashes, or shooting sprees happen, they do get covered. But, don’t they get covered because they are relatively rare in comparison to all the horrible things that do happen every day?

Regarding the second issue of ideological control, tragedies like the shuttle accident are (like the 9/11 atrocities) treated like nationalized tragedies, instead of human tragedies. As if, the American people should mourn more for the loss of the astronauts lives. By treating the accident as a blow to the American people, the intent is to invest nationalistic adherence to the goals of the US power structure.

It is one thing to want to explore and investigate space for scientific inquiry only (like my father who is an astronomer does). But, it is a completely different thing when all missions are oriented and designed for the purpose of expanding US hegemony into space. Would the US really be spending billions of dollars on NASA to merely learn more about blackholes and quasars? No, it’s all about creating space stations (gas stations to the moon or Mars) and inventing a new Star Wars system, incidentally to be used for global domination.

Gone from the radio discussion was any mention of nuclear material on the shuttle. People in Northern Texas were warned to “stay away” from wreckage, but never did anyone get the sense that it could be due to nuclear radiation, as is the case with many satellites, rockets, and shuttles. The reality of the space program’s usage of nuclear power is a perfect indicator of the callous and indifferent motivations of NASA and the Pentagon. They are not concerned with human life. They just want to dominate the planet, efficiently.

My general sense of dis-ease and frustration at the media coverage comes not from a sense of disregard for the lost human lives, but from disappointment at the media, it’s priorities, the American educational system for allowing nationalism to be so easy, and that trap we can all fall into which allows us to assume that just because we don’t read about it in the paper, don’t hear it on the radio, or don’t see it on the 6 o’clock news, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

(During the 12 minutes it took you to read this two more women in the US have already been raped.)

02/06/03