Bits and Pieces

Sunday, November 14, 2004


I got thinking a few weeks ago about a Brit named Harold Shipman. Most of you will know him as Dr. Shipman, possibly the most prolific serial killer in history.

Shipman practiced medicine in a clinic a few miles from my home, in the town of Hyde, Cheshire. He used to live 5 minutes from my house, on the street an old school friend of mine lives. He was the family doctor to several of my friends. Dr. Shipman was convicted of the murder of 15 women between 1995 and 1998, and is believed to have killed at least 215 since 1975. He hung himself in prison in January of this year.

I remember the morning after his suicide was announced. As I passed his surgery on the way to work I noticed that someone had spray painted the word 'justice' on the shutters. The street was filled with cameras and reporters. The feeling in the town was more of frustration than relief, frustration that such a monster should be allowed to slip away peacefully in a cell. That he would never be forced to live with what he had done. The hate the town felt towards Shipman was unimaginable. If each of the victims left behind maybe 5 close relatives, that's 1000 people who lost a mother, an aunt or a grandmother. Nobody in Hyde was left unaffected.

Shipman had 4 children, a daughter and 3 sons. The two youngest attended secondary school a couple on miles from my house. Their first 20 years were normal. They played football with their friends, drank cheap beer on a Friday night in the streets of Stalybridge (after being turned away from the bars). They met girls - and if they were anything like the rest of us, got rejected by most.

For the first 20 years of their lives, these kids had a loving father- a pillar of society, a succesful professional. On his arrest and conviction they became the spawn of a reviled murderer, among the most hated men in the country. On the day their fatherdied the nation rejoiced. Wherever they turned they saw headlines celebrating his death. He was a man who had murdered hundreds, but he was still their dad. I can't imagine how they felt on that day, as their friends and acquaintances cheered his death. Their grief must have been lonely. When that occurred to me I suddenly felt bad for smiling when I saw the headline.

I got the same feeling when I read of the death of 1000 insurgents in Fallujah. For us, these deaths have become causes for celebration. We've been pushed to the point at which the thought of 1000 dead men is good news to us. Don't get me wrong - I'm as glad as anyone to see 1000 less terrorists on the planet, and you didn't see me at any peace marches. It's just the gloating that gets to me. Something deep down tells me we shouldn't be so damned proud of ourselves.

That's all the holier-than-thou I have for the moment.
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