Monday, March 15, 2004

Silence: golden or tarnished?

A three-minute silence has been held across the UK and European Union for those killed by the Madrid train bombs, reports the BBC.

Terrible as the events in Madrid were, it is worth asking why it was three minutes. There used to be a well-established convention that the dead of the two world wars were accorded two minutes and anyone else got one.

As Patrick West says in this interview (when he can get a word in edgeways):

"He notes that the traditional minute's silence is now becoming 'two minutes, even three and occasionally 10'. 'They are getting longer and we are having more of them, because we want to be seen to care.' He notes that where there was one minute's silence across much of America in 1912 for those who died on the Titanic, EU countries observed three minutes' silence for the victims of 9/11 in 2001, while friends of the murdered British schoolgirl Milly Dowler gathered for a five-minute silence in her memory in 2002. 'Does this mean the 9/11 disaster was three times as bad as the Titanic disaster', he asks, 'or that the horrible death of an innocent girl was five times as tragic?'.

For West, such public displays of grief do not show that we have become more altruistic, but more selfish. The deaths of celebrities and strangers 'serve as an opportunity to (in)articulate our own unhappiness, and, by doing so in public, to form new social ties to replace those that have disappeared'. At a time when 'binding institutions such as the Church, marriage, the family and the nation have withered', says West, we seek new outlets for public connection."

It is also interesting that so many football matches now begin with a minute's silence. This honour used to be reserved for long-retired heroes; now it is seems to take place more often than not. It is as though football fans have to constantly given opportunities to show that they are not so bad really. "The silence was impeccably observed."

It is in the same spirit as the governors of open Borstals used to send their lads out to work in the community.

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