A mini essay

25 August 1998
Having recently read The Grapes of Wrath, I have a new appreciation for the dignity of the ordinary person. Two newspaper articles this week have started me thinking.

Earlier this week I read an article in a London paper that spoke of the threat posed by train vandals. Unlike the usual lark of spray painting upon the sides of trains, the havoc wreaked by these vandals had an almost inhuman aspect to it. The pranks they described were invariably dangerous, whether it was placing heavy objects upon the tracks, throwing rocks from overhead bridges, or more chillingly, hanging rocks from cables off bridges at train window height.

Coincidentally, the Sydney Morning Herald today reports that police have arrested 2 men and 2 youths in Sydney for the murder of a truck driver. The driver was killed instantly when a rock crashed through his window as he drove under a bridge, from which the rock was dropped. From what I can tell, the problems in the UK are not directly related with this incident in Australia.

Reading the London report, I was left feeling dismayed that a society would tolerate this. True, the authorities are doing their best to catch those responsible, but this type of behaviour is somehow evil because of the violent intentions. Raising the topic in the media should be enough to shame those who partake in such activities. Our reaction to this type of behaviour should cut through our sex, politics and education, and come straight from the heart. Our humanity should abhor this act. We have seen a similar reaction from all sides of the Irish troubles in the past week as all key parties have expressed their anger at the Omagh bombing. In that case, the "real IRA" have been forced to back down from their pathetic rhetoric in the face of overwhelming public hatred of their actions. I suspect any Irish group contemplating any further terrorist activity have realised that such acts of defiance are completely unacceptable to all corners of their society. It is that societal pressure that will prevent further bombings, not the police or armed forces.

So what about the incident in Australia? What of that truck driver, who leaves behind a widow and two children? The reporting of this story has focussed on the human aspect: the distraught widow and the confused children who are too young to understand what has happened.

The reaction from the community bears similarities to the Omagh reaction, as different as they might initially seem. In this case, the media first reported the death within the depths of the paper. They then realised that public reaction to this would be strong, and a follow up piece on the following day appeared on the front page (some might call that opportunism - I feel it's appropriate that something like this is shouted about). Upon appearing in court, the incomprehensibility of the crime was expressed by the magistrate as he decided to deny any bail application, even when the mother of one of the (alleged) perpetrators offered her house as security. The magistrate said simply "I am concerned that someone with such a mental capacity would have much consideration for his mother's house". He speaks for the community as well as himself. I doubt that any sentence would be a more effective deterrent than the anger which he has added his voice to.

Is that where this tale is left? Is it just a tale of sorrow, anger and harsh justice? No, we see the face of human dignity here, expressed not through editorials or glaring headlines but by the widow of the dead driver as she spoke of the support she had felt from the whole community, saying "it has restored my faith in humanity after everything that has happened". Her reaction to news that a convoy of trucks will form a guard of honour for the funeral? There were echoes of both The Grapes of Wrath and it's contemporary Australian counterpart The Castle (a film which ultimately celebrates the dignity of the ordinary person, albeit in a satirical context) when she said "We'll send him out in style". I find something reassuring in that.

© David Gilliver 1998

Feedback welcomed: david@gilliver.net

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