Monday, February 9, 2009

We Can All Help

The sheer scale of the bushfire disaster in Victoria is enough in itself to leave a person speechless. We have seen the Prime Minister struggle to comfort victims, and the Premier of Victoria break down with emotion. The loss of life and the destruction of property have been devastating, and the raging violence of the fires inspires a level of horror that is difficult to confront. Like any natural disaster, the impact is both widely and deeply felt. But what is truly horrifying is the idea that not one, but possibly several of the fires have been deliberately lit.

Psychologists and other experts will have their explanations of how a mind might work in such a way as to be capable of this evil, but most of us just can’t contemplate such a thing. People are capable of all kinds of stupidity, but this goes beyond stupidity. It can only be the work of a defective mind which has somehow developed with some crucial component missing. Like the idiots who throw rocks from overpasses at moving traffic, these are people who behave in a way which is less than human.

Most forms of crime have some sort of motivation that the rest of us can at least understand, even if we disagree with it. Murders can be motivated by greed, or revenge, or fear. Theft, assault, even rape, we can comprehend in one way or another. But deliberately starting bushfires has no rational explanation. It has been explained to me that this type of behavior is a way of demonstrating power, sometimes associated with characters who feel they have none. Obviously, it is an illusion of power rather than real power, but sadly the tragic results are all too real.

Some are referring to arsonists as mass murderers, others as terrorists, and it’s a choice of words which is not too extreme. While police in Victoria are investigating the causes of these fires, the expectation is that anyone found to be responsible will be charged with murder. That may or may not be appropriate depending on the circumstances, but even if someone has started a fire which accidently got out of hand the charge needs to be sufficiently serious to reflect the enormity of the consequences.

At the same time, if there is anything that is good to come out of such tragedy it is the simple fact that once again, in the face of disaster, Australians will put aside their differences and do whatever it takes to help. It is the Australian way, a part of the national character and one of the values we cherish most. We look after our mates.

The Australian Red Cross is conducting the official appeal in conjunction with the Victorian government. The big banks are helping, the government is chipping in, and the Salvos, as always, are out there too. No doubt, thousands of other organizations, businesses, community groups, and individuals will also do anything and everything they can. If you want to help you can call the Red Cross on 1800 811 700.

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