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The Shuttle Tragedy and The Three Cs of Victimization
by Patrick Bryson
16 February 2003

Genuine sorrow, coupled with respect and compassion are national traits worthy of possessing. But sitting on a psychiatrist's couch or shivering in the arms of a liberal social worker using words like "coping," "closure," and "consciousness" is just acting like we're all victims.

Wreckage from the space shuttle Columbia had barely hit the ground in Texas when a local radio station did a story about high school students who had designed an experiment that went up in the shuttle.

Counselors would be brought in, the report said, to help the kids express and deal with their grief.

“I want to make sure each and every one of them is coping as best they can,” said one teacher. “We want to make sure that as time goes on they will receive closure.”

(Is there a high school anywhere in American that didn’t have an experiment on Columbia?)

That news report was followed by a call-in show.

“I’m sitting by my radio in tears,” said one 29-year-old man. “I just don’t know what to do. I’m suppose to go to work later, but I don’t think I can.”
The loss of the space shuttle has brought certain words back into our vocabulary. Words like “coping,” “closure,” and “consciousness.”

They appear in this order: The horrible shuttle disaster came to the American “consciousness.” Now we must look into our accumulated Americans souls and start “coping” and after we’ve coped for a significant period of time, we must seek “closure.”

These are the three Cs of American self-pity. It’s as if all Americans will end up on a psychiatrist’s couch or shivering in the arms of a liberal social worker over this tragedy.

No true American could helped but be moved the loss of the seven astronauts on Colombia. Even George Bush had tears in his eyes when he addressed the nation after the tragedy. They were fathers, mothers, husbands, sons and daughters. It’s no exaggeration to call them “heroes.” It’s certainly not out of line to feel kinship for the families left at home, to worry about their children, to want to remove the grief of their parents, and to have desires to make everything right in the lives of those left behind.

Those are normal emotions, even for a stranger far removed from the tragedy.
Let’s not mistake an understandable sense of national grief for something more self-centered, however. After September 11th Americans went beyond the threshold of national sorrow and into the realm of whiney victims. It seems we’re on the threshold of doing it again.

The truth is that few of us knew the astronauts. We knew of them, we respected them, we appreciated their work and their journeys in our behalf, but we never sat in quiet conversations with them. We didn’t exchange the little spoken confidences that family members express to each other or that friends express to friends. We don’t have a lifetime of memories, of trials and joys. We don’t share intimate knowledge of their strengths, weaknesses, fears and loves.

We didn’t even work in the same building with them and run into them in the can once in a while. We weren’t members of their social circle.

As distant observers, we simply cannot lay claim to the type of mourning experienced by family, friends and even co-workers. There is a difference between public mourning and private mourning. Many Americans don’t seem to grasp the difference.

It’s interesting to note that a few days before the shuttle went down four soldiers were killed in Afghanistan when their helicopter crashed. These four gave their lives in the service of their country. They, like the astronauts, died when their government-funded flying machine broke. They were as much the heroes as the astronauts, but where is our mourning?

Why are the shuttle astronauts more deserving? Or have we just chosen the shuttle deaths as the excuse for a national weeping?

If we’re not indulging ourselves in mourning, we’re stressing about how this tragedy will impact our lives, our worries and our stresses.

All over the country headlines about the stress Americans are living with since the shuttle tragedy have appeared.

One New Jersey paper wrote; “Mental health professionals say the tragedy of the space shuttle Columbia loss will increase the anxiety of people already worried about the American threat of war and additional terrorists attacks.”
The papers also ran stories centering on children losing their dreams in the wake of the shuttle disaster.

“I thought I could be an astronauts,” said one grade school student. “I’m not going to do it now.”

Genuine sorrow, coupled with respect and compassion are national traits worthy of possessing. Victimization, however, is for the weak. The astronauts of Columbia could make that distinction. They were the strongest of the strong and would have never indulged in tearful victimization. They would have taken a sad breath and gone back to work.

Email Patrick Bryson