Norway’s Shame

Christopher Hitchens

It seems to me nothing short of extraordinary and embarrassing that a well-advertised white-supremacist lunatic should have had the time to assemble the ingredients of what seem like two possible fertilizer detonations—the most commonplace type, that is to say—and then to explode them in a vulnerable part of the capital city of a Scandinavian democracy. (Especially in a country currently helping rebels against Muammar Gaddafi and Afghans pushed around by the Pakistani Taliban. But in what place would acquiring those components not constitute a breach of security?)

That task of indiscriminate murder complete, the killer and instigator moved on to an island resort, run for that weekend by the youth wing of the Norwegian Social Democrats. There, he enacted a sadistic ritual that went on until he was entirely slaked. Walking eagerly from pond to pond in a guise of his own design, he fired a lethal weapon until he could kill no more. By the time the forces of law and order arrived, he was standing with hands crossed and, according to some reports, empty. He had run out of targets.

This means that almost a hundred decent young Norwegians who should be alive are now dead. Please note that I do not call for their murderer to have been shot dead. I attach great importance to the capture of people with traits like this—what one might call “al-Qaeda Christian” traits, in the present instance. But I am sickened when I imagine the last moments of the young inhabitants of secular and democratic Norway, as they crouched like otters in freezing holes, hoping that the killer would not glimpse them.

The police would not say that they did not have enough helicopters available in the first hour of slaughter, nor enough boats in the second hour, nor enough guns or rescue vehicles overall. Has it not occurred to anybody that this could license a conspiracy theory in which Norway simply threw up its hands and admitted impotence? For almost a decade in the United States we have had to hear ridicule of the authorities for their inability to “scramble” planes promptly into the air after the attacks of September 11, 2011, and for the chaotic scenes that occurred at ground zero. Every kind of crackpot and fascist was allowed to speculate that, at this level of incompetence, the Bush administration must have known in advance.

To the credit of Norwegian society, nobody has been demanding a witch hunt for culpability. But does anyone appear to feel it sufficiently extraordinary that the power of the state—its monopoly on violence, to phrase matters traditionally—was so easily broken? Reporters quoted a father in mourning for his big, teddy-bear-like son. The father expressed no resentment. That’s a noble moment, but not a very salutary one. What is to happen to the friends and siblings of these young people? Will it be easy to persuade them that there was nothing further that could have been done to prevent or mitigate the slaughter?

Perhaps the best way of resolving this feeling, and my own continued anger over it, would be the following: if the world forgives Norway for its failures in regard to this event, let’s have no more innuendoes in the United States about the inaction and inanition of the government to the attacks of September 11, 2001. People who do not or did not trust the Bush (or Clinton) administrations will not oppress public inquiries with more loud yells for “9/11 Truth” (calls that were actually put forward mainly by a coalition of bizarre leftist Presbyterian groups and idiotic Falwell and Robertson fans). In time, there would be a moratorium on street-level “inquiries.” This would eventually make certain self-appointed authorities embarrassed for having wasted so much of our time in the first place. Meanwhile, in Norway, work can begin on a permanent memorial for those people whose lives came to an end with such truly upsetting speed.

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. His memoir Hitch-22 is published in paperback by Twelve.


It seems to me nothing short of extraordinary and embarrassing that a well-advertised white-supremacist lunatic should have had the time to assemble the ingredients of what seem like two possible fertilizer detonations—the most commonplace type, that is to say—and then to explode them in a vulnerable part of the capital city of a Scandinavian democracy. …

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