Thursday, March 17, 2011

Unintended Consequence

I've thought about many aspects of humanity over the last year. When the zombie plague flashed into a worldwide catastrophe and destroyed the vast majority of the living population, many of us thought the world (and our place in it) was over. An afterthought. 

Some of us struggled to survive, banding together to live and thrive, choosing to listen to the better angels of our nature and work with unity of purpose. I've said a lot of good about my  people here at the compound. About the people of North Jackson. About every survivor who doesn't go the path of the marauder. 

I've said a lot of bad about the marauders themselves. The truth, as most of you know, is that nothing is really ever that black and white. We've told ourselves time and again that there are those who want to live in peace (us) and those who don't, and should have the threat they represent eliminated (them). 

That's how many of us see the world now. Us versus Them. We, as the heroes in our own story, are always virtuous. Always right. That's how stories go, isn't it? There's always a clear villain, some evil that everyone can agree on. The zombies. Marauders. Hungry soldiers bent on taking over a better place to live. 

I wish it were always so easy. 

This morning, a vehicle approached the north gate. The windows were blackened, and it didn't respond to any of the commands our sentries shouted at it through the megaphone. When it got within the hundred foot mark and didn't show any signs of slowing as it moved toward the gate, two of our riflemen on the wall used precious bullets to take out the tires. Not terribly difficult shots from their position--dead on at ground level as the vehicle neared the gate. One advantage of having a wall partially made up of chain link fence. 

The SUV stopped and a few people with guns jumped out. They weren't shy about them, either, pointing directly at our guards. The sentry in command shouted through his megaphone for them to drop their weapons, that they would be treated fairly if they would lower their guns. 

He told them that they had five seconds to comply, or they would be fired on. Standard procedure in this kind of situation. 

Unfortunately, the people outside the gate didn't listen. They raised their weapons as if to fire, and in a fraction of a second, they were mowed down. Bullets from one of the larger, mounted guns ripped through them as a careful burst was fired at the cluster of them in front of their vehicle. 

It was only after the fact that we were able to figure out what had their hackles raised to the point that they would take on on overwhelmingly superior force. Inside the SUV--thin and sick, nearly starved--were two children, maybe twelve. Twin boys who looked as though they had been unable to eat for a long time. The adults didn't look much better on a closer inspection, rail thin and hollow-eyed. The sentry guessed that they were searching for food, and probably had no idea we were here. Starvation can do strange things to the human mind. It's possible they didn't even understand what our people were saying to them. The children were dead when our guards searched the SUV. The rounds from our big gun went through that vehicle like tissue paper. 

Were they a threat to us? Yes. Without question. Were our guards correct in their actions? Again, certainly. But the larger issue we face is this; was it right?

No, I don't think it was. Necessary, but not the right thing to do. It would have been more risky for our people to duck below the walls and wait to see if the people outside fired at them, but at least there would have been a chance for those poor souls. That would have been right--but dangerous and risky. We teach people not to do dangerous things unless they have to. To minimize the danger by being cautious and proactive when threatened. 

Ahh, Damn it. How can you reconcile something like this? Our people did the best they could in a fast and dangerous situation, and some innocent people who probably couldn't think clearly are dead as a result. Innocent kids are dead right along with them. No one was right or wrong, in the end. It was a thing that happened. A tragic thing, but one that I don't think could have been avoided. 

It's a terrible morning, a sad one. Some days this world mostly empty of the living seems so much darker than others. Today seems to be all shadows. 

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