Category Archives: mass death


As an EMT volunteer for Emergency Medical Services, I have learned much about preparation for catastrophes, what we call multiple casualty incidents (MCIs). Just the other day, we worked together with the the fire department, hazardous material unit, county ambulance services, and police for a MCI simulation where we more or less practiced working in an unexpected catastrophe, natural and manmade. These simulations are as real as they can be with “‘blood, guts, and galore”, screaming people, chaos and more. I have participated in a variety of simulations as a patient, medic, and observer. When we first come onto an incident, it is our job to save as many people as we can, but to not waste time with people who require more than the basic care. Triaging is classifying people as green, yellow, red, and black. As a medic, the hardest thing to deal with in these situations is triaging someone black because black means death or dying. In mass catastrophes, this could mean that someone is still alive, but won’t make it under the current situation. The person could be still screaming for help, but if their body is severed in half, we are to label a person black and move on to the next victim. This is traumatizing for all parties, both the medic and for the dying person.

I think this is just a small illustration of how mass catastrophes can drastically affect life. Just the seemingly endless amount of death and dying coupled with chaos and confusion changes the face of death. Maybe this is why our media is obsessed with apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and the “end of the world”. These themes have permeated everything from movies to music to books. Recently, the CDC published information on how to prepare for a zombie apocalypse. While funny and portrayed in a mildly joking manner, the point is to educate people on preparing for disasters including wars, terrorist attacks, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. (11_225700_A_Zombie_Final). If you go through the comic, it is a little funny, but the simple idea of a MCI has taken off in a variety of ways that have people thinking about the changes needed to deal with so many bodies at once.

What do you think? How do you think our society understands MCIs? How do we deal with mass death on an emotional and physical level?

Super Typhoon Haiyan: Only 3 Dead? News Coverage of Death

Super Typhoon Haiyan: Only 3 Dead? News Coverage of Death


Hundreds of Philippinos Seek Shelter from Massive Storm

How many people died? That’s the first thing on everyone’s minds as they hear of exotic natural disasters reported on the news. I wonder why this is the case? Why is there such an emphasis on the number of deaths, that make these things more scary/more of a tragedy? Isn’t the destruction of major infrastructure and homes enough? Do we expect people to die?

In the CNN Article posted at 8:48 this morning, The storm is reported as being one of the strongest ever, that has hit over the past night in the Phillipines. It is state that the level of damage has not been assessed, but that the . The article states that “90% of the infrastructure and establishments have already been heavily damaged,” but the scary part is that the heaviest part of the storm has not hit yet. Though the article has a suspenseful tone, it seems as though there is almost is a silent emphasis on the death toll. The three people who died are mentioned, but throughout out the article, there are subtle hints that allude to the idea that they expect more to die.

About 30 minutes later, another article was posted about this, titled: Philippines battered by monster Typhoon Haiyan; at least 4 killed. I suspect that many articles with these provocative titles will be posted throughout the next couple of days. This is more interesting, I suppose. This makes me think about death tolls and the impact that they have on the understandings of these disasters. As we discussed in class, the Tsunami about ten years ago was seen as so horrible because of the alarming amounts of people who were dead. Also the situation was so horrible because it took everyone by surprise and the town was not prepared.

This in not the case for Haiyan, as it has been established that the country is prepared, and was aware of the storm. Though there has been extensive damage, more than 700,000 people were able to be evacuated prior to the storm. Because of this preparedness, I suspect that the death toll won’t reach proportions as high as other disasters. It can’t be ignored that there are currently winds blowing at 147 miles per hour and there are millions of people in the Philippines that are currently endangered. I think we would say that we desire for the death toll to stay at 4, but I wonder if this is really the case? Would it be a better story if it was 5?

Chemical Weapons and Mass Killing in Syria

For the past few weeks, we have watched history in the making.  After the August 21st attack outside of Damascus, in which it has become clear that Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons, President Obama spoke of the impetus for the U.S. to militarily intervene in Syria.  Though the “Syrian Crisis” now seems to be on the wane and President Obama has modified his approach, the crisis raised serious questions about the nature and means of death.

Syria has been locked in a deadly civil war for over two years.  More than 100,000 people have died and millions have become refugees.  Yet, it was not until last month that President Obama warned the Assad regime not to cross a “red line,” a metaphorical humanitarian boundary.  The question is, do the means through which a regime murders its people matter?  Is there something fundamentally unthinkable about the use of chemical weapons?  According to a Huffington Post article (See below), not more than 500 casualties were observed from the chemical attacks.  Therefore, is this adequate justification for military intervention?

Without launching a debate on politics or U.S. foreign policy, I would like to discuss the implications of chemical weapons.  They seem to represent monstrous mass killing, not seen since the trench warfare of the first world war.  But they also hold a moral weight.  The argument appears to be that death is not just death, rather, the means matter.  There is something intrinsically horrific about extermination via gas.  President Obama used this idea, when he described children writhing in pain from chemical gas attacks.

The real question, then, is whether the means of death can be compared.  Are specific methods, such as chemical gas, absolutely immoral?  Do they justify U.S. retaliation via airstrike, which would presumably result in much larger civilian casualties, or can we accept that death is death, measurable in scale, but whose means do not matter?  

The fine line between bearing witness to atrocities and respecting the dead

This week in class, we read an excerpt from one of Philip Gourevitch’s gripping book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families about the genocide in Rwanda. His testimony of visiting the Nyarubuye Church after the massacre initiated a bigger discussion of what is ethically acceptable when it comes to using actual human remains to bear testimony of atrocities to commemorate events in the past, and also to assure that nobody ever forgets or questions the authenticity of this history. Andrea shared with us her family’s images from a visit to Auschwitz, a site that remains not only a ruin of a painful past, but also provides actual evidence against Holocaust deniers today. It is hard to argue against such tangible facts on the ground. Then a friend of mine, Petter Linde, who also happens to be an archaeologist, sent me an interesting link to an article by BBC News, that reveals a similar discussion about the ethics of photographing and displaying images of the dead from World War 1, entitled Fallen Soldiers: Is it right to take images of bodies?

Is it acceptable to show images like this from WW1, or is it ethically so problematic that the benefits of bearing witness of these horrific events do not compensate for the humiliation and lack of sensitivity and respect for the dead?

Documenting the dead – to create a record, to support testimonies of atrocities, to communicate what most of us are unable to put into words – has long been business as usual for journalists.  But we see that today this is becoming increasingly questioned by both the public and by authorities. I understand the visceral reaction to photos of dead people, and I feel sympathy for those who feel that this is in some way undignified or at least questionable. But at the same time we must then also ask ourselves where to draw the line? Is it not equally, if not more problematic, to publish images of living people in conflicts – those who may still be suffering, or whose lives may be at risk because of the exposure. Is it not more objectionable to capture the images of starving children or wounded soldiers, than of dead ones? Of course, this immediately gets very complicated and probably we must resort to an uncommitted “it depends”. And yet, without testimonies like this, would the world community care, even less take action?

The image of the naked Phan Thi Kim Phuc in 1972 raised awareness among the American public about the reality on the ground in Vietnam and the effects of the use of napalm bombing for thousands of civilians.

Without images like that of Phan Thi Kim Phuc the American public may have felt differently about the Vietnam war.

But the question remains: how far should we go to use the bodies of the dead to tell our stories? Do their voices to some extent still speak through the materiality of their bodies, or, are we simply exploiting the raw effect these gruesome images have to make our own points and further our own agendas?

Liv Nilsson Stutz


Mass Death

We talked today about the effects of mass death and the changes that we have to make when we deal with it.

I just wanted to share my family’s experice with this,

My parents visited Auschwitz last year and my family has a travel blog where they documented their experience. Here is a link to the blog page about their visit.

The writing and photos are mostly done by my Dad.

I hope this is informative.


To heal or kill…

As described in M. C. Kearl’s journal, How We Die: The Social Stratification of Death, whether it is due to understaffing or the desire to save money, nursing homes often hire caretakers or nurses that are incompetent and end up socially isolating, abusing, or abandoning their patients. This also occurs in hospitals; however, in the case of nurse Beverley Allitt, it proved to be even more detrimental to the patients with which she came in contact.

In the early 1990’s, Allitt who had repeatedly failed her nursing exams was hired for a temporary position in the Children’s ward of an understaffed hospital in Nottingham. Many children came into the hospital, with their parents by their side hoping for the best. They brought their children there to be healed and viewed Beverly Allitt as an “angel of mercy,” a nurse that was always by the child’s side and the comforting shoulder for the parents.

However, under her care, many kids that were admitted with a minor condition, such as a cold, simply to be monitored, would have a respiratory crisis, be revived, then have another respiratory crisis and turn pale. Red blotches would appear, and he or she would completely stop breathing. Cardiac arrest followed, and doctors would try repeatedly to get the patient to start breathing again. The children were placed on life-support machines, but had suffered from severe brain damage. After being taken off life support, the children, without history ofheart disease, would die from heart failure. Others had induced paralysis, cerebral palsy, and damage to their hearing or site before passing away. She did not create these tragedies in order to gain money or fame; after the patients died, Allitt would go home and continue about her day/week as if nothing had happened. Within the first four months, she attacked nine children and killed four. She was the “angel of death.” Overall, after she was caught, detectives uncovered 25 suspicious episodes with 13 victims, ranging from the age of 5 months to 11 years old.

The symbols of health, healing and survival: the hospital, the white coat, the smiling nurses, became signs of death, dying, suffering, and loss. The place that people come in order to prevent death and prolong life was the cause of many innocent people’s deaths.

Read more about the details of this story at:

Xavier Charde

Mass Suicide vs. Mass Murder in Jonestown

Few days ago, a friend started a conversation about mass death. The first thing came to my mind was Jonestown. The notorious event left its name as one of the largest mass murder in modern history and resulted in the largest single loss of American civilian life before September 11, 2001. I remembered myself watching the documentary “Witness to Jonestown” on MSNBC and struck by what I learned. The tragedy happened on November 18, 1978, a day many survivors will never forget. In the middle of the jungle in Guyana, 909 people lay dead after drinking poisons, another five people were killed near the jet outside Jonestown on an airstrip.

The story began with a man named Jim Jones who started the Peoples Temple, a religious organization. At the beginning, Jones promoted socialistic ideals, creating a set of values that was strongly felt and believed by his followers. The particular historic background of late sixties and early seventies gave Jones’ preaching a powerful attractiveness. Violence flooded the media with news from the street fights, the Vietnam War, and political assassinations. People sought for peace and an ideology that would guide them through the chaotic reality. Jones made use of the opportunity in the vulnerable crowd and became the spiritual leader of his religious cult group. This very same person, who once brought his followers hope of a better world, commanded people to die on November 18, 1978.

The Jonestown incident was shocking not only because so many people died, but also because Jim Jones claimed that it was a “revolutionary suicide,” protesting an “inhumane world.” The word “suicide” possesses meanings more than just “death.” It indicates a voluntary property in the choice of death that inevitably brings up the question of “why.” Suicide challenges the social orders in an extremely problematic way. In a suicide, there is not a killer to blame to, because the killer is at the same time the victim. People barely know how to react to suicides. There is not a socially acceptable appropriate way to react. Families and the public are left with perplexing feelings. Such conflict results in an attempt to explain the act by environmental causes, such as social structure, expectations and stress. A mass suicide of 914 people could have been a ground-shaking challenge to the society, shouting for an explanation.

Fortunately for the social structure, we later learned that the “mass suicide” Jones claimed was actually a mass murder. It’s noteworthy how quickly the media and the public changed their views and attitudes after learning about the forced deaths of more than 900 followers. All of a sudden, people knew who to blame and what to say. Rightly enough, the psychopathic Jim Jones degenerated from a fraud to a mass murderer. Anger, fear, despise, and sadness, sympathy, grief… All these feelings that were suppressed for suicides were then allowed to be expressed and released. This reminds me of how mourning is not just a personal experience, but also a socially regulated process. We respond to different deaths within each cultural context accordingly.

“Witness to Jonestown” has covered many original sources from the news of that period and recovered audiotapes from Jonestown. It also interviewed survivors extensively. It provides a comprehensive view of how the Peoples Temple developed and degraded from a dream people held, to a nightmare they could not escape from.

Video clips from the documentary “Witness to Jonestown”:

–Kim Li

The Civil War and Changing Views on Death

Arlington National Cemetery

While today the United States has very specific rituals concerning military personnel deaths, it was not long ago in US’s history that standards of burial did not even exist. This was clearly displayed in an interesting documentary by Ric Burns called “Death and the Civil War.” People projected that the war would be quite short with minimal casualties because of the dominance and organization of the North in relation to the South. However, this perception quickly changed as the war progressed and battles were leaving hundreds to thousands of dead strewn across the battlefield. The Battle of Shiloh left about 3,500 men dead in, a number that was once not even conceivable. Originally, it was the role of the military leaders to provide a decent burial and for the deceased, but they were simply not prepared to deal with the scope of the death.

During the time of the Civil War photography was gaining popularity. Consequently, these images of death were more accessible and palpable. This caused public outcry by citizens, who then began many volunteer commissions to help save and comfort the dying during the war. After the war even more commissions arose to identify the dead and give them proper burials whether they had been buried in a mass grave or simply left on the battlefield. It was expected that the government had a commitment to these soldiers who had died fighting for it. In 1867, the government began to fund, build, and protect cemeteries for the soldiers, spending 3 million dollars to do so. What was once the duty of the military leaders and volunteers had now become a government sanctioned policy.

This documentary definitively portrays the role and obligation of the living to the dead. Because of the volunteers who worked to give the soldiers dignity in death, today military personnel are held in high esteem in life and death. It is difficult imagine the amount of death people faced in the 1860’s during the civil war. With a much smaller population than today the effect of the deaths was much more detrimental to society. This is not to say that today’s war death tolls are not as significant to society, but rather that the death tolls have been substantially reduced. Society’s reaction to the unprecedented death of the Civil War caused a need to advance medical technology and governmental involvement.

Today there is a greater recognition for the men and women of the military who die in active duty. The institution of military cemeteries such as Arlington and numerous commemorative holidays such as Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day certainly exhibits this. The Civil War undoubtedly changed the US’s views on death and how it is dealt with especially on a large scale, as in the case of war.

To get more information or watch: