Reflecting on the tragedy in Norway

I first heard about the tragedy in Norway last Saturday morning, just as I was headed out to work at the National Constitution Center. My husband stopped me on my way to the door: “Hey–have you read yet about what happened in Norway?”

Candles for Norway. Flickr image by L.C.Nottaasen

I hadn’t. When I learned the details of the bombing in Oslo and the shooting at Utoya Island, I was saddened, and sickened. I felt a mix of horror at the actions of the perpetrator of the crimes and sympathy for the individuals and families directly affected by the tragedy.

About half an hour later, I was at work, and my first task was to spend time in the Constitution Center’s Spies, Traitors and Saboteurs exhibit, where we talk to visitors about what they think about the exhibit and the theme of domestic terrorism that it explores.

Typically, I spend most of my time toward the end of the exhibit. In this final section, the focus is extremism, spanning from the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 to the September 11 attacks and other modern terrorism threats.

On this particular Saturday, this section was more compelling than usual. It highlights people much like Anders Behring Breivik–people who have chosen to express their extreme political beliefs through violent action. For me, it was an eerie reminder of the similarity between the past and the present. As we often remind students who visit the museum, it’s important to be aware of our history so that we can learn from it–learn to do, to be, better.

Unfortunately, we are sometimes unable to prevent tragedies like the one in Norway last Friday. But we are not powerless. As King Harald of Norway expressed in an address to the nation the day after the attacks, “Let’s stay strong in our belief that freedom is more important than fear.”

Holly Munson is a Public Programs Experience Guide at the National Constitution Center.

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