Passing through Schipol airport four days after MH17 was blown out of the skies over Ukraine, was always going to be poignant. I am sat on the KLM Cityhopper from Amsterdam to Oslo. I have no thoughts or fears of being attacked. But then, nor did the 298 living and breathing people who left from the same tarmac last Thursday.
Most of them would not have known they were flying over a battle zone. Even if they had, the possibility of being shot down from 30,000 feet would have been incredulous. Something from a movie or a nightmare.
As I sit with my seat belt fastened leaving from the same place, I stop myself from even beginning to imagine the absolute horror and despair they may have felt in the few seconds after the impact. How did they die? Hopefully quickly and unconsciously – especially those poor little innocent children.
This was no movie or nightmare. It was the reality of 300 lives murdered – their bodies falling from the sky into fields of corn.
And to compound the agony, we have no confession or expression of remorse from the perpetrators or from those who supplied the missiles. Not even the justice of cordoning off the crime scene or the decency of respecting the bodies in the graveyard. Rather louts went looting whilst corpses lay rotting in the fields.
Unsurprisingly, it has been the local women and children who have shown any signs of empathy and humanity, leaving flowers on pieces of the ripped-apart wreckage.
My plane is about take off. I wonder how many Dutch are on the flight and how they feel. There were no floral tributes or signs at Schipol. I understand the Dutch keep their grief private, as we did in the UK before the death of Diana. Others are less generous, accusing Holland of Srebrenica syndrome passivity and the government of “tiptoing deference to Moscow”.
Grief is deep and personal and processed best within families and amongst close friends. Public displays may help, but can suffer from being over-dramatised and short-lived sensational news items. Bereavement hits home personally in the weeks and months and years to follow, long after the journalists have moved onto another story.
The news was that 300 lives were lost in an instant. Thousands of husbands, wives, partners, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, relatives and friends will miss each one for their whole lives. They will miss their presence, their words, their companionship and what might have been, for a multitude of lifetimes.
After an appalling tragedy like this, it is easy an understandable to focus on the moments and the manner of death. To hope – as we do – that they did not suffer too much. And we must not underplay that. But the dying moments are – hopefully – just a few seconds of a life. Before that were many years of living – although nowhere near enough. And afterwards many years of possible living, stolen.
I guess what I am trying to say is that the biggest travesty is the finality of the death, not the moments of the dying. The loss not the manner of losing. And the best thing to remember is the life – and not the way it was lost.
The father of one of the young Newcastle United fans who was killed was interviewed the day after. Putting aside the rights and wrongs of such broadcasting, this man gave a brave and coherent expression of what a great son he had lost, and how he was thinking of going down to the football ground later ‘to see what was going on’. His voice wavered with emotion. We knew, tragically, that only 1% of the reality and finality of his loss was sinking in. Later would come the despair, the wounds, the rage, the helplessness. Children have no right to die before their parents. It is robbery, It is unnatural.
Nobody but nobody – I don’t care what cause, campaign or justification they claim – nobody but nobody has a right to take away the life of one other human being. To steal the lives of 300, and, oh the unspeakable tragedy of it – 80 young children, is an outrage beyond any words of mine or anyone else’s to express.
When grown men do this to innocent and defenseless human beings – humanity should be ashamed and lament and beg forgiveness from God.
And if those grown men had any shred of decency and humanity – they would confess to their crimes, express deep and sincere regret and give absolute free access to the area for families, friends and the investigators. We finally see this last thing beginning to happen today.
There can be no reason or justification for such an outrageous act. “Imagine there’s no countries, nothing to live or die for?” implored Lennon. So do we blame it on politics and geography? But that is no explanation.
The cause is the evil, greed and utter selfishness of men, and a complete disregard for anyone else who gets in the way. We must call it out and condemn it in the strongest loudest terms. Evil prospers when good men say nothing. And last week it prospered and 300 men women and children died.
And yet the international response is muted, measured, cautious. There is talk of sanctions and pressure. But it is a weak and mealy-mouthed response which is less then ineffective. As it was when Putin invaded the Crimea.
Time for the silent majority to demand that enough is enough in clear, fearless and uncertain terms. The killing has to stop.