In a period in which there have been two terrible natural disasters, I wonder what it is that disturbs us the most about the Fritzl case?
A few weeks ago, Burma was struck by a massive cyclone, closely followed by a devastating earthquake in China. These two events have cost the lives of around 200,000 people, a total which will almost certainly rise. Heaven only knows how many people have been injured – lost limbs, crush injuries, infections. Some earthquake victims had limbs amputated in order to remove them from the rubble.
We all recognise that natural disasters just happen – there’s nothing you can do to prevent them, little you can to do prepare for them, only deal effectively with the aftermath. We also know that we are able as human beings to come together and deal with the problem. Like so many tiny ants, we scramble about, and extricate bodies and rebuild shattered lives. In particular, the Chinese Government’s response has been exemplary. It is, of course, one of the advantages of a totalitarian state with a massive standing army, but the Chinese have mobilised, parachuted in help, assessed what they need and asked for international aid, particularly for tents. They are, fundamentally, on top of the situation.
Burma is a totalitarian state also, but differs in that the junta’s main aim is to keep itself in power. Hence the agonisingly slow response and arrogant assertions that rescue and recovery are not needed – they will cope just fine by themselves thank you. This causes immense frustration in any caring human being who recognises that time is of the essence. And yet it is still not deliberate cruelty on the part of the junta – these people don’t hate the cyclone victims, they just – utterly mistakenly – think they know what’s best for them.
But the Fritzl case is a different matter. This is not a natural disaster, but an example of terrible human cruelty, only made worse by the length of time involved. Some men commit incest. Some men commit rape. Some men commit multiple rape or gang rape. Some men imprison their victims, or chain them up or otherwise degrade them. But this man did all of this to the people he was meant to love the most – his own children. And he did it over the course of 24 years. How on earth, we wonder, is this possible in a society that is meant to be civilised?
Keeping up this kind of sustained criminality is beyond our ken, as it the fact that this terrible thing occurred in peacetime, right under the noses of his neighbours. It wasn’t a war situation, where everything is in chaos, and where terrible events occur every day which are then regretted.
The Fritzl case reveals to us the dark underbelly of our own society, and it’s something we’re unable to deal with, except by crying for revenge – as if revenge will solve it, or give this family back their lost years. Better to study Josef Fritzl, and attempt to understand him, in the hopes of preventing this from ever happening again.