catapult magazine

catapult magazine


Was the Columbine Massacre an Act of Terrorism?


May 10 2002
11:44 am

An article by Jean Baudrillard reprinted in the February 2002 edition of Harper’s Weekly from the Paris journal Le Mond suggests that terrorism is an antagonism of globalization within and against itself. Baudrillard calls this war against terror World War IV. Since globalization vanquished communism in World War III, it must fight itself now. Evidence that this war is not what most people say it is (East vs. West, Evil vs. Good, Terrorist vs. Non-Terrorist, Uncivilized vs. Civilized, Coward vs. Courageous, Culture vs. Culture) can be found in this letter written by Columbine High School student Eric Harris before he killed thirteen schoolmates. In his words (and spellings):

“it will be like the LA riots, the oklahoma bombing, WWII, vietnam, duke, and doom all mixed together, maybe we will even start a little rebelion or revolution to fuck things up as much as we can. i want to leave a lasting impression on the world. and god damnit do not blame anyone else besides me and V [Klebold] for this. don’t blame my family, they had no clue and there is nothing they could have done, they brought me up just fucking fine. don’t blame toy stores or any other stores for selling us ammo, bomb materials, or anything like that because it’s not their fault. i don’t want no fucking laws on buying fucking PVC pipes, we are kind of a select case here so don’t thing this will happen again. don’t blame the school, don’t fucking put cops all over the place. just because we went on a killing spree doesn’t mean everyone else will, and hardly ever do people bring bombs or guns to school anyway. the admin is doing a fine job as it is. i don’t know who will be left after we kill but damnit don’t change any policies just because of us. it would be stupid and if there is any way in this fucked up universe we can come back as ghosts or what the fuck ever we will haunt the life out of anyone who blames anyone besides me and V. if by some weird as shit luck me and V survive and escape we will move to some island somewhere or maybe mexico, new zelend, or some exotic place where americans can’t get us. if there isn’t such a place, then we will hijack a hell of a lot of bombs and crash a plane into NYC with us inside firing away as we go down. just something to cause more devistation.”

As Baudrillard suggests and Harris reiterates, this is a war of symbols. People are willing to die for the symbolic message this would send to a globalized culture that does not represent them. If one can’t escape America, one might turn America against itself, making it weak by turning its greatest strengths against its symbols of strength. News media becomes more than just a parasite attached to the real events of the war; it becomes the very weapon of symbolism that makes terrorism a productive means of attack etc. etc. etc. etc….

If you read this far, you’re a trooper. There’s much more to say about this way of thinking about recent events, yes?


May 14 2002
05:05 pm

I suppose this could be my own private Idaho. If anyone wants to join in, they’re welcome to, but I find this topic interesting enough to continue of my own accord.

Luke Helder’s “Midwestern Smiley Face” drawn across the map in pipe bombs seems to support the article in Harper’s Weekly. The Kurt Cobain wannabe, realizing the power of symbols, starts a bombing spree meant to look like a smiling face on the map to spread some kind of message to all of America. He didn’t even really intend for the bombs to go off. The symbolism was the important thing, it seems.

Even if it turns out that he went crazy in the head, one would have to wonder if this is the universal insanity of globalization itself.


May 16 2002
01:01 am

The descriptions you quote make me almost want to suggest that Columbine and 9/11 bear a lot of similarities to that general thing we call art. In each case, a person or group of persons carefully planned and staged a symbolic event meant to make people think about something specific. In both cases, these actions significantly changed the way we think. the meaning of both events has been interpreted and debated by intelligent people.

If it was art, it was certainly morally abhorant — but I guess i still want to ask, does anybody else think these actions might be thought of as artistic in nature? Warped, sinful, broken, evil — yet artistic?


May 16 2002
04:59 am

The same though crossed my mind while reading it.

These violent symbols and ideas seem indicative of something much greater that is lacking in the world today. But what’s different? Why now? Were these symbols, this violence, this anger or whatever it is manifest in some other way 100 or 1000 years ago? Is this anything new?


May 16 2002
04:40 pm

Okay, what about this idea: could it be that our culture, driven by the mass media, had grown so focused on violence as a means of getting attention (consider what makes the news, or what a movie has to do to get a PG 13 rating), that we have come to the point where it is easy for us to think about violence as a means of communicating. In ages past — violence was a means fo gaining land, a means, perhaps, of getting one’s way, but ever plays and poems use war as a backdrop to some greater message (consider “Macbeth” or even “The Iliad”. In these works the message has to do with the futility of killing for gain, or the stupidity of taking pride in your conquests. We live in a culture where violence is glorified as a means of getting people’s attention, where violence sometimes is the only message. In that context, coming to the conclusion that human lives are expendible to make a point might make some sense (it is still evil and insane, but you can see ho a member of our culture might arrive at it.


May 17 2002
05:21 am

I also have been drawing on my limited knowledge of world history to find out if this is new or if symbolism has always been used as a weapon. Many battles throughout history, of course, have been won by a “show of force” of a large army, a technically advanced arsenal, a merciless group of soldiers, a “fart in your general direction” etc. Such displays do affect the enemy psychologically in the same way that terrorism does. But I do think there is something different going on now, where the focus is on the symbols, and it’s definitely a result of a heavy media presence.

I don’t think this current “anti-establishment behavior” is as much about art, though, as it is about the recent irrelevance of rock’n’roll. When I was talking about this yesterday, I realized how well Cobain fit into the character of Helder. Cobain’s frustration (which appears to be the young man’s obsession as well) was that he did not want to conform to the mainstream. He wanted to go against the system, but yet his very non-conformity became conformist, his very rock’n’roll became pop, to put it another way. This, in combination with drug use etc., led to suicide. Now, several years after alternative music became the mainstream, kids are trying desperately to find a way out of the system. Their rock music can’t do it. Their video games can’t do it. There’s no place where “the system” can be avoided (there’s nothing “outside” the system). That frustration is building to such an extent that people are getting desperate in order to find a way out. But why does everybody want out? Why, especially, in a democracy that is supposed to represent them rather than confine them?


May 22 2002
04:57 pm

How interesting, though, that other nations, when they apporach this art of terrorism, chose carefully a symbol like the world trade center so that they can say something about the economic and political slavery that the US may be inadvertenly (or perhaps intentiaonally) casting the world into. WHile it seems all Americans can come up with is makind smily faces with mailboxes. What was the message there? Or consider Columbine — a more or less inarticulate cry of anguish in which the only real clue we have to motive is a diary in which the killers talk pompously as if they were some grand revolution, yet they seem to be without a manifesto or philosophy other than a kind of wounded feeling that they haven’t been given all that they deserve.

Of course, one could argue that with all terrorist art, we are viewing the thoughts of the bottom of the pile in terms of human quality.


May 23 2002
12:13 pm

“Is this it?”

It seems sometimes that the world is suddenly way to small. For most of human existence we’ve been exploring and pioneering. Making it to the moon seemed some sort of apex.

I recently read about some folks practicing how to live on mars in some remote corner of Arizona. Scheduled take off is 2020. Seems like a long time to wait before we can explore something big and mysterious.

Plus its way to expensive. I’d rather have my own car than pay for somebody else to go to mars.

Perhaps the smiling pipe bomber and the columbine boys are motivated by something more than just anti-establishment.


May 28 2002
04:39 pm

I think BC’s “terrorist art” is a very interesting way to talk about modern terrorism. (The people on CINO come up with the best made up words/phrases.)

Looking back to when terrorism began, in Israel, with the fight between the zealots and the sicari (Hebrew for “the dagger”) against the Romans, it is easy to understand the differences in modern terrorism. Back in 60 AD when all this was happening the sicari would run out into crowd and stab someone to sow confusion in the Roman Empire. That was their act of terrorism.

That random sowing of confusion is much different than today’s terrorism. Today we have greater technology and can therefore cause greater damage. But as BC said, the other thing that we have is the media, our culture of mass communication and globalization. These things breed the new terrorist. Without the media or mass communication (to some extent) you get what they have in Afghanistan (the middle east).

Why do you think that the terrorists are better in the Middle East? Well, not only do the have more experience but more importantly they don’t have the media. It seems to me that the mass media, by inundating us with so much information and communications has, in effect, made it much harder for us to communicate. By giving us every opportunity to communicate and drowning us with all sorts of messages 24/7, we loose the ability to communicate well because we take communication for granted, whether that be in visual art, writing, or even talking.

(I know I’m getting off topic but I’m not going to stop.) Just look at how people talk today. Now I don’t know conversation went in pre-TV/radio cultures but in our culture today many of us have some sort of mannerism when we talk (i.e. the repetition of “like” or “um” etc.)

Is this something that has always been or is it because we can’t truly communicate well?

But if you consider the act of terrorism some sort of deranged art then you can easily see the difference between the extremely effective symbol of the trade centers, compared with the pathetic symbol of a smiley face.

Some have even said that today?s visual art stinks compared to what used to be accomplished.

On another hand.

What do you think the smallest act of terrorist art (by smallest I mean least harmful or least “evil”) would be? What could still barely be considered terrorism but at the same time would probably not excite attention. Or what “real” art could almost be considered terrorism?

Thanks for listening to my ramble.


May 29 2002
09:30 am

I don’t think we should compare the smiley face across the nation’s midsection with the World Trade Center attack in terms of artistic merit. Rather, the article’s suggestion that this “war on terrorism” is a civil war should change our perspective on the source of the conflict. Since cultures/nations/peoples/individuals have become “globalized”, their arsenal, their means of protest against this enormous force, has become limited. The only way to fight against the all-encompassing system is to do it with its own structures, its own technologies. The U.S. has dominated much of the world (overcoming Russia with Pepsi and McDonald’s, converting African young people with Nike and Michael Jordan) with its media. Now its great weapon is turned against it.

In response to the suggestion that Americans now feel like there is no Great West to run to, no new land to pioneer, I think there might be something to that. That would seem to be a holding onto the Modern spirit of progress. Moving to Montana and sending letter bombs to college professors might indicate a last stand of sorts in the face of a postmodernism which has called that whole attitude of expansion into question in the last few decades.


Jun 08 2002
02:42 pm

On a related note, I’ve been wondering for some time whether 9/11 dealt a death blow to postmodernism as a philosophy by making it clear that there are absolutes, that some messages are more important than others, and that there is a difference between the world trade towers and the smily face mailbox bombings. There is a moral right and a moral wrong and not everything is merely a social construct. I think it is certainly true that terrorism is not an artistic act, but I think you could argue that it has more in common with art (a clear message, a defined audience, a desire to affect that audience, careful choice of symbols) than some late twentieth century art which is sometimes unclear, uncertain, lacks a desire to even communicate with an audience (beyond encouraging outrage, disdain, or in some cases, viewing the audience as something to make fun of) and seems to chose symbols randomly if at all.