Jonah Goldberg

If you're old enough to have been around in the 1980s, and possibly even if you aren't, you probably know the name Leon Klinghoffer. A wheelchair-bound elderly businessman, Klinghoffer was murdered and dumped over the side of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists in 1985.

But do you remember Gavriel Holtzberg? He was an American executed in Mumbai in November. His wife Rivka, an Israeli, was six months pregnant and was also executed at close range. How about Naomi and Alan Scherr? Naomi was Alan's 13-year-old daughter. They were killed while having dinner in their Mumbai hotel. Paul Johnson Jr.? He was one of several Americans kidnapped and executed in 2004 in Saudi Arabia.

We don't remember these names because nobody made a big deal about them. It's not that their deaths were considered trivial events when they happened. But it was merely the news of the day, maybe the week, and little more.

Now compare that to Klinghoffer. His murder was a worldwide event. Presidents and prime ministers thundered their outrage. Newspapers editorialized ad nauseam about the cowardice and villainy of the perpetrators.

Yasir Arafat's PLO had to play along, pretending they would never be involved in such a heinous act. Farouk Kaddoumi, Arafat's "foreign minister," suggested that Klinghoffer's wife had murdered and dumped her husband overboard to collect the insurance money. For the record, the Klinghoffers took the cruise to celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary.

In 1993, near the height of America's anger over out-of-control crime, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a seminal article for the American Scholar on "defining deviancy down." Moynihan argued that crime had gotten so out of control, Americans responded by simply defining deviancy down until many crimes seemed normal.

One of his more famous examples was the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. On Feb. 14, 1929, seven gangsters were killed by rival gangsters. "The nation was shocked. The event became legend ..." Moynihan observed. "I leave it to others to judge, but it would appear that the society in the 1920s was simply not willing to put up with this degree of deviancy. In the end, the Constitution was amended, and Prohibition, which lay behind so much gangster violence, ended." But by the early 1990s, the United States was experiencing the equivalent of a St. Valentine's Day Massacre every weekend.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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