Newton tragedy. Was it a "heinous" crime.
Presidential words spoken at historical moments do matter, as the,"day that will live in infamy" energized a nation to sacrifice in a long painful war. That sneak attack could have then, and could still be described as heinous, as it was perpetrated by those who were aware of the human destruction who made a calculated choice to cause the suffering that ensued. Ironically, the attack was not technically a crime, as this was before the Nuremberg Trials, and the UN Charter. We no longer would use the term, since the need to instill hatred of the Japs, like the word itself, has been replaced by many generations of peaceful interaction with our Japanese friends.
Yet, even when our current President was aware that the agent of last week's suffering, Adam Lanza, had himself committed suicide, and the picture of a seriously dysfunctional young man was becoming clear, he chose this word. It could have been used appropriately on December 8, 1941, but not last week, no matter how terrible the carnage that occurred. We need to preserve words like "heinous" with all their sting; and no one, especially the elected leader of the country, should distort its boundaries.
Most words convey more than their dictionary definitions. When researching this word, mostly there are a list of synonyms, such as from this legal web site: Heinous means hateful or shockingly evil. A grossly wicked or reprehensible action is called heinous act. The term is mostly used to refer to crimes. For example, heinous murder. A bit closer to how I see the word was from a Hindi dictionary, that defined the closest word that specifically included the focus on the actor, "no excess was too monstrous for them to commit" which leads into why I am writing about what seems like a simple choice of a phrase.
No one has ever called a tornado or earthquake heinous, or maybe they did in much earlier times when such forces were deemed the acts of the devil or evil spirits. And perhaps during those dark days, the leader of the tribe could inveigh against such evil doers and capture the imagination of his people by a promise of retribution against them. This personification of something that causes great harm while perhaps being comforting, or directing pain, by distorting reality lessens the ability to actually do something about the problem.
In reality we are helpless against the twister that rains death and destruction on those in its winding narrow path. Yet, to describe such a force of nature as heinous doesn't fit-- no more than so describing the actions of a young person who had shown his incapability of functioning in society, and whose suffering was ignored until the rare explosion occurred. Criminal sanctions are for those with the capacity to understand and control their actions, and thus be deterred by fear of punishment. The tagging of "crime, and its degree" for one so at war with himself as to welcome death is meaningless.
As much as we have only minimal understanding of these pathologies, societal and individual, we have even less political will to address them for what they are, rather than as an evil to be exorcised by punishment of the perpetrator. Emphasizing the horror of it does not make it more of a crime and less of a human tragedy, one that in this case included the person who was the last to die.