Count on a Norwegian response

I had barely settled into my London hotel room last Friday, fresh from a two-week cruise through Norway, when initial reports of the tragedies in Oslo trickled out. It was simply unbelievable. How could such madness visit a place so tranquilly peaceful and magically beautiful? Being a veteran of “crisis management,” my mind also wandered to questions of recovery and response. And then I began to recall small incidents and bits of information from my trip to Norway that suddenly seemed relevant. 

Let’s start with some thoughts on madness. Mental illness is a malady we know too little about. So we harbor naïve notions about its origins and causes. One widespread lay explanation is that the stresses and chemicals of modern times are to blame. If that were so, how could there be mental illness in Norway? Everything is so placid and clean. The socialist-minded state levels incomes, so there’s no stress keeping up with the Jensens. And oil money from offshore wells bankrolls generous pensions all have come to expect. Norway seems to be the sort of happy utopia that optimistic Marxists thought possible. 

But during lunch in the picturesque town of Alesund, I made a terrible discovery. My dining companion revealed that she is a psychiatric nurse for Norway’s national health plan. She spoke of schizophrenia and bipolar disorders as well as drug and alcohol problems. Who would have thought it? Evidently, these sorts of problems are growing and the management of it all, as well as paying for the care and treatment, is troublesome. Suddenly, it all seemed so American, in spite of the backdrop of endless fjords and grazing sheep.

The first substantive reports, after the initial false reports of this being the work of Islamic terrorists, attributed the attacks to a “Christian fundamentalist.” This seemed odd, in that Norway is such a secular society these days that it’s hard to imagine there being enough of a religious establishment to engender the formation of a furious orthodox response. I dismissed this, correctly, as a typically liberal slur against belief. The best evidence that could be mustered was that the perpetrator said he always votes for the conservative position in church elections. For some, that might predict mass murder, but I’d hasten to point out that the Ten Commandments are as fundamental as it gets, and they don’t approve of serial killing. So we’re back to madness.

So where from here? There will be some sort of government response. Count on it. Up north, well above the Arctic Circle and near the North Cape, on the Island of Mageroy in the small fishing village of Kamoyvaer, population 70, I saw a monument commemorating an accident wherein six members of the same family died in a fishing boat. Aside from the tragic loss of human life visited upon one family, the Norwegian social system was jolted by the resulting demand for financial support from surviving family members. So the policy was changed so that now, fewer members of one family are allowed to crew the same fishing vessel. No more Kamoyvaers. Expect some response from government to avert more Oslos or Utoyas.

I also recall that the Norwegians are a sturdy and patriotic people who will persevere. Outside America, I have never seen such a flag-waving bunch. Many ordinary households show the colors. Etched in my memory is the picture of a band of 30 or so Norwegians standing on the dock at Skjolden, waving sea-of-red Norwegian flags as our ship pulled away. These were not political types. They were ordinary residents, proud of their country, saying goodbye to friends they had met for the first time. I’ll bet their hearts are broken. God bless them and God bless Norway.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.