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Someone who just wants to watch the world burn
on December 18, 2011
Aaron Gell sets out to find out why Peter Braunstein did it - dressed up like a firefighter, set off a smoke bomb to gain entry to a former coworker's apartment and brutalized her for 13 hours in a 2005 crime characterized by its bravado as much as for its brutality.
Braunstein provides a possible answer himself by perversely describing what he did as an act of empathy, a way to get people to pay attention.
"I'm experiencing all this hurt, and you don't seem interested. So the only way I can make you interested is to make you hurt the way I'm hurting. I mean, that's what I'm looking for," he says.
Or, borrowing line from "Dark Knight," Braunstein says the why of it all may be as simple and nihilistic as "Some men just want to watch the world burn."
It's hard not to feel a little grimy after reading Gell's search for understanding. The account late in the essay of what actually happened in the apartment is factual without being lurid.
Still anything that comes close to an understanding of what motivated Braunstein - parental neglect, rejection, insecurity - carries with it a sense that somehow Braunstein is himself some sort of victim and that society somehow shares some responsibility for what he did.
Gell senses he's swimming in rough waters by giving Braunstein a voice, but ultimately decides that there is value in asking why. His search is written with talent, compassion and a clear-headed approach to difficult issues.
Decide for yourself whether you want to understand and care. I for one choose to not feel the slightest bit of empathy, compassion or an iota of sympathy that is implicit in understanding Braunstein's motivation. I hold out hope that the criminal remains locked up and is forgotten.