April 17, 2007
Talking a Tragedy to Death
By Mary Lyon
I wish I could see something good, something healing, in the aftermath of the horrifying massacre at Virginia Tech. But I don't. All I see are way more questions and problems than answers and solutions. All talk. So far, not much action. Is that the best we can do?
Once upon a time, the conniving yet pathetic ex-Senator Bill Frist went to see for himself the devastation from the killer Indian Ocean tsunami in December, 2004, and wailed in second-hand agony - "there's no one to blame!" Always more comfortable, somehow, when you can blame somebody, or something.
But it is an inevitability here. Perhaps it's the only comfort to run to that's in any way reliable. However, I think if you blame, you ought to have an answer, a remedy, at the ready. All I have, however, is deep distress to discuss. I don't have any answers.
Howard Beale, the gone-berzerk anchorman from one of my all-time favorite movies, "Network," said in his signature rant that he didn't have any answers for anything, either, but all he knew was that "first, you've got to get mad." But what if you get mad, and then get a gun? Isn't that what started this?
At this writing, it's believed that the gunman at Virginia Tech was troubled, and increasingly, a troublemaker. How and why could he have access to deadly weapons? He'd allegedly stalked several women and presumably aimed to "settle" a domestic dispute - one very tragic and disgraceful reason the police didn't react stronger. "Oh, it's just a love affair gone wrong. Guy shot his girlfriend." Um. somehow that makes it - uh - understandable? Containable? No authorities searching for him wanted to bother anybody in the community? Is that why the university didn't react as swiftly and decisively as it could have, and why no one knew where he was for two hours until the second act in the passion play was played out? Why was the university not locked down until he was located? Why weren't the perimeters patrolled? Where were the campus police? Did they just assume if it was a mere lovers' quarrel that it would remain confined to that, and to those two victims only? It would seem to me that as long as the shooter was unaccounted for, EVERYONE in the area would be in danger.
Which brings me further into the gun-issue morass. The first few words out of White House spokescheerleader Dana Perino's mouth immediately after the mass shooting were to reassure gun owners that their precious firearms were untouchable. The people aren't safe, but the guns sure are. A lot of comfort that's going to give to frightened students, parents, teachers, school administrators, neighbors, the community, and especially the bereaved. The knee-jerk defensive jump has already been made - "guns don't kill people. People kill people." Yeah. Well, this guy sure did kill people. With guns, by the way. I've heard and read it ad nauseam about how, "if more people around Virginia Tech had been armed, this never wouldda happened." Oh, great. Instead of one nut shooting at everybody, we'd have had everybody shooting at everybody. Yeehaw! Bring 'em on! I've got news for you. We already have that. It's called Baghdad . How's that working out for ya so far?
The other asterisk on that overused argument is one I heard from a caller on Air America - a man phoning from near the University of Texas campus. He said he lived in that area for a long time. He remembered back in 1966 when the gunman in the clock tower mowed down 16 people before the police finally killed him. The caller noted that - all over that area, every day, at all times, you could see pickup trucks galore fully loaded with gun racks and NRA stickers, and the idea of a well-armed citizenry was abundantly clear. The signs and signals were everywhere. So okay, then. Everybody around there had guns, alright. Did that stop the U.T. assassin? There was no way he couldn't have known that so many of his neighbors and others in that community were packing heat. THAT certainly didn't stop him, either. And since the gun laws in Virginia are so lax, you'd be tempted to think that would be a deterrent to someone considering going off the deep end there. Unless they're so determined to make that murderous leap that they simply don't care.
Colder still, the appearance at the university memorial of a president who, when he was governor of Texas , never saw an execution he didn't love. A president known as Mr. "Bring 'Em On" himself, whose handiwork includes the aforementioned city-wide shooting gallery that is Baghdad , the capital of a sovereign nation that his invasion and occupation has turned into a Desperados' Disneyland . A president who has yet to attend a single memorial or funeral for any of the several THOUSAND casualties of that war to solemnize and honor the sacrifice they made for the sake of his greed and lust for power. A president whose second-in-command is renowned for shooting a pal in the face during a weekend shotgun shindig for some coddled, bloated, aging would-be Davy Crocketts. VERY cold comfort. Cold as corpses. Cold as the platitudes from noncommittal visitors just passing through on their way to the next item on the agenda. Unfortunately, that covers more of us than just him.
Perhaps the sheer magnitude of this tragedy dictates that a lot of blame will inevitably get spread around in a lot of directions. Maybe this is part of what we do as a species to start exorcizing the demons that this kind of Pandora's Box-opening will unleash. Maybe it's a natural reaction as a prelude to the mere thought of eventual healing and reconciliation. Talk is cheap, after all. There will be blame passed around through the controversies of gun ownership; immigration (since the gunman has been identified as a South Korean national who was also a permanent legal resident); the further erosion of personal privacy; the threat of a police state; mental health issues and the neglect thereof (yes - WHY could this guy get guns? WHY didn't his counseling sessions help him, and help avoid this?); crime prevention as it applies to stalkers; and to this angry, fearful nation sitting on a bulging powder keg of frustration and the concept of violence as a tool for the solving of problems. Heck, for all we know, some may point to this as the ultimate result of the misogynistic lout-mouthing of the Don Imuses of the world.
The saddest theme of all, as this latest national agony plays out, is that not all of us will learn much from it in the long run. If we're lucky, some of us might eventually be better for it. It's doubtful we'll be able to settle on workable solutions - solutions that truly work for everyone. But somehow, some way, we NEED to get to the bottom of this, hopefully to find something down there other than guns, violence, carnage, and a bottomless well of tears. And maybe we should be talking this to death. Perhaps it's the best we can hope for, even if it is just a bunch of empty words in the wake of an emptied gun. It's all we've got. It's certainly not enough. But it's a helluva lot better than shooting.