One of the reasons I've been writing this blog the way I have, as much as I have, is to give readers back home in the US a glimpse into what life is like as an Army bandsman deployed overseas. It not only serves as a record for me to look at later on, but it makes it easy for me to quickly tell as many people as will read what is happening in this corner of the world. (And now they can claim I'm scientifically illiterate for figuratively claiming that our planet has corners!) But today I'm going to comment on what I see happening in the US, based on the information that I get in theater. Again, these are my views and opinions, and I will do my best to see that they don't reflect negatively on the unit or the Army in which I serve.
After I woke up this morning, I headed to the dining facility to enjoy a quiet breakfast, expecting to glance at football highlights on the TV (Seahawks over the Saints?! Who saw that coming???) and enjoy my pancakes and oatmeal while trying to make a little progress on the e-reader version of the novel I've been reading for over a year. Instead, I saw CNN's breaking news bulletin about a shooting in Arizona that left several people, including federal judge John Roll, dead and many others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), severely injured. They had a suspect in custody, were looking for others, and the talking heads were already pontificating on the social and political fallout.
They had commentators--I didn't know any of them, and can't place their political biases--trying to make as clear as possible that the suspect wasn't talking, and all they knew was what he posted on YouTube and MySpace: nonsensical ramblings about dreaming, currency, and his failed attempt to enlist in the Army. (News reports claim that the Army rejected him, and privacy laws prevent them from saying why. I take comfort in the fact that I'm not serving next to someone who thinks that shooting up a grocery store is an acceptable way to get things done.) The anchors--not the commentators, but the people who speak for the network--mentioned controversial politicians and political movements, and how their desire to unseat this Congresswoman may have inspired this lunatic. The commentators continued to stress: "We don't know that there's any connection here!" But the network continued to repost graphics on the screen linking that political movement with the shooter for several minutes. We're not saying that they're connected...just implying that they are.
People--including the local sheriff--complained about the poisonous political rhetoric, both in Arizona and the nation at large. In the same breath, they essentially say "It's the fault of those people that things are so bad!" The actions of a madman inevitably invite demonization of one's political opponents, no matter how ridiculous the comparison is.
People are so eager to place blame that they forget to lay blame where it belongs--squarely at the feet of the person who committed the crime. Millions of people watch network and cable news. They see violent movies and television shows. They listen to political radio shows. They read the paper. They read spy novels. They read blogs. (That's right...if you're reading this, you're one of them.) The knee-jerk reaction of the experts is to find what is wrong with society that causes a person to shoot up a classroom, or a grocery store, or blow up a federal building, or hijack an airplane. The truth is, society doesn't make people do those things, because millions upon millions of people are in our society, and they don't commit acts like that. The people who do these types of things are unhinged, disturbed people. If one thing doesn't trigger them, something else will.
Mark David Chapman claimed that he shot John Lennon because Lennon was an anti-religious hypocrite. (I suppose a lot of people probably thought that about Lennon; that's beside the point. After all, I'm a huge Beatle fan and love the vast majority of Lennon's songwriting.) But everyone else who didn't care for Lennon didn't think that shooting him was a good solution. Did John Wilkes Boothe really think that killing President Lincoln and his cabinet members would help the South? No...he didn't think at all, except about his own rage. If the Civil War had turned out differently, we'd likely be reading in history books about how some controversial decision led to Boothe's murder of Jefferson Davis. I have no sympathy for the "Trenchcoat Mafia" that shot up Columbine; I was something of a social outsider in my teenage years, but never did I think that killing my classmates would solve that problem. (For the record, I ended up being less socially awkward and still keep in touch with many of my high school friends.)
Yes, our political climate is angry and contentious. It is easy to dehumanize those with whom we disagree, because if we make them seem less human it is easier to ignore the faults they share with us. By claiming that all opponents of President Obama are racist, we can ignore the serious concerns they may have about his policies. By claiming that the President is arrogant, we can ignore that he must make numerous difficult decisions everyday and that he will be criticized no matter what he does. But to assume that the vast majority of people on either side of the aisle are so dangerous that they encourage nutcases to shoot political leaders is to reveal more about the critic than the opposition: "I devalue my opponents so much that I don't think they are capable of rational thought or responsible action." Assassins have been around much longer than handguns, terrorists have been around much longer than the internet. People do inhumane things because they've lost touch with their own humanity. Let's not let that be an exuse to lower the bar by attributing the cause to people who are innocent of the crime.