America Weeps for the Fallen
“America weeps for the fallen,” said President Trump in his address to the nation on Monday morning, after the weekend shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.
That’s quite a word, “weep.” It’s old Middle English. It means to cry, of course; but more than that, to mourn and lament over a deep, painful loss.
At least, the line resonated with me. I’m busy, probably just like you. I have things happening in life and business, probably just like you. But pause for a moment, take a breath. It’s so sad.
And ponder the cruelty of fate. You weren’t there? Not injured? Hey… It could’ve been you. So maybe mutter something like… What. The. Hell. Or words to that effect.
An awful person – two awful people last weekend; both deeply, profoundly troubled – killed a group of (mostly) strangers. (Note: the Dayton guy killed his sister! Ugh.) It was indiscriminate.
Psychiatrists tell us that people who don’t value their own life tend not to value the lives of others.
In other words, someone who’s already in a very dark room drags us all in there with him.
And it’s pretty much always a “him.” For over half a century, almost every mass-killer in the U.S. has been male. (Only one female.)
This kind of mass-killing has happened so many times that there’s even a profile. Alienated. Disassociated. Childhood trauma. Bad parenting; almost always an absent father. Lack of socialization. Outcast. Radicalized. Lone wolf. Mentally ill. Psychotropic drugs, in many instances.
In recent decades, add in that people are conditioned to violence through a lifetime of routine media horror, and desensitized to death by now-common video games. Spun-up by Internet lures, and social media click-bait. As my friend Jim Kunstler wrote, “this is exactly what you get in a culture where anything goes and nothing matters.”
We live in a nation of 330 million people. If one-one-hundredth of one percent are truly, deeply troubled – perhaps even certifiably nuts – that’s 33,000 potentially very dangerous people out there. At some point, some people are wound so tight, they simply snap…
So, yes… weep for the fallen; and weep for what this whole thing says about our country.
“This whole thing?” You probably know what I mean… The personal loss, and the follow-on political theater.
Because when will the politicians get through with this? Well, here’s the calculus. Two horrible, awful, total strangers committed mass-murder, and we’ll all lose our freedoms because of it.
Saturday, I boarded an airplane in Vancouver. Dutifully, per federal air regulations, I shut off my smart phone. Five hours later, I landed in Detroit. The El Paso news was burning the wires.
By the time I landed in Pittsburgh, airport security was unusually tight. I walked out past the security perimeter, into the non-TSA spaces where the place was crawling with police officers wearing body armor, carrying shotguns and M-16s.
And the next day, the morning news was from Dayton. Two mass-shootings in less than 24 hours. Unbelievable…
When I first saw the news about El Paso, I had a flashback.
I’ve been inside that Walmart. It was in 2011. I flew to El Paso and met up with Agora Financial colleague Matt Insley. We went on a road trip to visit a series of mining projects in West Texas and New Mexico.
At El Paso International, Matt and I rented a car. We drove to the Walmart just south of the airport, off Interstate-10.
Inside Walmart, we bought a couple of regional maps, cold drinks and a few odds and ends to tide us over for the next couple of days in the field.
I recall that the Walmart was crowded, much of the clientele was Hispanic, and most signage was in spanish.
I turned to Matt and remarked, “Looks like we’re in a serious border town.”
A casual comment, but Spanish signage in a West Texas store was nothing new to me. Long ago, in the late 1970s, I worked in that part of the world as a geologist for the old Gulf Oil Company, now part of Chevron.
When you spend time in the “Texican” oil patch, and hang out amongst oil workers, you realize that the border isn’t really a solid line, as lines go. Indeed, you get a feel for how the cultures of Mexico and Texas meet and mix.
The border between the U.S. and Mexico has long been fluid; at least, socially fluid. There are lines on maps. There’s fencing along the border; even a “wall” in places. People carry different kinds of driver’s licenses.
But the actual border is more like a mixing zone. It’s similar to how two great rivers merge and combine their waters. Two different “upstream” channels join, to yield a new and different chemistry as they flow downstream. It’s a force of nature.
The weekend news brought other flashbacks, too.
I remember the first time I heard about a mass shooting. I was ten years old; it was August 1966. A very troubled man – Charles Whitmore, with a large tumor squeezing his brain – climbed a tower and shot up the University of Texas.
Whitmore’s episode was the worst mass-shooting in U.S. history until the massacre at San Ysidro, California in July 1984. I was in the Navy, stationed nearby in San Diego; but deployed offshore at the time. Still, that shootout left an impression. You may not be safe, even buying a hamburger at McDonalds.
In October 1991, San Ysidro was surpassed by the Luby’s Restaurant massacre in Killeen, Texas. I was in the Middle East, just after Desert Storm. I heard the news and remember thinking… I’m over here, and back home people are shooting up restaurants.
Then there was Columbine, Colorado; April 1999. Again, I was far away in Bahrain when the news hit. I recall being in a room full of Navy SEALs. The discussion turned to being deployed on the other side of the world, defending so-called “American interests” while at home the country was falling apart.
Of course, there have been many other locales; other mass-shootings. Several come to mind (and the list is truly far longer than I can lay out here). Virginia Tech, April 2007. Fort Hood, November 2009. Aurora, Colorado, July 2012. Newtown, Connecticut, December 2012. San Bernardino, December 2015. Orlando, June 2016. Las Vegas, October 2017. Pittsburgh, October 2018.
Different people, different stories and motives. But definitely lone wolf-types. Sick people. Radicalized; and in some instances, sick angles on religion. I hold no medical license, but I’ll opine that all of the shooters were mentally ill.
After each event, politicians made hay while looking for scapegoats. They called for more laws, more regulation. Blame the gun, of course… And that creates an instant political conflict with a fundamental right; 2nd Amendment.
Face it. Guns are not just about duck hunting. The “gun issue” is a critical political right, forged in the Revolutionary War and encased in the Constitution at about the time of the Whiskey Rebellion.
Somehow or other, though, the idea is that “government” – local, state or federal – will grab some new level of power over guns, gun sales, ownership, training, licensing, whatever… and keep us all safe from the baddies. Because… well, tight gun laws have worked so well in places like Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and more. Right? Oh, wait…
Here’s the bottom line in it all…
Over many years, more and more mentally ill people have been committing more and more horrific acts, and we are all on the trajectory to hold fewer freedoms. Even if you’ve never owned or fired a gun in your life; you are going to come out of all this less free.
Some guy goes off the deep end and shoots a group of innocents. Now, we’re all walking through the airport under the watchful eyeballs of cops, holding their guns at the ready.
So yes, this week I pause and weep for the fallen. What happened in El Paso and Dayton breaks my heart and burns my soul.
I don’t know anyone who is directly affected by El Paso or Dayton; not that I’m aware, anyhow. But I get the pain and emptiness of survivors; the sense of bottomless loss. There’s no such thing as “get over it,” as the glib saying goes.
If you’re lucky, after you lose someone you learn to live with what happened; as in, you wake up each day and go about life. It’s like having a deep scar, if not a missing limb. Losing someone to random violence is a cross that people forever carry up a long hill, where the top keeps on receding.
And as for the rest of us? We’re all touched as well… Because government power, oversight, surveillance and control is about to increase. It’s another great loss, about which you might want to weep.
On that point, I rest my case.
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Managing Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder