What a horrible week it’s been. Not as bad as one late-winter week in 2003, admittedly – I mean the beginning of Bush’s preventive/aggressive global war – but still pretty dismal.
Tax Day set the tone, along with yet another odd “weather event” of the sort we’d better get used to. I want to make it clear this is no orthodox rant against income taxes, which I firmly support, provided they’re progressive and otherwise fair. No, I’m protesting the use of my tax dollars, the bulk of them, for warfare – mass murder for political ends. April 15 marks my annual guilt-trip about contributing to a system that makes ancient warrior states like Rome look like lost Edens. My pride in being a pacifist is conditioned by the knowledge that what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, and soon perhaps in Iran, is being done in my name.
But more than any other single event, the mass murder at Virginia Tech defined this week. I heard the news kind of late in the cycle, my news-junkie tendencies notwithstanding. So there I was at noon, standing in front of a class at RIT, not knowing that the issues of violence and injustice we were discussing were playing out in real time at another technical college.
As part of a nationwide academic community, such as it is, I was stunned. I thought of the young people I’m privileged to teach. I thought of some professors down in Blacksburg – like the Canadian, a Québécoise, who tried to stop the shooter by barricading the door to her French class and died with most of her students. She was by all accounts a warm, devoted teacher. She was also in the end a hero. So different from the people who ordinarily grab the headlines: miserable cowards and fools like Alberto Gonzales (what a pathetic figure the US Attorney General cut this week in Senate hearings), Dick Cheney (against whom, thank goodness, Dennis Kucinich has started the impeachment process), and Dubya himself (how dare he console anyone while he escalates the murder of Iraqis?).
Then I thought more about Canada, and Australia, and the UK. Already on Monday, voices from abroad were saying the things our own media were ignoring, as usual. Why are Americans transfixed by the “glamour” of guns? asked a US correspondent for the UK Independent. Even Australian leader John Howard, a staunch rightwinger in many respects, criticized Americans for not clamping down on guns; he reminded the world that Australia had responded to a string of gun atrocities, capped by the infamous Port Arthur mass killing, by getting serious about gun control.
Meanwhile, American media and political leaders feed us more crap, for the most part. First, instead of displaying appropriate sensitivity and maturity and simple decency, they indulge in emotional voyeurism, milking the grief that has descended on Blacksburg for everything it’s worth. (And you can bet it’s worth plenty to them, in terms of capturing future viewers and voters.) And second, they impose something close to a blackout of intelligent discussion regarding the gun culture – but give a podium to the gun nuts.
If you don’t believe me, watch the video of Newt Gingrich, former bigmouth of the House and possible future presidential candidate (saints preserve us!), being interviewed on This Week with George Stephanopolous. Gingrich told Stephanopolous essentially that everything would have worked out fine at Virginia Tech if faculty came to class fully prepared. Gingrich seriously suggested that Professor Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who reportedly used his own body to barricade his classroom door and was shot dead, might have stopped crazed mass murderer Seung-Hui Cho then and there – if only Librescu had been armed.
Of course, Gingrich is a died-in-the-wool brownshirt; you expect the worst from him. But I note that SUNY Geneseo, despite the lack of any palpable threat, just revised official policies so that campus security personnel will pack heat. (The latter had access to weapons before, but now they’ll have them at the ready as they patrol.) Another victory, albeit a minor one, for the gun culture, and for the national obsession with shooting first and asking questions later, if at all.