Kolleen Alldridge, left, her son Gavyn, 4, and apartment manager Alice Thompson huddle around a makeshift memorial to the shooting victims in the courtyard of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s apartment complex. Photo by Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles Times
Today, a memorial was held the victims of last Thursday's horrific shooting at Ft. Hood, which left 13 dead and another 30 wounded. The suspected shooter, Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, is in custody. For the families of the dead, and the larger Ft. Hood community, these are terrible days.
Sadly, it was followed by two more bloody incidents, in rapid succession. The day after the Ft. Hood shooting, Jason Rodriguez, a former engineer angry at his old employers, opened fire in an office building, killing one injuring five. Today, in Oregon, a shooter killed two in an office park.
In the wake of these tragedies, pundits and cultural observers have, often angrily, striven to give us a "what this means" moment, especially about the Ft. Hood shooting. To my generation, in high school during the Columbine fallout, the ritual should be familiar: serious people, experts, will lean into the television screen and inform us of the deep, rotting societal cancer that one person with a gun has suddenly laid bare. Somehow, individual insanity never suffices as an explanation; the tragedy itself never proves enough. Every horror must be an epidemic. And we must do something! (Now!)
For the life of me, I can't remember when this fear-filled collective hand-wringing has done anyone a bit of good.
A perfect example of the media frenzy emerges in last Friday's Left, Right and Center. Every observer offered their pet theory, with only the briefest mention of the actual lives lost in the Ft. Hood killing.
The shooting was a PTSD problem. Well, Hassan had never been deployed. A gun problem? Even with strict gun control, a military officer isn't going to have trouble laying their hands on significant firepower.
So it's an imperialism problem. No, an economic problem. Really? There were plenty of shootings in the '90s, when the U.S. wasn't in two major wars and the economy was booming. Terrorism? By every bit of evidence, Hasan acted alone.
Disgustingly, to many factions on the right-wing, it's a Muslim problem. The only constructive moment out of the the above episode comes when Arianna Huffington (after some eye-rolling theorizing of her own) calls Heritage Foundation shill Tony Blankley's bluff and asked him what social policies he'd use to miraculously weed out "radical Muslims." He can't (or wouldn't) think of any.
Blankley doesn't need to worry, though, as plenty of conservatives aren't as reticent. The American Family Association is already calling for all Muslims to be expelled from the military.
Funny how when a white guy snaps and goes on a shooting spree, it's never a white problem. But Hasan is a walking embodiment of fifth column jihadist terror, instead of a simple maniac.
I'm reminded of the outpouring of fear after Columbine, when we were suddenly informed that simmering packs of lonely, insane goth kids were ready to commit mass slaughter at the drop of a hat. Educators rushed to convert schools into mini-police states and swiftly punish any hint of aberrant behavior.
Turns out that diagnosis, and the popular version of Columbine it was based on, was a load of shit, so much so that USA Today felt compelled to begin their 10th anniversary retrospective by nothing that the shooters, in fact, were neither loners or goths.
What resulted from all that righteous fury? Mostly stupid zero-tolerance polices that screwed up a bunch of awkward kids' lives because an administrator pounced on a joke or some angsty poetry. The hysteria didn't save anyone.
Deep down, I don't think it was meant to. All the cries for action, then and now, are reassurance more than anything else. The talking heads are there to tell us that we can control the situation, to keep us away from a more disturbing conclusion: absolute safety is a lie. Our lives, happy or otherwise, can be ended or shattered for no good reason, by people who aren't operating by any sort of rules.
We can do everything in our power to create a better world, but in the end there is no magic formula that will suddenly remove that breed of shitbag from humanity. We will always be vulnerable to random maniacs, and freaking the fuck out in all directions seems to many pundits a better reaction than facing that fact. It's also possible, as with the Columbine backlash, to damage plenty of lives without making anyone safer.
Yes, there are lessons to be learned from any tragedy. There were some obvious warning signs in all of these cases that went ignored. The world would be a better place if we all kept a little more of an eye out for violent insanity, if we made less excuses when someone starts abusing their children or talking murder. The world would be a better place if more people were prepared to defend themselves against violence.
While we're at it, we should talk about PTSD, poverty and mental illness, along with a thousand other ignored, life-ruining topics. But not because they have a goddamn thing to do with Nidal Hasan's madness. It's a backhanded glorification of the shooters to turn them into archetypes of our social ills, instead of viewing them as the stupid sad-sacks they actually are.
Every last one of them chose to pick up the gun. If we're going to hand out blame, let's start with the person pulling the trigger.