Two months later, and I’m still thinking about those teachers and children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. I guess a lot of other people are thinking about them too.
People in the gun industry, for instance, found the shootings to be a kind of perverse marketing device. Before that, assault rifle sales at Wal-Mart and other gun dealers were already brisk. Now they can hardly keep up with the demand.
Several states are discussing putting guns in the hands of teachers and principals. In the little town of Harold, just up the road from Wichita Falls, some teachers are already packing. School boards in Arlington, Cleburne, and elsewhere are considering it. Gun classes are filling with teachers and school bus drivers.
How does the song go? “There’s something happening here / What it is ain’t exactly clear.”
I want kids protected too. But is arming teachers the answer? Arming ourselves with assault rifles? What’s next?
What if we could see what happened, in Newtown and Columbine and too many other places, in a slightly larger context? Yes, the shining faces of those 20 children broke my heart. But so did the pictures I’ve seen of Pakistani children killed by drone missile attacks ordered by our president, kids about the same age as those in Newtown.
I thought about how we’ve been doing this for a long time, clear back to Vietnam: routinely killing children and other civilians around the world. Now we find ourselves in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia. What’s it for? Does anyone recall or care that even before our invasion of Iraq, our sanctions there resulted in the deaths of half a million children younger than five? Or that then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright calmly remarked, “The price was worth it”?
On Inauguration Day, as Barack Obama placed his hand on a Bible that had belonged to Martin Luther King Jr., his drones were finishing a four-day mission in Yemen that killed 14 people.–
Since the drone program began under George W. Bush, hundreds of civilians have died, including at least 176 children just in Pakistan. Medea Benjamin of CodePink recently led a delegation to Pakistan to see the results firsthand. People there told her how drones were causing widespread psychological trauma, especially among children. “Parents fear sending their children to school; people are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, or other community gatherings,” she reported.
Obama has assumed the power to kill anyone, including American citizens, just on his say-so. Yet there he was, wiping away tears for those who died in Newtown.
Does he weep for the children massacred by his drones or our military? What about the rest of us? Do we believe that parents in distant countries love their children less than we do ours, grieve less profoundly for them?
Most other countries now see us as one of the leading purveyors of violence in the world. Thomas Jefferson and our Bill of Rights are famous. But these days we’re equally known for CIA black sites, Guantanamo, and pre-emptive invasion. And we’re known everywhere through the photographs from Abu Ghraib.
Had the children at Sandy Hook lived to maturity, is it unreasonable to suppose that we might have sent them off to some needless, distant war to kill others and their children? Or to think that those who made it home, traumatized and broken, to few jobs and little support, might, like too many returning veterans of today, have taken their own lives?
Well, what do I know? Maybe the answer is more assault rifles. Maybe it’s letting teachers strut around their classrooms with a pointer and a gun.
But wouldn’t that be a kind of surrender, a decision to raise our kids not in a land that nurtures charity and compassion but in one firmly rooted in violence and fear?
Surely we owe those children — not just the ones at Sandy Hook, but everywhere — something better. Better than fisticuffs over gun rights and a reversion to some childish cowboy code. If that’s the best we can offer our sons and daughters, then I truly believe we will produce more deranged killers, not fewer.
The “better angels of our nature” are easy enough to see, if we care to stop fighting for a minute and look: They’re in the faces of those children. And in the smiling, brave eyes of their teachers. If we can’t choose peace for ourselves, here and around the world, then please, God, let us choose it for them.
Grayson Harper is a Fort Worth artist and writer.