Although I spent my first six years in New Jersey and then lived for four years in upstate New York, I consider Maine to be the place where I grew up. We moved there when I was eleven. I was still adjusting to life after the death of my mother and the fracturing of my family that ensued. Maine is where I experienced the glories and terrors of adolescence. It’s where I learned to ski, where my crazy Navy SEAL Boy Scout Leader took a bunch of us kids winter camping in Raymond in sub-zero temps with me freezing in my three season (winter was not one of them) sleeping bag. It’s where I learned to drive, lost my virginity, made friends, was bullied, had sublime moments of oneness with nature, and was wounded by the slings and arrows aimed at kids who didn’t fit in with their peers.
Brunswick was an unusual town for coastal Maine. Home to both Bowdoin College and the Brunswick Naval Air Station our populace included lobstermen, hippies, college professors, townies, urban escapees, and Navy pilots who were flying missions over Vietnam. I will never forget the day in fifth grade when one of the planes in a local squadron, a P3-Orion, was shot down and several of my classmates lost their fathers.
Like most boys, I was fascinated with airplanes. Every summer the Blue Angels would fly in and the base would open its gates to the public. One year I was bitterly disappointed because the show was canceled due to a huge thunderstorm. I dreamed of flying one of those mighty jets. I can still feel the vibrations those massive engines would set up in all the resonant chambers of my torso as they screamed by at low altitude, thrilling the crowd with acrobatic moves, colored plumes of smoke painting geometric patterns in the sky above. This was heady stuff for an awkward teen, a few hours of total escapism from the boredom of life in a small town.
Quick, do you know how many children died in the first Iraq War?
Fast forward about 15 years to where I am standing in Atlanta, waiting for a bus to the airport. Suddenly the air was rent with the familiar thunder of fighter jets. I looked up to see six jets roaring over the buildings in front of me and for a moment I was cast back to my adolescence and my memories of the Blue Angels. Except this time something was different. The Blue Angels showcase the aircraft but not their weapons. These jets looked like the same kind of fighters that I grew up with but they were fully armed. As I gazed skyward I could clearly see the rockets on the underbelly of the planes and suddenly I had an almost out of body experience. A window in my mind opened up and I saw a group of women with children on their backs working in a rice paddy with one of these killing machines coming in for a strafing run. I felt sick to my stomach. The years of macho propaganda designed to capture a young boy’s imagination and fill it with the thrill of watching ariel acrobatics as a measure of a pilot’s skill turned to ashes as I realized in horrific detail exactly what those planes are designed to do: kill anyone who is determined to be “the enemy.”
Anyone familiar with modern warfare knows civilians are fair game, their deaths referred to not as killed women and children, or even as causalities, but as “collateral damage.” Such is the nature of warfare and it’s been that way for centuries. What has changed in the last six or seven decades, is not just the amount of collateral damage that is considered by both the military and the public as acceptable but that children are now routinely included in those statistics. Quick, do you know how many children died in the first Iraq War?
Today, on Memorial Day, 2022, we are confronting a different kind of warfare here at home. There is no foreign power threatening our way of life. There is no terrorist organization blowing up our infrastructure. There are no screaming jets playing a role here. No highly trained men deftly operating some of the most powerful machines ever made. Instead the players are the manufacturers of automatic weapons, those who buy them, the politicians who turn a blind eye to the deaths of ordinary people, and the propaganda machine that sensationalizes these tragic events and whips up a fury of righteousness so that the whole cycle repeats as an endless nightmare for all of us.
What kind of culture or society supports a polity that turns its back on the slaughter of its children and refuses to take action to prevent such an atrocity? How can this be socially or politically acceptable?
Let’s start with the puny little men who are nearly always white and Christian. Men the FBI classify as domestic terrorists. Men who post violent screes and manifestos on social media and then make the delusions of their minds a nightmare reality for innocent people. Thanks to lax gun laws, these disturbed men can obtain automatic weapons with high capacity magazines and clothe themselves in readily available body armor. Their enemies are fellow US citizens whom they perceive, for whatever deranged reason, as being undeserving of life and they see it as their job to remove these undesirables from the larger body of society. Once armed, these lunatics walk into churches, synagogues, mosques, stores, movie theaters, and most horribly, schools and open fire, indiscriminately killing children, women, and men. Ordinary people are mowed down - often people who are black, brown, Jewish, or immigrants top the list of undesirables but anyone is fair game. People just like you and me. People who are going about their lives lose their lives in cold-blooded acts of murder and become collateral damage in this war against… what exactly? I am not sure, sanity? In what culture or society have we ever seen a polity that turns its back on the slaughter of its children and refuses to take action to prevent such an atrocity from becoming politically acceptable?
How in the world did this sentence: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” become the basis for justifying the mass murder of children in their classrooms or of worshipers in their temples or of people doing their shopping or of fans attending a concert? How did we go from being a nation of laws, where everyone has the right to due process under the law to a country where lone wolf operatives can take the law into their own hands and become prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner while Congress stands idly by and sends thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims? How in the world can elected officials accept millions of dollars from gun manufacturers and lobbyists while this slaughter of innocents continues unabated, refusing to enact even the most innocuous of laws such as requiring a background check on gun buyers?
Abraham Lincoln famously declared that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Here we are, the most heavily armed civilian population of any country on Earth, with rampant mass murders occurring virtually every day and a Congress that won’t lift a finger to stop it. The Republican side of Congress – who are supposed to represent the interests of ALL the people in their states – refuse to make even the slightest move toward curtailing this senseless cycle of violence. Insisting after each mass murder that now is not the time to act, that the Democrats – who are regularly demonized by many of their Republican counterparts, which is sure to lead to more violence – are trying to politicize these killings. Seriously? According to the Washington Post, over 311,000 school children have experienced gun violence since Columbine, while the Gun Violence Archive claims there have been 2,128 mass murders (taking the lives of more than four people) since 2013, an average of one per day here in the Good Old US of A.
Only cowards avert their eyes when the see children being killed. Only cowards attempt to put a spin on the fact that no place is safe from gun violence and therefore the answer is to arm even more people. In what world is more guns the answer to mass murder?
If those harsh statistics don’t rise to the level where political action is needed then what the hell is the point of Congress? No one that I know of any political stripe wants to be swallowed by the pit of rage and despair that comes from learning that your child or parent or sibling or friend has been killed by a maniac with a high capacity assault rifle when such deaths could be prevented with a simple vote and the signing of a bill into law.
It sickens me to see how the country I grew up in, the country I proudly served (USCG) and the land and people that I love has become so divided by fear, hatred, and ignorance, all of it inflamed by a propaganda ministry that would be a wet dream for the likes of Goebbels, Mao, and Stalin – yes I am looking at you Murdoch. It makes me ill to see politicians like Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Greg Abbot defend the rights of the deranged to obtain weapons of mass destruction while school children are slaughtered in their classrooms as police stand outside worried about entering the building because they might get shot.
What the hell happened to US/us? What happened to “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people? If our government continues to prioritize the rights of religious fanatics to secure weapons for mass murder and regularly train them on our children while ignoring the wishes of the majority we can be assured that we can no longer claim to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. Only cowards avert their eyes when the see children being killed. Only cowards attempt to put a spin on the fact that no place is safe from gun violence and therefore the answer is to arm even more people. In what world is more guns the answer to mass murder? We have loosed the moorings of our moral foundation and the ship of state is adrift with catastrophic consequences for us all.
It makes me ill to see politicians like Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Greg Abbot defend the rights of the deranged to obtain weapons of mass destruction while school children are slaughtered in their classrooms as police stand outside worried about entering the building because they might get shot.
This Memorial Day, I pay homage to those who gave their lives to protect our democracy against threats from foreign powers. But today I weep also for the children who are now giving their lives for the likes of the aforementioned spineless “leaders” who stand by and let it happen over and over again. Over 90% of Americans want sensible gun safety laws to be passed. We want to be as safe in our schools, shopping places, concert venues and houses of worship as we are in our homes. But there are 50 Senators who are dead set against the wishes of the majority and they refuse to take action. If that is not an indication that our system is broken, I don’t know what is. What can be done to restore real democracy to our country? How many more mass murders will we allow to take place? Every day we delay is another day of mass murder. Is this really how we want to live?