I was at an airport named for a U.S. military hero when I got the text. My sister sent me a message explaining football players had sat or taken knees during the national anthem. In London, England. For the world to see. I had left Buffalo, New York, earlier in the morning and turned my telephone back on when I reached O’Hare Airport in Chicago. “Butch” O’Hare was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin Roosevelt. After briefly selling war bonds, the young pilot returned to the South Pacific. He was killed in a night raid. His remains were never recovered. His hometown named one of the busiest airports on the planet after the great American hero.
I caught my connecting flight to Salt Lake City in a matter of a few minutes. Before leaving for the last leg of my journey home I was standing in the Delta terminal on a cloudy afternoon in Utah waiting on a flight to Twin Falls. There was a football game on an overhead television. No one appeared to be interested in the action.
Over a period of three days I flew twice through Salt Lake City. Once through Atlanta, twice through Buffalo and as mentioned, Chicago. It was a busy football weekend but I saw few people in jerseys. Save for the staff at one airport restaurant bedecked as the Houston Texans. Perhaps the place has ties to the city. I didn’t ask. I did notice not many patrons were watching the games on the big screens.
As some of you know I made a whirlwind trip back to my native western New York state. I was a guest of the United States Army. We buried a family member the same weekend as the massive football demonstrations. He was killed 74 years ago in the South Pacific. It wasn’t until this past July his remains were identified. When his B-24 slammed into a mountainside there was an explosion from fuel mixed with one of three bombs on the plane. Remains were scattered for hundreds of yards and over the side of a cliff.
The day before my arrival his casket was flown into an airport in Rochester. From there a group of veterans on motorcycles led the hearse on a two hour odyssey through rolling hill country. An old radio friend works at a Wesleyan college along the route. He wrote me and said staff and students lined the highway paying respects. Schoolchildren stood along the streets the last few hundred feet before the funeral home. They had hands over their hearts. Saturday afternoon I was with the procession the 1.5 miles to the cemetery. Lampposts, homes and shops were flying flags of the United States of America.
At the burial I gazed across a hillside and saw complete strangers, Legionnaires and Boy Scouts at attention. An aunt who is the last person with any memory of Uncle Harold received the flag when it was removed from the casket. Her hearing is poor and she’s restricted to a wheelchair. She had been waiting for the moment since she was 7 years old.
Tell me, again, why these highly paid athletes are angry? Why would they expect I would even listen after what they’ve done? A newspaper columnist at the Washington Examiner asked last week what would be the response if conservatives and patriots shredded the pride flag or used the Mexican flag as toilet paper. We know the answer. Denunciations from fellow travelers in news media would be swift and furious.
During the 1960s, left-wing protestors burned American flags, shouted foul-mouth slogans and mocked the people they were hoping to convert to a cause. A couple of months ago I suggested in this newspaper some right-leaning Idahoans who show up at public events waving Confederate flags and pistols aren’t winning any converts. Sure, it’s your right. I didn’t threaten anyone with flag or firearms confiscation. I did point out from a marketing view you can’t dialogue with people you’ve frightened or angered.
We’re supposed to sympathize with the professional athletes. We’re supposed to sympathize with Black Lives Matter. We’re supposed to sympathize with Antifa or its Occupy forebear. And yet, I watch the fires burning and the windows being smashed and the insensitive nature of the protests while the Star Spangled Banner is being played. And I want nothing to do with any of these clowns. I agree with the president. From my vantage point, S.O.B. is appropriate.
Saving the world from tyranny is admirable. Giving your life for another or for national ideals is the epitome of the greatest love. Juking a defender, slipping a tackler and scoring a touchdown … It’s a brief and transitory glow for the observer. By Monday morning there isn’t any lasting impact. Unless you’re living vicariously through the running back now planning to renegotiate his already fat contract. He conflates his success on the field with some lasting cultural impact. Funny thing, though. The big sports heroes in places like Chicago, Ditka, Sayers, Banks and many, many more are honored with a street name or statue. The city’s airport is something larger. Much, much larger and for a greater collective cause. I’m finding other pursuits Sunday afternoons this autumn.
I have been a resident of Twin Falls for the last 14 years (having moved here to retire with my husband who is a native). I have lived in many diverse places (LA, Houston, Abadan, Iran to name a few). I usually don't comment too much on what is in our local paper (although I could) but I am compelled to after reading the article Saturday, Sept. 30, titled "Coalition aims to confront hate." One sentence in particular jumped out at me.
I was totally offended by it as I am sure many of the good residents of south-central Idaho probably were. I am quoting Adrienne Evans when she described Twin Falls as a "haven for white nationalists." She lumped thousands of good, hard-working people of this community who give of their time, talents, money and other donations to help people in our community better themselves, and yes, this includes the many fine people who happen to be refugees.
Whether you happen to lean left or right politically, we are all Americans. We need to listen to each other's concerns without attacking them with opinionated facts. We need to learn the art of compromise. We need to respect other viewpoints and not attempt to vilify them if they are different than ours.
As for our president, he is doing his job. As he has said, he views his prime responsibility as protecting the citizens of this country while following the Constitution. He wants to screen potentially dangerous factions from coming to our country under the guise of "refugees." Thus the constraints on certain countries where we are not well-liked.
Another day, another mass shooting in America. Except this time, the horrific slaughter that unfolded Sunday night at a concert in Las Vegas is being widely described as the deadliest one in modern U.S. history. More than 50 people are dead, and more than 200 wounded, after the shooter opened fire on a crowd on the Las Vegas Strip from a 32nd-story hotel window.
There is still an enormous amount we don’t know, yet speculation is raging out of control, as always. Here are a few suggestions for the debate that is already underway:
There is a right way to “politicize” mass shootings, and a wrong way to politicize them. As of now, the Clark County sheriff says of the shooter: “We have no idea what his belief system was.” Social media is awash in efforts to associate the shooter with one political worldview or another. Please, let’s not do this—even if and when that worldview becomes known. Such mass killings have all kinds of motives, from mental illness to a desire to emulate and outdo previous rampages. (There is also a related debate over whether ascribing mass shootings to mental illness is sometimes done in ways that end up scapegoating the mentally ill.)
There’s nothing wrong with trying to discern the belief system of mass killers, provided that this is part of a broader effort to learn all we can about the killer; provided that this belief system itself is not reflexively tagged as the cause of the shooting; provided that other causes are given due weight; and provided we don’t use those shootings to tar our ideological opponents and their worldviews. We all know what that latter tactic looks like. Let’s not do it.
That said, there is nothing wrong with politicizing mass shootings in a different sense: They are the right occasions for intense arguments over how to prevent them in the future. After all, if we aren’t going to talk about what to do about mass slaughter when it happens, when are we going to talk about it? Treating these massacres as inevitable or beyond the capacity for human problem solving—something that becomes easier when they recede in the news—isn’t an option. However, a major caveat here: We need to keep focused on the crucial distinction between mass shootings and the broader problem of gun violence.
Let’s debate mass shootings and the broader scourge of gun violence as separate but related problems. The difficulty with debating gun violence in the context of mass shootings is that we lose focus on the much broader day-to-day slow burn carnage of gun deaths in America. Mass shootings constitute only a tiny fraction of the gun-violence problem, and if we are going to discuss mass shootings, they raise their own set of distinct issues. They don’t just occasion an argument over how to prevent mass shooters from getting lethal weaponry. They also encompass arguments over whether we need increased funding into the multiple causes of mass shootings; over how to improve law enforcement efforts to spot would be mass shooters in advance; and over the scandalously substandard response to mental illness in this country.
The broader scourge of gun violence encompasses a host of different, though related, problems, shading into debates about suicide, domestic violence, and questions about how to reasonably regulate day-to-day access to guns that have little overlap with the mass shootings debate. It is perhaps inevitable, and in some ways desirable, that we will argue over these issues when a horrifyingly traumatic event grips the public attention—something that has served as an impetus to reform repeatedly throughout our history. But we have to take enormous care not to let mass shooting dominate and define the larger debate over gun violence, precisely because we need to do a lot more to respond to that latter problem, and to make strong, evidenced-based arguments for such a response. This conflation is counterproductive and destructive.