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Empty Words

After Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbek terrorist drove a rental truck down a bike path and killed 8 innocent civilians, Mayor Bill DeBlasio said, “we aren’t going to give in.” Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “We’re not going to let the terrorists win, period.” Country singer Jason Aldean, who was on stage during the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people, came on Saturday Night Live and sang Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” After the deaths of 26 people in the shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, President Trump said, “"We pull together. We join hands, we lock arms and through the tears and through the sadness we stand strong, oh so strong,"

Surely we need strong and inspirational leadership from our political, community and cultural leaders after a devastating crisis, and that’s what the words quoted above signify. So do the “thoughts and prayers” for those lost and their loved ones after such incidents. I’m not criticizing the words, but I wonder if they actually mean anything.

Not every tragedy, even on the scale of a mass shooting or a terrorist attack, can be avoided. They are going to happen and we need reassurances afterward that our spirits have not been dealt a debilitating blow. But words, especially inspirational ones, don’t solve problems and the adequacy of our society’s response to tragedies should not be measured by how dramatically our leaders voice strength, compassion, or indignation. The creation of terrorists, especially “home-grown” ones, ought to be something our government and our experts on psychology and sociology understand. We should be able to identify who is vulnerable and to learn what kinds of social media or religiously toned messages have convinced them to turn to violence. We should be able to develop counter messages and culturally sensitive ways to present them in order to prevent more converts to jihadism. Although it requires a tightrope walk between insuring freedom of speech and insuring protection of the community, we should figure out how to limit the presentation of violence-inducing messages to people within our country.

Many of the mass killings in the U.S. have involved disturbed and usually angry individuals using semi-automatic weapons to kill lots of people who are together enjoying some benign group activity, such as attending a music concert, a sporting event, church, or being present at a club, a movie or political event. We don’t always know the motivation of such individuals, and in some cases it appears to be heavily tinged by mental illness. It seems difficult to know what it means to “be strong” as a nation following such an event. What it has not meant, has been to address the prevalence and easy attainability of the kinds of weapons used to kill people in such tragedies, although we know that in countries with fewer guns available, there are fewer mass attacks than in America. In these cases, our remonstrations that we are not going to “give in” to mass killers or that we “Pray for all those lost and their loved ones,” seem hollow, given no concrete actions to prevent such happenings in the future. We are left just as vulnerable as before, but with more reassurances that we are strong and more prayers for those lost.

Fighting terrorism or preventing mass murders is not a matter of “not giving in” to something. These words give the illusion that we are doing something and that the issue is a matter of the strength of the American spirit. It isn’t. It’s about the wisdom of the American actions and policies. So far such wisdom is sadly lacking.




Reader Comments (2)

I agree, Casey. All of our statements of unity seem hollow and trite. They are spoken in the absence of a call for more effort toward understanding the causes of these incredible tragedies. That call, it seems to me... (The rest of my comment is posted on my blog at:

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

I am willing to discuss meaningful gun laws, AFTER we have resolved
medical care,
social and economic equity,
military imperialism abroad,
abuse of police authority,
judicial reform,
and clearly demonstrated a reliable ability to manage and resolve problems of our human experience.

Until such time, I will remain armed in defense against deranged assholes, and enraged victims of social injustice.

I don't like the 2nd amendment. I CARRY a pistol nearly 24/7 so don't start.

However I am not willing to insist that it does not mean what it says.


Nor am I willing to agree that Congress has any authority to decide when the rights of the people do not apply.


Nor will I agree that the supreme court has authority to simply decide that those rights don't apply.


We have a constitutional process to amend or repeal the 2nd.

IF you think there are good reasons to have exceptions to the right to keep and bear arms, then AMEND THE 2nd to INCLUDE THOSE EXCEPTIONS.

If that process is failing, which I agree it IS, then we need a new process.

A proper government is a TOOL. That the public can use to make decisions, and implement those decisions.
A social tool, a process of methods that results in rational decisions.

If your government does not do that, you need a new government.

Have you considered the possibility of a system that is structured such that it does not matter if the people elected are liars, selfish and corrupted?
Perhaps you should.

November 7, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter45 Mike Anderson

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