Wednesday, April 18, 2007

American Tragedy

The McDonald's I drive past on my way to work every day has its flag at half-staff this morning in a salute to the 32 dead at Virginia Tech. 32 people gunned down by a faceless assailant. It is terrible, unthinkable that such a thing should happen, and I can't begin to imagine what it was like to be a student in one of those classrooms, or a parent unable to reach my child on his cellphone in the hours after the shootings.

The pro-gun and anti-gun people, the politicians and the preachers and the pundits all jumped up, elbowing each other out of the way to unleash the salvos of blame before the bodies have even been buried, all sides with their simple solutions shouting past each other, interested not in discourse so much as noisemaking for its own sake.

And then I think about the fact that 31 US soldiers and marines have died in Iraq in the past nine days, that over 700 Iraqi civilians and security forces have died this month, that it's such a regular, ordinary occurrence that it's been pushed well off the front page of the newspaper. What happened on Monday in Blacksburg was horrible and ripped hundreds of lives apart. I am trying to imagine taking that feeling of horror, that shock and anger and grief, and replaying it on a daily basis, trying to conceive of how a society and its individuals can find the strength to go on living another day in the face of it.

The nation collectively mourns, as we should.

But the flag is lowered and the president shows up to the memorial service only when the unpredictable, random killing happens down the road a piece from the White House. Our flags should be at half-staff every day.

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