A Nation that Doesn’t Know It’s at War

December 15th, 2012 at 3:57 pm

To say the least, it seems discordant, silly, and trivial, to blog about the fiscal cliff, job trends, monetary policy, and so on, when little children are killed in school.  It’s fiddling while Rome burns.  I’ll get back to it because for those of us lucky enough to have survived, life goes on, and that’s what we do: we get back to our work, to our family life, and so on.

But it feels to me like we are a nation at war against a secret, crazy, internal enemy who can and does strike with impunity whenever and wherever he wants—in schools, theaters, churches, mosques.  These are his battlefields.  Ironically, in his twisted mind, he knows and understands this war far better than we do.  We deny its existence and far worse, we make it easy for him to be armed to the teeth with weapons of war.

We argue that we cannot recognize this war and fight this enemy because to do so would involve sacrificing our freedom.  A ban on assault weapons or a digital warning to law officials when ordinance is stockpiled would violate fundamental American principles more treasured than personal safety.

But of course we are not free to pursue life and liberty in the midst of this war.  There appears to be no way to stop the increasing cascade of enemy attacks.  We are helplessly trapped by our alleged protection of our freedoms and the allegiance of policy makers on all sides of the aisle to those who arm the enemy.

I’ve written about this as a policy failure, pointing out that “you just have to believe that there is a role for public policy to insure the safety of its citizens from unreasonable threats as we go about our lives…that sounds like a very low bar that even the least courageous policy maker should be able to get over.”

But that language feels too mild today.  We have implicitly accepted the fact that we are under attack, in this most horrible case “we” being our most vulnerable children—20 five-to-ten year olds—and we have agreed to do nothing about it.

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11 comments in reply to "A Nation that Doesn’t Know It’s at War"

  1. rjs says:

    we reap what we sow…

    where’s the outrage over all the pakistani & waristani children who have been killed by the drone air strikes that we have enabled by our silence?

  2. Fred Donaldson says:

    In an age when public funding for mental health treatment is “too expensive” and the sick are walking the streets in favor of “mainstreaming”, we might revisit the role of schools themselves (teachers, nurses, psychologists) in identifying children with problems and getting them help early – regardless of cost to the taxpayer. With intervention this massacre could have been averted and perhaps the perpetrator could have been helped to become more normal and less disturbed.

    • Tom in MN says:


      In regards to all types of health care, there is a fixation on the direct costs of government health care (let’s raise the Medicare age) that ignores the total cost to society. But how can we be happy with the low dollar cost of mental health care when the ultimate cost is the lives of children?

  3. wendy beck says:

    We are our own terrorists. Some of your suggestions should be enacted. No one should be able to stockpile ammunition. How much faith can we have in Homeland Security if the mass murderer of Aurora stockpiled all that ammo and why should anyone have multiple guns like the mother of the gunman in CT? How about common-sense gun laws, 24-hour walk in clinics (mental health and otherwise) in every neighborhood? How about schools with small classes and guidance counsellors with realistic student loads? There’s a lot we could do if we really valued lives over guns.

  4. Arthur Margon says:

    The gun/ammo control issue isn’t a policy failure, it’s a moral failure. And Mike Huckabee shouldn’t be the only clergyman making himself heard: there has to be a very large group who think his position is nuts. Where are they all?

    • Milton Chapman says:

      Who listens to Mike Huckabee? I know, dumb question, dumb of me to ask when I know the answer is Dumb people. When I see Huckabee on T.V. here’s what I hear. Hi, Im Mike Huca click.

  5. Auros says:

    I totally agree with the policy goals being discussed here, but I’m REALLY leery of framing this in terms of a “war”. The “war on drugs” and “war on terror” have been used to justify all kinds of nutty policies. I’ve already heard people, in the wake of the recent tragedy, suggesting that we need armed guards in the schools — which if anything would raise the risks, because one day one of those guards would snap. We need better gun laws (eliminating non law-enforcement access to weapons designed to be used against large numbers of people), and we need to massively increase the funding for providing and promoting mental health care. But let’s frame this as measures for the health and safety of the population, not as yet another “war” on some abstract noun. As I believe Jon Stewart once put it, the abstract nouns tend to kick our collective *ss.

    • Auros says:

      Actually, I think the worst thing I’ve heard was people talking about how it’s so much harder to get into an airport than into a school, and we need more security like at the airports. And I’m just thinking, ARE YOU NUTS?! The airport security stuff is all “security theater” — it’s stuff to make you feel safer if you’re too dumb and inattentive to actually learn where the security problems in airports actually are. And it’s rife with abuse and risks. I know MULTIPLE people, including my spouse, who have had personal items stolen from luggage by the underpaid, undertrained, underscreened goons who make up the rank-and-file of the TSA — we have the same private security drones who used to work for the airlines, deputized with vast new powers. I also know people who have been subjected to inappropriate treatment in the course of pat-downs. The backscatter scanners are not adequately tested, and who knows if we’re going to start seeing skin cancers attributable to them. (There’s a UC Davis study that suggests so — the dosage would be fine if distributed through tissue, but in fact it’s concentrated in the top millimeter of the skin, and thus it’s emphatically NOT safe. B/c I’ve already had one pre-cancerous birthmark removed, I always refuse to use the cancer scanners.)

      And that’s the kind of regime we should put into our children’s schools?

    • Jared Bernstein says:

      Good points…I’ve framed this as public/health policy failure in the past. I think my point now is that I, and I suspect I’m not alone, am feeling helplessly at the mercy of a crazed enemy, one that we allow to be armed to the teeth. And frankly, I find it hard to believe that we’ll overreact to this tragedy, as we arguably have with the “wars” on terror/drugs. The pattern, of course, has been to not even under-react. It’s been to not react at all.

  6. Milton Chapman says:

    A young man did the shooting in Connecticut & another one in Aurora and in Arizona and two in Columbine and a young man blew up the building in Olahoma City. Something is happening to Americas young men. What is it? Sure it’s Video Games and much more, but what?