Commentary by Bill Frank, who taught social studies, focusing on the U.S. Constitution, at a Christian school in inner city Chicago for five years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The details of the terrible shooting at the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington D.C. are still pouring in. There are many questions being asked, but in time the answers will come to the surface. Or will they be as elusive as the answers to questions from Benghazi?
I taught social studies for five years in the inner city of Chicago, and while I am familiar with the senselessness of gang violence, events like this mass shooting seem to go beyond even those solitary tragedies. Same lethal results, but spread out over time and usually dismissed as more victims of street violence. I taught my students about events like these that escape logic and sensibility. The burden of attempting to explain the unexplainable nature of evil to adolescents simultaneously assisted me in sorting out the calamities.
It’s important to look at this event in the context of our nation’s recent history. Naturally, thoughts go directly to the terrorist attack at Fort Hood. Perhaps even looking into other recent mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., or Aurora, Colo., or Benghazi, Libya.
Seeing these spokespeople from the Navy reminded me of the military personnel at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Unarmed administrators going about their daily business, never imagining that their days would be forever changed once they got to work that day. Then at 8:30 in the morning, with coffee cups full and maybe a pastry in defiance of a diet, these victims never knew what was coming. The battlefields across the oceans surely seemed remote in terms of physical experience, but in their day-to-day roles, they were involved in some aspect with protecting our country.
Since the slaughter at Fort Hood is still classified as “workplace violence” rather than terrorism, will this event be classified in the same way? Since these events occurred on federal property with multiple victims, they should be classified as acts of terrorism. Will the federal government come to its senses and do the right thing for all of these families? How could they not? I would much rather see tax money spent on helping these people than lavish parties and vacations for the "elite" in our government.
My mind also goes all the way back to Oklahoma City. In that case, terrorism was hard to deny. Scores of people were murdered, including many children, and I must admit, like many others, I rushed to judgment and thought it was the work of Islamic terrorists. It wasn’t. Trying to process the evil, senseless, and horrific actions of individuals who were bent on some twisted schemes; it reminds me of how I felt yesterday and will for the coming weeks. How could anyone blow up a building with people inside, with children in day care?
How many orphans were created today? When I was 6-years-old, my mother died from breast cancer. It has taken a lifetime to cope with that loss, how much more so for the loved ones of these poor people who were needlessly killed today? Imagine the agony of having to explain to the children of these 12 victims what happened.
Since Oklahoma City, our technology has advanced significantly. The news cycle is much faster than in the past. We, the news consuming public, experience a barrage of news everyday, with few limits. Anyone can be buried in the tragedy and evil of this world if they are not judicious in taking time to step away from the news and cherish their loved ones and other pursuits. Like Oklahoma City, like Sept. 11, 2001, like Newtown, like Aurora, like Fort Hood, like Benghazi, today’s events will be in the spotlight for a period of time, and then fade to part of the back story to an article like this one.
We don’t forget these terrible events; they get woven into our history. That was something I taught young people for five years, in the midst of the Humboldt Park neighborhood in Chicago. Virtually all of my students had heard gunshots, knew a gang member or had been solicited to join a gang. In some ways, they knew more than I did about the violence. While I taught history, I also taught Bible class since I worked at a Christian school. The Bible clearly discusses the ideas of mass death, Satan, and seemingly senseless evil. Importantly, it also discusses God’s love as the remedy for our own lives, and for the world at large.
Perhaps mental illness played a role in this case. Perhaps there is a link to Islamic terrorism, or as in the case of Oklahoma City, domestic terrorism. Sadly, the perniciousness of evil rears its head repeatedly throughout history. We can and must safeguard ourselves against it as much as possible. Whether one looks back into the slaughters in the distant part, recent past, or that is occurring today, the presence of evil in our world is undeniable. We must stand vigilant against it, fight back, and provide the resources, compassion, and love that the victims and their families need. That is what is needed.
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