Monday, April 20, 2009

Columbine: Lessons Left Unlearned

Ten years ago today I spent a lovely morning and early afternoon driving the full length of the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. I was vacationing in the Valley, staying in New Market, and enjoying the many natural treasures and historical sites in the Valley proper. During my drive, I got to see the flora and fauna of the Valley in all its wondrous glory. It was early afternoon when I got back to my hotel to relax for a bit before eating dinner. I took off my shoes, flopped on the bed and switched on the television to find myself watching the tragic aftermath of the Columbine Massacre in Colorado.

There, on all the TV channels, was the footage of the students being escorted by police out of the school with their hands on their heads; the commentators repeating ad nauseam the gory details of the bloodbath; the ad hoc experts offering up their theories as to why; and, the now regrettable penchant of news people to seize on a descriptive phrase and beat it to death. (If I had been given a dollar every time the phrase “trench-coat mafia” was used I would have been a millionaire by night fall). I remember at the time when everyone was speculating as to why the massacre took place that my personal theory was that the killers, Klebold and Harris, were Satanists because the shooting took place on April 20 which is Adolf Hitler’s birthday (I have read books which state that Hitler is worshipped as a demigod among various Satanic cults). As it turned out my theory was wrong. Klebold and Harris were not Satanists but their motivations were certainly drawn from the bowels of hell itself.

Ten years after the maledicta, finger-pointing, second-guessing, and senseless speculation as to why Klebold and Harris committed their nihilistic act, I find myself looking inward while contemplating the Columbine Massacre.

When it came out the Klebold and Harris had been victimized by school bullying and had turned to each other to form their own murder clique as a mean to gain revenge on their peers, I couldn’t help but look at my own victimization years ago. From age eight to eighteen I was subject to constant physical, verbal, and psychological abuse at the hands of my peers and some of my teachers while I was a student in the Delran, New Jersey school system. Having had visited upon me so much vile poison the questions begs to be made is why didn’t I do the same thing as Klebold and Harris did?

There are several answers:

1) I am, by nature, not a violent person. Even though I am quite tall and now, quite, bulky, I was never a violent person by nature. I was more a victim of violence than someone who victimized others through violence. Obviously, Klebold and Harris were different. They were inherently violent and they did everything they could to give expression to their violence. They sought refuge in their video games where mass murder and indiscriminate slaughter is passed off as child’s play with the appropriate reset buttons to inure everyone that in real life, violence is deadly, bloody, and there are no reset buttons.

2) I lived in a house where there were no guns. Even if I had intended to commit violence, I had no weapons with which to commit the violence nor did I know of any places in Delran where to get a gun. (To this day I have never fired a gun or a rifle in my life. I have held guns (always empty) but I have never chambered a round into a firearm and have shot off a round. In way I am proud of that fact and it is my wish that I never fire a weapon of any kind). Klebold and Harris were different. They grew up in homes where guns were available, accessible, and usable. They grew up in a region where the Second Amendment is regnant and inviolate. Simply put, Klebold and Harris had access to the basic tools to commit a massacre and had the gumption and the access to information to manufacture their own explosive devices which they intended to compound and enhance their homicidal intentions.

3) I knew that violence was a waste of time and a self-destructive act which would have led to my personal destruction. I had a definite sense of right and wrong. Where it came from I do not know. Was it my parents? Was it from inside of me? I don’t know but I had the inner sense and sensibility to know that revenge was for fools. The actor Roger Moore in the movie For Your Eyes Only once said, “when you seek revenge you better dig two graves. One for your victim and the other for yourself.” Klebold and Harris were different. They lived in an emotional milieu where revenge and violence were glorified; the sufferings of its victims diminished; the resort to violence encouraged and enabled. In the days and weeks following the Massacre, we all saw Klebold and Harris’ videotapes of them practicing their marksmanship and bragging about their intentions. Their nihilistic posturing reminded me of another Colorado native, John Chivington, who loudly proclaimed in 1864, “I long to be wading in gore! Kill and scalp, big and little. Nits make lice!” What followed was the infamous Sand Creek Massacre where Colorado militiamen murdered peaceful Southern Cheyenne Indians (men, women, and children all). Chivington—when he was not murdering Indians—was a clergyman. In manys, Klebold and Harris were no different than the hijackers who flew their airplanes into the Pentagon, World Trade Center, and the Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. The same mentality that goaded Klebold and Harris to kill also goaded the 9/11 hijackers; murder for the sake of murder.

I remember reading one so-called expert say that Klebold and Harris were suicidal. Hogwash. Although they both took their own lives rather than surrender to police I do not believe their intent was suicide. If it had been then why murder innocent people. Why didn’t they go into the woods with their weapons and shoot themselves. The fact that they did take their own lives was merely incidental in my book. By taking their own lives they cheated the hangman (although Colorado didn’t have the death penalty at the time). If Klebold and Harris had surrendered to authorities then they would have stood trial and had been made to assume responsibility for their crimes and would have been forced to listen to the many victim impact statements that would have been read during the trial. Klebold and Harris’ suicides were a way to evade responsibility for their murders. If Klebold and Harris had been able to find an escape route from the school I have no doubt they would have taken it and would have continued their murder spree until they were killed or captured. My guess is that their only regrets were that they had not chalked up a larger body count that they had hoped for.

What’s amazing about Columbine is that ten years have passed and we still have massacres of this type going on in America and around the world; that we still give people access to guns which they shouldn’t have—all in the name of the Second Amendment; that there are kids out there in the world who consider Klebold and Harris’ rampage as something to imitate, build on, and improve.

Ten years on and we still haven’t learned...

And that is the real tragedy of Columbine.

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