It is not a time for political pontificating. 20 innocent children are dead, and 6 adults (including those who were trying to protect the kids) are dead, too. 2 days earlier, there was a mall shooting in OR, and today, there was a hospital shooting in AL. Columbine, Aurora, Tucson, Blacksburg, and now Newtown--they've almost become a feature of our national landscape.
As a long-time gun control advocate, I have strong views on that subject today. Those views, however, are not germane to this diary. This diary will address a speech that my political hero gave to the Cleveland City Club on April 5, 1968, the day after MLK was assassinated.
The key grafs from that speech are as follows:
Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.There is something fundamentally wrong w/ our society's seemingly endless appetite for violence. While Kennedy noted our tolerance of violence and glorification of killing, local news shows nationwide had not yet adopted the "if it bleeds, it leads" ethos in 1968. We were not approaching a ratio of 1 gun/resident in this country. We had not yet had 8 years of a chickenhawk president who said things like "Bring it on" and of a chickenhawk VP who shot another man in the face. War had not yet become almost a video game on cable news (a medium that did not exist then).
"Among free men," said Abraham Lincoln, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs."
Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition they desire.
Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.
The senator went on to note:
We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear - only a common desire to retreat from each other - only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers.One can argue that our society, if anything, thrives on false distinctions even more now than it did then. It certainly accepts wealth disparities that were unthinkable then, and conspicuous consumption has become a national hobby in the last 3 decades. The idea that working people could seek the advancement of all through collective action is almost passe in an age when union density continues its long and steady decline. Our country started two wars in the last decade based, at least in part, upon hatred and revenge.
Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is now what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.
We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.
The speech closed w/ the following thoughts:
Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.I would love nothing more than to see the development of common faiths and common goals. Remembering that those who live w/ us are our brothers and our sisters wouldn't be such a bad idea, either. Sadly, we just went through a campaign cycle in which division was the norm, and 1 of our 2 parties has become dangerously infected by a distressing streak of nihilism.
But we can perhaps remember - even if only for a time - that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek - as we do - nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.
Violence has, sadly, been a feature of our national culture since its earliest days. Dueling, lynching, vigilantism, and a near genocide committed on indigenous tribes are all part and parcel of our culture. A "peculiar institution" that required violence for its continued survival and that required a bloody Civil War for its abolition are also essential features. Centuries of history are at work here.
I have no idea whether we are capable of moving towards (much less achieving) the essential spiritual growth that RFK spoke of in Cleveland. I don't even know if we're capable of recognizing the spiritual sickness that he so eloquently decried. I do know, however, that future tragedies of this nature will remain inevitable if we do not do so.