Wednesday, December 19th, 2012...3:19 pm

Editorial: Newtown massacre raises troubling questions

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The day before the Jewish World went to press this week, the family of Noah Pozner buried their son and brother — at the age of six, he was the youngest victim of the heinous massacre last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He was a Jewish boy who dreamed of becoming a doctor, a soldier and manager of a factory that makes tacos — his favorite food, according to his mother, Veronique Pozner, who spoke at his funeral on Monday.

A bleak mood pervades this country, after a school shooting that took the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults. The shooter, Adam Lanza, 20, began the killing spree by murdering his mother in the home they shared. He later killed himself with a handgun inside of the school.

The press and social media are abuzz with theories about this latest act of mass murder, which follows what has become a familiar pattern. In Minnesota, we were shaken by the shootings at Roccori High School, in 2003, and the carnage at Red Lake Senior High School, where seven people were shot to death on the school campus, in 2005.

More recently, the AJW reported on the workplace shootings at Accent Signage Systems, where, on Sept. 27, a terminated employee got a handgun and murdered Reuven Rahamim, an Israeli native who founded the company, and five others, before shooting himself to death.

Our nation is awash in guns and armed homicidal maniacs; so we no longer are shocked or surprised by news of another mass killing. However, a horrific incident like Newtown shakes us from our somnolence. Or we are roused by a shocking killing on a smaller scale, such as the Dec. 5 shooting in a home on the Minneapolis West Bank, where a four-year-old found his father’s gun under a pillow and shot to death his two-year-old brother.

But what can we do to staunch the bleeding?

The mass murder in Newtown seems to be leading to congressional efforts to ban the sale of military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. However, individuals planning to commit mass murder are not necessarily going to be swayed by any federal or local laws.

We hear that mental illness or a disorder on the autism spectrum is the culprit in some of these shooting sprees; and then mental health advocates respond that we should not scapegoat victims of mental illness.

On this topic, Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, who has a blog called Disability and Representation: Changing the Cultural Conversation, recently wrote: “Autism is not a predisposing factor to premeditated violence. Autistic people are far, far more likely to be the victims of crime than its perpetrators.”

Cohen-Rottenberg continued:

And the same goes for mental illness. Most mentally ill people do not harm anyone and are at much greater risk of being the victims of violence.

If you must ask the question of why, take a look at what all the school shooters have in common: they are young men. Of course, simply being a man does not predispose anyone to violence. But perhaps the fact that we equate manhood with power and domination in our society does. Maybe, just maybe, we need to separate violence from the definition of being a man. Maybe, just maybe, we need to start looking at the way that we glorify violence among men.

That’s not scapegoating. That’s taking a good look at what we do, as a culture, to make it more likely that people choose evil.

I posted her essay on my Facebook page, and a friend sort of sealed Cohen-Rottenberg’s argument by uploading an ad for the Bushmaster assault rifle, which showed an image of the weapon with the copy: CONSIDER YOUR MAN CARD REISSUED.

Can this kind of toxic advertising be banned or required to carry a warning label, as in the case of tobacco ads?

And Jews in America, and around the world, regard the Holocaust as the epitome of evil; but there has been little discussion of evil in human nature, vis-à-vis the Newtown mass murder. The judgment at Nuremburg was that Hitler’s henchmen chose to do evil; they argued that they were only following orders. Of course, the killings in Connecticut are not remotely on the scale of the genocide in the Shoah; however, we can hardly conceive of anything more evil than the willful murder of defenseless young children cowering in a classroom.

Where do we draw the line between mental derangement and evil behavior?

Getting back to the society that spawns mass murderers, we have to acknowledge that something has gone seriously wrong. The leaders of government, whom we expect to set the tone, routinely resort to violence as a means of effecting policy — from threat of nuclear weapons to drones firing missiles in Yemen and Pakistan to SEAL assassination teams taking out reputed terrorists.

Black Power advocate H. Rap Brown once proclaimed that violence “is as American as cherry pie.” And as Jeffrey Sachs notes, in an opinion piece for Project Syndicate, the violence in U.S. society, and in Latin American societies, which have much higher murder rates than the U.S., could stem from the historical facts of European conquest. Sachs writes, “In many of these countries, including the U.S., the European conquerors and their descendants nearly wiped out the indigenous populations, partly through disease, but also through war, starvation, death marches and forced labor.”

In Minnesota, we don’t have to look much further than the Dakota Conflict Concentration Camp, which lies below Fort Snelling, to gain an understanding of the violence that undergirds U.S. society. The site by Pike Island in the Mississippi River is where some 1,600 Dakota men, women and children were interned during the winter of 1862-63, following the United States-Dakota War. And at the order of President Abraham Lincoln, 38 Dakota warriors were hanged from a scaffold in Mankato — the largest mass execution in U.S. history — on Dec. 26, 1862, 150 years ago.

We have a lot to untangle in remaking American society. In the year to come, perhaps we can foster a dialogue about creating a more humane nation. We owe it to the victims of Newtown. We owe it to the children, all of our children.

— Mordecai Specktor / editor@ajwnews.com

(American Jewish World, 12.21.12)

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3 Comments

  • What a great post, Mordecai, both as a tribute to the fallen and as a reminder of the insanity which has revealed itself too many times in recent years. Who would have thought America in the 21st century would be characterized by one mass shooting after another?

    Also, thank you for your reporting on the much-maligned autistic, who do not deserve to be pilloried as some are doing. “Autistic people are far, far more likely to be the victims of crime than its perpetrators,” is a truth we need to affirm in our words and deeds.

    This has been a heart-wrenching experience for our nation and for many of us personally. That for once the voices of reason are rising above the gun lobby should give us all hope.

    Reading of young Noah Pozner, I’m reminded of our own son at that age, of his wonderment and enthusiasm and innocence, and of all that lay in store for his future. The promise of our children humanizes and inspires us. There is nothing quite like the love of — and for — a child.

    May Noah and the other victims, recent and past, of the senseless violence which seems to permeate our culture, Rest in Peace. And may we find our way out of this unfathomable darkness.

  • It was good until you brought the Dakota Uprising into the mix. The truth of this matter was that Dakota women, children and old men were interned by the US Government at Fort Snelling because they were starving and their men being held on trial following the massacre and rape of hundreds of white settlers in Minnesota, uncluding many little children. The US was feeding all. Certainly, corrupt government officials contributed to the anger of the Dakota, who had not been paid monies owed them, but the Indians took out their rage on the wrong people, those who had no means of righting the wrongs and many of whom were helpless. The only US soldiers the Dakota fought were by ambush. There were 392 men sentenced to death for the crimes described above, but President Lincoln [after all a lawyer] reviewed the files on each one, commuting the sentences of all except 38. Just to set the record straight.

  • Great article on what’s going on both locally and nationally. I wish I had access to my Facebook page b/c it is just that relevant. Keep up the good work.

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