"We have met the enemy and he is us." So spoke Walt Kelly's Pogo. If you're looking for someone to blame for the shootings and killings in Tucson, look no further. Sure, Sarah Palin is a classless, ignorant, greedy attention seeker; a fine example of Oliver Goldsmith's wisdom that "every absurdity has a champion to defend it." Of course, Palin's sniper-rifle gun-sight image over Rep. Gabrelle Giffords was as despicable as so many of her public activities and utterances are. But, it's our American culture not just one half-term, quitter governor of Alaska, that's really to blame for this. It's our fault. Yours and mine.
In the aftermath of the weekend massacre we've exacerbated the circumstances that led to it. We've heard cries of "unbelievable" and "incredible" and "shocking" and "unheard of" from the media and especially from public officials -- all of whom ought to know better. Yes, some have rightly said we live in a hostile and violent time. But that's hardly news, and that's not the whole story about us as an American people. The American culture is not just hostile and violent. That's an understatement. We are a murderous culture. We have indeed met the enemy, and he is most certainly -- us. When faced with it, we escape by calling ourselves "exceptional" as if to wash away the blood that stains us all. Every tragedy -- in this case the killings in Arizona -- is always referred to as aberrant... because we are "exceptional."
The American culture is hardly "exceptional" as everyone in public life seems to feel obligated to repeat ad nauseum. Consider it. Are we really "better" than other people in other countries in other cultures? Are we? How? We're actually "exceptional" only in our blindness to the truth, in our insistence that we keep our eyes shut tight to the light. Whenever something awful happens we are quick to declare it "exceptional" so as not to mar our image of ourselves. Last week a man in Texas was freed after 30 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. DNA evidence set him free. "Exceptional" police work and "exceptional" prosecutors and judges convicted and imprisoned him -- for 30 years! Did we react to proof of his innocence by questioning whether or not there may be thousands, even tens of thousands, of other innocent people in prisons across America? Of course not. This Texas case was "exceptional." When we watched the infamous OJ Simpson trial on television and saw first hand, up close and in our living rooms the horrendous mistakes and possibly criminal behavior of the LAPD, did we ask how many other defendants have been convicted by corrupt evidence, incompetent or criminal police work and compliant judges? Of course not. The OJ trial was "exceptional." These and other examples litter the American landscape with a trail of garbage stinking for hundreds of years.
The shooting of Rep. Gabrelle Giffords and 19 others -- the deaths of six so far -- is nothing new, nothing "exceptional." If only we paid attention, we would understand. According to FBI data, in the half-century since 1960 there have been more than three-quarters of a million homicides in the United States. That's a murderous culture. Each year in the United States there are about 20,000 murders. How "exceptional" are we? Japan had 988 murders last year. Italy had 644. The Netherlands had 157 murders. What relevance does Holland have to the "exceptional" US? Holland only has 16 million people. Well, New York City has half the population of Holland, but under Mayor Rudy Giuliani's leadership there were 2,016 murders in that city in one year. Giuliani is an American hero, a serious contender to be president. Imagine how the Dutch might think of him had he been mayor of Amsterdam with those results. Elsewhere in the world we are considered "exceptional," but for the wrong reasons. In Western Europe and Asia murder is not a culturally accepted behavior. In a year, there were only 81 murders in Greece; 65 in Austria; 49 in Norway; 38 in Ireland; and yes -- 4 in Iceland. (8th UN Survey On Crime).
Ours is a murderous culture where killing our leaders is a frequent, not shocking occurrence -- and we steadfastly refuse to recognize it.
In 235 years we have had 44 presidents. How many have been murdered? Four -- Lincoln (1865), Garfield (1881), McKinley (1901), Kennedy (1963). How many others have been the victims of assassination attempts? Six. Andrew Jackson (1835), T. Roosevelt (1912), FDR (1933), Harry Truman (1950), Gerald Ford (1975), Ronald Reagan (1981). Since Andrew Jackson, no generation has been without an attempt to murder the president. It's normal, not unusual.
There was little unusual about an attempt to kill Congresswoman Gabrelle Giffords. In our history we have seen eight members of Congress and senators murdered, plus four state governors, four federal judges and 12 other local and state officials. 28 public officials murdered, not counting the numerous unsuccessful attempts on others. And this also doesn't count the many political activists, not office holders, who met violent deaths -- the history of those is too long to list here. Have we also forgotten how many public figures, celebrities, have been victims of murder in America? We live in a murderous culture.
How can anyone on TV call the shooting of a public official or other public figure "unbelievable" or "incredible" or "shocking"? How can other public officials -- all the way to the president of the United States -- address the nation claiming such murder is not part of who we are? No, it's not just Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle or the so-called Tea Party crazies who are to blame. They are only the latest self-serving vultures feeding on the rotted carcass of a culture that loves violence and accepts murder as the norm.
Until we realize and deal with the fact that "We have met the enemy and he is us" we are doomed to see Tucson repeat itself... like Dallas, Memphis, Los Angeles, Buffalo and Chicago and all the other places we forget about because we like to think of ourselves as "exceptional."