The tragedies at Newtown, Conn., and Webster, N.Y., this holiday season brought to mind the title quote of this piece. It is from an Archibald MacLeish poem, "Young Dead Soldiers." The poem, was penned after WWII but reflected his experiences in WWI.
Surely this is also the way to grasp for meaning when faced with young dead children and their teachers slaughtered in Newtown. And it is a lens through which to view the killed Webster firefighters. We cannot make sense of their deaths by looking to the past or even the present. They can no longer give meaning to their deaths. Only we can. Only the future can give such senseless deaths meaning.
"They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for
peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say,
it is you who must say this."
The U.S. and the victorious allies of WWI did not give meaning to the monumental toll of that war. Instead, they laid the foundation of the next war. It can be argued that the Western victors did a much better job after WWII by protecting and rebuilding Europe and Japan and preventing a nuclear war with the Soviet Union or during its disintegration. The MacLeish quote is also carved into the granite wall of the new Vietnam War Pavilion in the Pacific Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii. As a veteran of that war, I lost too many friends to be objective as to whether the 58,000 deaths have been given meaning by this nation's subsequent actions, but the repetition of so many of the same mistakes in Iraq makes me dubious.
So we must decide how to give meaning to the Newtown and Webster deaths by our actions. Will the horror and outrage fade or will it grow into a tsunami of action to stop the carnage? I am not an expert on what should be done but surely something must be done. Banning large-capacity magazines and some weapon categories seems to me to be a sensible start. A comprehensive background check system, perhaps using a "gun passport" showing a completed background check with a record of that individual's gun purchases and sales, is needed. More intense law enforcement against illegal gun and gangs has been needed for a long time, and legislative restrictions that inhibit such action must be removed. Similarly, we certainly need to address the identification and treatment of mental health issues but that and addressing violent video games that have no documented link to gun violence should have been addressed long ago regardless of such tragedies. We cannot let the anti-gun control advocates divert us from a focus on guns. Supporting sensible gun control is the pro-life position. The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to stop him from getting a gun.
The MacLeish poem ends:
"We were young, they say. We have died; remember us."