Wednesday, January 12, 2011

American Tragedy - Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry, the well-known novelist, lives here in Tucson. In this article for the New York Review of Books he makes some very cogent and important observations about Saturday's shooting tragedy in which six people died and Gabby Giffords was shot through the head.

The US flag flies at half-staff outside the US Supreme Court, January 9, 2011, in memory
of the victims of the January 8 shootings in Tucson, Arizona

Here is a quote from American Tragedy, and a response from me below the quote.

Ours is a culture in which shooting sprees have become almost commonplace. Hearing that the site and surrounding area was entirely sealed off I elected to try to learn about it by watching television. The people who were trapped at site stood around in small clumps, subdued; no doubt they were feeling lucky not to be on stretchers or in ambulances. Probably they were oppressed by the randomness of it all: a deranged kid walks up and blasts twenty people. Hello. The novelist Theodore Dreiser would have known how to handle such a scene.

Learning about a nearby massacre from television requires much channel surfing. Many talking heads brooded about the part our violence-tinged language might be playing in the behavior of our youth. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, elected eight times, spoke with considerable dignity, mentioning that in his view, there had been excessive language used in Arizona, both on radio and television. It may be free speech, he said, but it has consequences. Sheriff Dupnik went on to say that he feared Arizona had become “… a Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” For this, he was roundly criticized, although I don’t see that he was off the mark. Ask the Indians.

Several references were made to an ad placed by Sarah Palin’s political action committee, in which crosshairs targeted, among others, Congresswoman Giffords’s district. (Sarah Palin has sent Congresswoman Giffords a letter of sympathy, and the crosshairs have now been removed.) Elsewhere among commentators Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post was good as always, pointing out:

The Second Amendment is a fact of life. But even recent Supreme Court rulings have left the door open to effective gun control measures. We must recognize the obvious distinction between rifles, shotguns and target pistols used for sport on the one hand, and semiautomatic handguns designed for killing people on the other. We must decide that allowing anyone to carry a concealed weapon, no questions asked, is just crazy. And for heaven’s sake, we must demand that laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of lunatics be enforced.

And it was reassuring to see that young Luke Russert, reporting on the scene as a correspondent for NBC, has the journalistic poise inherited from both his parents.

Meanwhile, the dead are dead, the wounded are wounded, and except for twenty families, some of them now broken, the violent stream of American life goes on absolutely unchanged. Arizona and indeed America continue to be packed with guns. I own several myself (none of them semi-automatic) and I have no intention of disposing of them, although I don’t feel I should conceal them and walk down urban streets.

And I don’t believe that language drawn from the hunt is likely to vanish from our political speech. Words such as “target” or “bulls eye” are deeply ingrained. We will be polite for a while but once the slugfest resumes—and politics is a slugfest—the old invective will slip back in.

Nothing will change. We are a gun culture, and we are a culture of violence and rage. And in that rage, candles are lit to soften the wounds, to remind us we have lost our way.

Eventually, probably sooner than later, some other troubled young man (they are nearly always young men) will buy a gun and in an act few of us can even begin to comprehend, will release his anger and frustration . . . will unleash steely projectiles . . . will kill people, maybe a lot of people, all innocent . . . will seek revenge or a warped and deranged sense of justice . . . will tear lives from this world . . . will smile back at us in our incomprehension.

And nothing will change . . . . for we are Americans.

1 comment:

Steve said...

An outstandingly poignant conclusion regarding the seemingly inescapable insanity and violence of American culture, Bill.