Last night Hallie and I watched President Obama’s eloquent and moving speech at the interfaith prayer vigil for those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. About halfway through, when Obama discussed our nation’s collective responsibility to our children, a certain cognitive dissonance popped into my head – a pesky, but familiar distraction that remained with me for the rest of the speech.
Obama concluded by reciting the first name of each of the 20 children killed. When it was over we both sat silently looking at the screen. “Don’t say it, just don’t say it” I thought to myself.
“What did you think?” she finally asked me.
“Very moving” I said, “but..”
“What the hell,” I thought to myself, “go ahead and say it…”
“I don’t know, it’s hard for me to listen to Obama talk about our responsibility to keep our children safe knowing that he personally approves the drone strikes that kill hundreds of innocent children in other countries.”
Hallie rolled her eyes at me. But before she could say “Oh my God, can’t you give it a rest just this once?” I said it myself: “I know, I know, I can’t help it..”
Over the weekend, I thought of a certain moment in the Michael Moore documentary “Bowling for Columbine.” Toward the outset of the movie, Moore pointed out that the Columbine shooting took place during the largest one day bombing by the US in the Kosovo war. He showed news footage from that day which showed the bloody aftermath of the bombing that killed numerous civilians, including those in a local hospital and primary school. The news footage also included President Clinton telling reporters that the US military was trying to “minimize harm to innocent people.”
Then Moore flashes the words “One Hour Later” and there’s Clinton again: “We all know there has been a terrible shooting at a high school in Littleton, Colorado.” Moore’s point was clear: there is an important connection to be made between our killing of Serbian civilians and the killing of students in Columbine.
So too, I believe there is a similar connection between the killing of innocent children in Newtown to the killing of innocent children in Pakistan. Both are the product of a uniquely American culture of violence, insecurity and fear – and both are the consequences of a national penchant for manufacturing, selling and profiting from ever more sophisticated weapons of death.
Might it be that our Constitutional right to bear arms reflects a national sense of entitlement to create and sell weapons and to use them wherever and whenever we see fit? And if so, might we be ready to limit this right for the sake of our children both here and around the world?
In this regard, I think the most telling moment in Obama’s speech was when he asked the rhetorical question:
Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?
Would that our President would ask himself that very question before he approves his next drone strike.
(Please read this recent report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that determines over 160 children have been killed in seven years by US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.)