A year ago I was dispassionately composing my analysis. Today, when I left the Sprint campus and drove east on 115th Street to turn north on Nall toward I-435, there were TV news vans with telescoping antennae lining the street at the entrance to the Jewish Community Center.
Coincidentally the number of dead is identical. There are, however, no (physically) injured survivors, and the motivation for the attack was similar only in that it was intended to draw attention to a cause. I fear that the perpetrator is cunning enough to succeed in that; his previous notoriety was due to legally forcing some radio stations to briefly carry Nazi ads during an election campaign season. Much has been made of the gentile – and indeed seriously committed Christian – identity of the victims, but I believe that was unimportant to him. What mattered was that he seize a mechanism for dissemination of conspiracy theories, and now, given the administrative blockheadedness of the American justice system and the puerile conventions of American journalism, we are all too likely to be subjected to many hours and tens of thousands of words of exceptionally vicious, totalitarian propaganda, varying portions of which will be heard by tens of millions of people. This guy knew exactly what he was doing.
I could tell that from the video snippets of his arrest, just as I could tell, hours before it was officially confirmed, that he would turn out to have come from rural Missouri (Aurora is nearly a 3-hour drive from Overland Park; he had to have cased both facilities beforehand) and would turn out to be a southerner with prior Klan involvement. It was completely obvious from his accent, his tone of voice, and his attitude on camera. He is now operating inside the American institutional OODA loop. Our entirely proper determination to grant a scrupulously fair trial – when we’re not piling on the charges in order to ram a plea bargain through, that is – will be roughly equivalent to giving him not airtime for advertisements, but his own highly rated nationwide radio network.
Fortunately, he is also sufficiently sui generis that copycat attacks are unlikely, at least in the immediate future. Should an American Dolchstoßlegende catch on, however, things may deteriorate sharply. The general case is to scapegoat a relatively small, easily-identified minority: it was the “1%,” or twenty-five guys on Wall Street, or the Koch brothers – or George Soros, or Obama/Pelosi/Reid, or the leftist academics on their Long March through the institutions – or (of course) Jews, or Latino immigrants or Asians stealing our jobs. If we just expropriate, or deport, or exterminate them, and everyone like them, the story goes, our country will be purified, and Utopia ensue. The ideology may be Nazi or Communist; either will do in a pinch, as Hayek wrote nearly three-quarters of a century ago: its adherents are uncertain, and know only that they hate Western liberal civilization.
Just to make things more complicated, tolerance can definitely be taken too far. Interviews with the perpetrator’s neighbors in Lawrence County, Missouri, immediately elicit idiotic postmodernist comments to the effect that he seemed like a nice enough guy but had some opinions that they didn’t agree with. Great. Your assigned reading is here, you nitwits.
So when blood ran in the streets of my city, did I follow my own advice in the ostensibly-uplifting conclusion to my analysis of a year ago, and immediately redouble my efforts on whatever it is I was supposed to be doing? Well, it was a Sunday, so there was somewhat less of that, although I tend to devise more projects for my spare time than I could possibly execute anyway. But in the event, whatever it may say about me, I felt tremendously violated, as though the murders had occurred in my driveway rather than six miles away. And what I actually did was drink rather more cheap boxed red wine than usual and break down a couple of times. I don’t have any particular aversion to weeping, but I don’t need to do so very often. Turns out I needed to on Sunday evening. The question of how I will react should much larger-scale events occur in even closer proximity remains unanswered.
The problem, of course, is that this kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen here … which is a rather hypocritical sentiment in light of the actual statistics on violent death locally. A couple-three people a week get murdered in this town, three-quarters of them in an area covering only one-tenth of the municipality of KC, Mo., and a tiny fraction of the area of the entire MSA. Assuming that the said area (34 mi²) has the same population density as zip code 64130 (of which it largely consists), a moment with a calculator establishes that the homicide rate in question – the southwestern boundary of that area reaches to within two miles of my house – is nearly 80 per 100,000 per year, making it one of the most dangerous places in the Western world, and also as dangerous as Iraq before the Surge, which the media thoughtfully informed us at the time was the Worst Thing Ever. Gallivanting off to Haïti is all very well, but perhaps I should find a more local ministry to volunteer with while I’m at it.
But it really isn’t supposed to happen here, and not just because Overland Park is a world away from the East Side. Side-by-side, indeed inextricably mixed, with the ongoing mayhem five minutes’ drive from my doorstep is a deep reservoir of peace and contentment. God damn it, we just want to listen to jazz and eat barbecue. In its best moments, there is no gentler place on Earth. The lives of those taken on Sunday bear witness to that.
“The new thing — the thing which we had not known — the thing we have learned now and should never forget, is this: that a society of self-governing men is more powerful, more enduring, more creative than any other kind of society, however disciplined, however centralized.” – Harry S. Truman, Radio Report to the American People on the Potsdam Conference, 9 August 1945
“Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now.” – Harry S. Truman, to reporters, 13 April 1945