I’m one of those voters who used to be known as a “bleeding heart liberal.” Despite the fact that the world’s gone insane, I am unable to harden my heart to the pain suffered by others here in the United States and around the world as the result of senseless tragedy.
When I was young, it was the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007. Five years later, it was Pan Am Flight 003, known as the Lockerbie air disaster. The former has been attributed to remnants of the Cold War, the latter to international terrorism.
Then disaster reached our own shores. There were the school shootings, starting in the ‘90s with Columbine. Then came the horror of my native New York City being torn apart at the seams. After 9/11, I thought I’d seen it all.
This year, freedom of the press and freedom of speech came under attack with the Charlie Hebdo murders. Then a jet full of vacationers returning home from the seaside is bombed out of the sky over the Sinai. And now terror in the streets of Paris. At least 132 dead, 77 survivors in critical condition.
Here in northern California, as everywhere else, we are far from immune. You may not hear about the “little” local tragedies, but they arguably affect our communities even more than the major events that occur thousands of miles away. This time last year, a couple from Utah drove into town and went on a rampage that included the killing two of our police officers. Earlier this week, we locked the doors against the sirens that wailed throughout our neighborhood. A few blocks away, there was a robbery, shooting and hostage-taking. The SWAT team came out, and some streets were evacuated, residents being sent to the local elementary school to wait it out. Then, Friday night, a local high school football player was killed in a drive-by shooting about a mile from here.
Tragedy, large and small, seems to be a fact of life in modern times. There are days when I think that all we can do is be there to support those left to pick up the pieces, from emergency personnel to the families of the victims.
That, of course, is the bottom line. Don’t let the steady stream of violence, tragedy and disaster in the news inure you to the real costs of these events to our society. For every horror that you learn about on TV, in newspapers or online, there is a community that will never be the same again. Remember that every victim is someone’s daughter or son, brother or sister, mother or father.
I thought about this while watching the debate between Democratic candidates O’Malley, Sanders and Clinton on Saturday evening. The basis of our Western civilization tends to be reactive in nature. We believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, that everything will be alright — until it isn’t anymore. However, going through tragedy after tragedy ad nauseam begs the question of whether it’s enough to merely be reactive. Perhaps I need to change my mindset that all we can do is be there to mop up the mess. Perhaps the time has come to be proactive, to say hey, we’re sick and tired of this and we’re not going to take it anymore. To realize that it’s time for our leaders to be proactive instead of reactive, to prevent those intent on terrorizing the citizens of the world from committing their murderous deeds. It is heartening to see France taking forceful steps in this direction. It is encouraging to see Germany offering the full assistance of its military resources. And yes, we here in the United States, along with the rest of France’s allies, must do our part to help with the effort.
If we can’t pull this off, we will remain right where we are today, stuck in a time warp where all we can do is send condolences to the mothers and fathers who have just lost their children and to the children who have just lost their mothers and fathers.
Not being a military man, I don’t know what this will involve. But it seems that it must start with improving our ability to obtain critical intelligence. And so, presidential candidates, at the next installment of the debates in December, I’d like you to point out which one of you is up to the challenge. Some are saying that Paul, Trump and Sanders lack the fortitude to do what it takes. I must add Clinton to this list, who proved by her mishandling of the Benghazi crisis, that she falls woefully short of what Hemingway referred to as “grace under pressure.”
I already know that all of the presidential candidates, Democrat and Republican alike, are very good at showing up at the scene of tragedy and saying “I’m sorry” to the families of the victims in a heartfelt sound bite.
“Sorry,” however, is no longer enough.
Tomorrow: Consider the turkey, a bird well esteemed