Leonard Pitts Jr.: “Who will be the last to die?” |
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(NOTICE: This column by LEONARD PITTS is due for publication on Sunday, May 29, 2022 and is STRICTLY EMBARGOED until 6 a.m. EDT Sunday, May 29, 2022 for web and 6 a.m. EDT Sunday, May 29, 2022 for print editions. ‘STORY MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED ONLINE BEFORE APPOINTED TIME.)
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“Whose blood will flow, whose heart will break? Who will be the last to die for a mistake? – Bruce Springsteen, “Last to Die”
It’s the question we always ask ourselves at times like this, the understanding we always seek as bodies are strewn and the air is rent with cries of mourning. But for all this, the answer is not a mystery.
As is so often the case with America’s miseries, if you look for the origin story, if you follow the twisting roots to the beginning, you’ll find people who were desperate to guard the ramparts of the white supremacy. For example, as historian Kevin M. Kruse points out in “The 1619 Project,” we are in a gridlock because suburban voters routinely reject public transit measures for fear that their remote enclaves will become more accessible to downtown people of color.
So when you look at last week’s all too familiar carnage in Uvalde, Texas — two teachers and 19 children killed at an elementary school by a demented teenager with an AR-15 — it’s, yes, fair to charge the system. of tattered sanity, the cowardly politicians, the greedy gun industry and the American gun fetish that made it possible.
But don’t forget the Founders, who, as historian Carol Anderson shows in her book, “The Second,” were essentially held hostage by Southern states who refused to join the new country unless he only guaranteed that their militias would not be disarmed. You see, they depended on these militias to protect against uprisings of enslaved Africans. Thus was born the second amendment enshrining “the right to keep and bear arms”.
You hope the rest of us had rights too – our children, in particular. You hope they have the right to laugh until milk comes out of their nose and then the right to laugh about it. The right to swing on the playground swings. The right to return home safe and sound from school. The right to grow.
But this is America, so an 18-year-old kid’s “right” to own an AR-15 supersedes all that.
The song quoted above was inspired by something Navy Lt. John Kerry said in 1971 during Senate testimony on the Vietnam War. By then, most Americans had concluded that the war was a big mistake. But the government always refused to admit what was obvious to the people. “How,” Kerry said, “do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
In other words, once you know it’s crazy, how can you allow people to keep dying for it? The question resonates far beyond its original context. After all, there are few things crazier than America’s insistence on treating the Second Amendment like holy scripture rather than the grimy racist compromise that it was. There are few things crazier than watching a massacre that you could set your watch to and do nothing about it.
Yet the madness persists.
We remain a country where an 18-year-old can legally buy a weapon of war while the right spouts platitudes and wacky ideas – Texas Senator Ted Cruz thinks schools should only have one door – while ignoring that what happened in Uvalde, what will absolutely happen soon in another city, only happens here.
One day it will end. One day it will. One day, surely, even the conservatives will finally have to face the obvious: this is nonsense. If the obvious madness of Vietnam posed a stinging question, the obvious madness of mass murder posed a devastating one. Do you think it’s hard to ask a man to be the last to die for what you know is wrong?
(Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him by email at [email protected])