The Impact of War
The shootings in Tucson seemed like the horrible, natural climax to a rising tide of anger and division in US politics. We are at war here in our own country. It’s a war of words and the battles rage without stop. But at least we have not lost our capacity to be shocked, to pull up short and take a long hard look at ourselves, asking what part each of us has played in creating an increasingly toxic public discourse. First, no matter whatever created a tipping point that let a troubled young man think he was justified in firing into a crowd, shooting twenty people, let’s assume that constant exposure to angry rhetoric must have created a twisted atmosphere which would seem to approve of it.
I’ve heard the blame flying heavily from left to right and back again. I suspect there’s enough blame to go around. What I’m interested in is what we can learn from this tragedy.
As a member of the media, I place much of the responsibility for the tone of national debate squarely on the shoulders of today’s news. The 24 hour news cycle and non-stop chatter is voracious for content, the juicier the better. Say anything that’s shocking and news coverage is guaranteed. Say it loud and long and it’s dubbed “a movement” – no matter if it’s a movement of one.
Add to that the reality that cable news makes no pretense at objectivity, yet much of the audience is clinging to the old faith that “if it’s on the news it must be true.” Lies and damned lies are stated on all sides with fervor, and the viewers, faithful members of the choir, believe.
It’s discouraging, to say the least.
But there must be something good to be learned from all of this. Ginny Apuzzo helped me find it. Ginny is a former member of the Clinton White House, the founding President of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center in New York and a member of the New York State Commission on Public Integrity. And what she saw as she watched the continuous coverage of a bloodbath in Arizona, was the goodness of people.
She pointed out that a young Hispanic man, an openly gay Hispanic man, demonstrated loyalty and courage far beyond the call of duty as he cared for his seriously wounded boss, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Remember that this is the state of Arizona, a flashpoint for the debate over minorities, immigration and gun control.
Then she pointed to the fact that women were at the center of this event. The primary target was a prominent political figure – a woman. One of the heroes was an older woman, who managed to avert further bloodshed by grabbing a loaded magazine from the shooter. The victim whose death broke a nation’s heart? A little girl who saw an elected official as a hero - a child who’d been born on one of this nation’s saddest days.
Ginny said that the shootings in Tucson showed the disenfranchised of our society as the central players they really are – seniors, minorities, children. The central role of women in this event indicate how our role has changed as well.
But most importantly, what Ginny Apuzzo takes away from the events of January 8, 2011 is the basic goodness of humanity. One person caused incredible carnage. But many others leaped into action to stop him.
Patricia Maisch grabbed a loaded magazine as Jared Loughner reached to reload. Someone else swung a folding chair at Loughner’s head. A retired serviceman, 74-year-old retired colonel Bill Badger, bleeding from his own wound, tackled Loughner ; more people knocked him to the ground. Others joined in to hold him until police could take over.
There is a great sense of helplessness in this country, a feeling that we are powerless observers swept on a tide of events we cannot control. This once, this time, we saw the destructive power of one and the overwhelming power of many working together. For me, that is the lesson of Tucson.
You can hear the show featuring Ginny Apuzzo in its entirety here.
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Barnett is the producer and host of 51%
The Women’s Perspective,
a weekly women’s issues radio show carried nationally on NPR,
ABC and Armed Forces Radio stations. 51% The Women’s Perspective
is part of WAMC
- Northeast Public Radio's national productions. "The View From Outside," Susan Barnett's new collection of short fiction, is available in eBook format at Amazon and Barnes and Noble through Hen House Press. You can connect with her on Facebook.
Photo by DB Leonard.