America: A Nation of Wildebeest

Exclusive: The slaughter of 12 moviegoers at the new Batman film in Aurora, Colorado, recalls other moments of horror known by names like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson. But the repetition of such gun violence and the lack of a coherent response make Americans seem like a nation of Wildebeest, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Whenever some deranged gunman, armed with an assault rifle or some other combat weapon, slaughters young Americans – at a college or a high school or a mall or, now, a movie theater – I think of those documentaries showing Wildebeest on their migrations through crocodile-infested rivers.

In their frightened eyes, you can see that the herd knows that each crocodile will pick off an individual Wildebeest, flip it in the air, break its back and then drag it away to be devoured. But the herd still crashes through the river presumably with the understanding that most of them will survive. The Wildebeest may even be emotionally numbed to the fate of the unlucky ones.

Wildebeest charging into a river during a migration.

In a way, that is what Americans have become. As we send our children off to school or off to a party or off to the movies, we know instinctively that some of them may well die at the hands of some troubled person who has obtained a powerful weapon and has decided to avenge some imagined slight by murdering strangers.

Sometimes, the dead are in large numbers (like at the Aurora, Colorado, multi-plex theater), but usually it’s just one or two at a time. We just hope that it’s not our kids.

We weep over the tragedy of strangers, but our secret thought is thank goodness it wasn’t my son or daughter. We are like the Wildebeest continuing the migration hoping that at the next river it won’t be our turn.

At such moments, it’s also typical for news media pundits to wave their fingers at politicians for not having the “courage” to stop this mayhem by standing up to the ruthless National Rifle Association and its gun-obsessed fringe. But the harder truth is that the problem is not with America’s politicians; it’s with the American voters.

There have been politicians who have favored common-sense gun control, but most of them are now former politicians. Remember Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1988. He favored strong gun control, and his Republican rival, George H.W. Bush, clobbered him over the issue.

Bush accused Dukakis of wanting to disarm all private citizens. “That is not the American way,” declared Bush at one campaign rally. “I feel just the opposite.”

Some political observers believe that Dukakis’s brave stand for gun control was a key factor in his landslide defeat. And, today, Dukakis is a punch line synonymous with “loser” while Bush is revered by Official Washington, recently honored with a flattering documentary on HBO.

Bush and other pro-gun Republican presidents then packed the U.S. Supreme Court with like-minded justices who reversed long-standing precedents and reinterpreted the Second Amendment as an individual right to bear arms, rather than a communal need to have a “well-regulated Militia.”

There is merit to both sides of that argument. When the Second Amendment was adopted by the First Congress (and was then ratified in 1791), the young United States was a frontier nation where firearms also were important for hunting and for protection from such threats as outlaws, European rivals disputing America’s boundaries, and Native Americans resisting encroachment into their lands.

But the Founders’ real intent for the Second Amendment can be better understood from their actions in the Second Congress when the Militia Acts were passed, mandating that every white man of military age must purchase a musket and other equipment. Black men were excluded from this provision.

In those early decades, the Second Amendment also wasn’t regarded as a universal right. African-American slaves and even many free blacks were denied the right to own guns in Southern and border states under the so-called “Black Codes,” laws largely affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1857 Dred Scott decision.

As the United States became more urban – and even in some frontiers towns of the Wild West – laws were passed to reduce violence by placing restrictions on guns. During the Prohibition Era, when gangsters began using machineguns, the federal government stepped in with legislation to restrict these dangerous weapons.

However, the political tide began to turn in the 1980s as a resurgent Right saw a potent issue championing broader “gun rights.” The National Rifle Association evolved from being mostly a gun club training young people in the safe use of firearms into a ruthless and feared political lobby.

The 1988 election – with George H.W. Bush portraying Michael Dukakis as an un-American weakling for favoring gun control – marked a turning point in the national debate, but Dukakis was far from alone as a politician whose career ended ignominiously because he crossed the NRA.

By the early 1990s, the anti-gun-control lobby was drawing populist support from right-wing “militias” who saw the violent standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco as signs of a massive federal (even global) conspiracy to disarm Americans. Right-wing radio talkers and pols recognized guns as another wedge issue to divide the nation.

Advocates for “common-sense gun laws” soon were reeling, as the NRA punched loophole after loophole in gun restrictions. Pro-gun politics also merged with the Right’s larger strategy of undoing all kinds of federal regulations. In effect, the populist rhetoric of “gun rights” gave macho muscle to freeing Wall Street bankers to have the “freedom” to do whatever they wanted.

So, as the nation grieves the 12 dead moviegoers who were gunned down while watching the new Batman film – as Aurora takes its place with Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson and other sites of infamous slaughters – it’s almost tiresome to see the various players reprise their predictable parts.

We have politicians offering prayers; celebrities expressing shock via Twitter; gun lobbyists blaming the latest deranged individual, not his weapons; and, yes, sanctimonious pundits lamenting the lack of “courage” among politicians (though many of the same pundits join in snickering whenever the name “Dukakis” is mentioned).

We also have the latest group of grieving families with that stunned look of disbelief in their eyes. The rest of us will join the candle-burning vigils and tear up over the stories of promising lives cut short. But privately we will thank goodness that the victims of this latest massacre (or the more numerous dead from the many daily examples of less-newsworthy gun violence) weren’t our own children.

We know in our gut that it is really only a matter of luck. We are like the Wildebeest on migration, plunging into a crocodile-infested river hoping that we and our loved ones emerge on the other side.

To read more of Robert Parry’s writings, you can now order his last two books, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, at the discount price of only $16 for both. For details on the special offer, click here.]  

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

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30 comments on “America: A Nation of Wildebeest

  1. Hillary on said:

    Well I suppose “it’s every man and woman for themselves” these days when even going to the grocery store without “packing” may be taking a risk.

    When are we going to see notices outside movie theaters instructing patrons to leave their firearms with the cloakroom attendants ?

    People might attend courses in learning to keep their heads down and try not to attract the attention of that “lone gunman”.

    Or perhaps have armed guards all over the place.

    Still staying within your safely protected home may be the ideal solution.

    At least these days we have over 300 TV channels and the internet to interest us as we pass through this thing we call life.

    P.S.
    P.S.
    “When we talk about settling the world’s problems, we’re barking up the wrong tree.

    The world is perfect. It’s a mess. It has always been a mess.

    We are not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives.” Joseph Campbell..

    • Wally Geez on said:

      So what do you think? Passing a law to prohibit guns will automatically eliminate the threat? What an idiot! The only people that will follow those laws are the law abiding folks – the criminals will go on even MORE brazen, knowing that the chances of anyone opposing them is nil.

      Where were all the concealed gun permit holders during the massacre? People talk about gun control but the best control would come if a bunch of people would have been ARMED, this piece of human excrement would have encountered RETURN FIRE – instead, everyone there was unarmed, they were just sitting ducks!!! Gun control advocates are idiots trying to prevent people from protecting themselves!! Look at what happens when a “brave” criminal walks into a situation where people can fight back: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/07/18/florida-customer-shoots-suspects-during-internet-cafe-robbery/

      • Suzanne Benning on said:

        Even if 50 people had been armed and had shot the gunman, the bullets would not have stopped him because of his body armour. One thing for sure–at the very least we need to ban the sale of automatic weapons. There is no justifiable need for anyone to own one of these mass killers, except perhaps law enforcement and military personnel while on duty. For over eighty years I’ve watched this once great country turn into an “every man for himself”, would-be imperialist power, as my fellow countrymen continue to vote against their own best interests and the world ponders our folly.

    • F. G. Sanford on said:

      Funny you should mention James Campbell. I remember watching a documentary about him years ago. It seems I recall something he said which has always struck me as prophetic: “We have no choice but to participate”. I find it ironic that a thing like “Batman”, which glorifies this construct of a never-ending battle between good and evil is not the object of ridicule, but instead it is the guns. I’m not a gun-lover or gun rights advocate. I just don’t think its the issue in the first place. The rampant lunacy is. Take away the guns, and the lunatics will find something else. Violence has been made a form of entertainment, but we are shocked when people participate. “Batman Forever!” Isn’t that what one of the trailers advertised?

      • fathead morgana on said:

        The lunatics will find something else, but it will entail killing individuals one by one with means less efficient for the task.

        This would be an improvement.

  2. Good night! The idea of government protecting me is a prescription of servitude. Reminds me of Dial 9-11 and die, for such is the awful reality.

    We are not wildbeests, though there are those who might suggest such having been subjected to “Public Education”. Instead, we are free-moral agents responsible for our own lives, desperately desiring Govt. to leave us free to protect ourselves without suggesting the canard of “the days of the wild west”.

    • Charles Norrie on said:

      Dear Mr Lwis. Yo are a wildbeeste, which d ot slaughter each other.

    • FoonTheElder on said:

      And I suppose your solution for fire prevention is to place open cans of gasoline around everyone’s house.

  3. Charles Norrie on said:

    I despair of America.

    Until the US adopts gun control at least a fierce as taht in the UK, not hard enough yet and thn sweeps every darn square metre of th US seizes and destroys the materiel found the US will have no hope of peace and will suffer from the idiat claim in the Consituyion about the “right to bear arms”.

    Is there a right to slaughter. No, I thought not!

    Read the whole phrase and it is a non-sequitur. Abd was used by thode who wrote the constution to incorparte two alien and entirely oppossed ideas.

    Take the gun out of America and you will get the idea that when aman raeches into his pocket it is only for a handkerchief, not killing weapn.

    • Aaron on said:

      The Constitution guarantees me the right to bear arms because I gotta protect myself against the King of England in 2012 !

      He better not mess with me !

      • Frances in California on said:

        Uh . . . Aaron? . . . Um, let me put this as kindly as I can: Don’t quit your day-job; you have no future in stand-up.

      • Charles Norrie on said:

        Nonsense you silly little man

    • ilse on said:

      Try some spelling control first.

  4. Obviously, Mr Norrie, we live in two distinctly different universes.

  5. Bill on said:

    Hug your guns – or your love ones – no one can do both.
    Unless they are one and the same.

    Remember, while the 2nd amendment, and the rest of the Constitution has been under mortal threat for over 11 years by foreign enemies, the NRA has not summoned its members to join any regulated militia to defend and protect it. There is no greater irony or hypocrisy than to advocate responsible gun use yet refuse to use guns to protect their own country in war time.

    SWIFT BOAT the NRA. Send them all back where they came from.

  6. Wally Geez on said:

    Where were all the concealed gun permit holders during the massacre? People talk about gun control but the best control would come if a bunch of people would have been ARMED, this piece of human excrement would have encountered RETURN FIRE – instead, everyone there was unarmed, they were just sitting ducks!!! Gun control advocates are idiots trying to prevent people from protecting themselves!! Look at what happens when a “brave” criminal walks into a situation where people can fight back: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/07/18/florida-customer-shoots-suspects-during-internet-cafe-robbery/

    • je_proteste on said:

      That’s twice you posted that link. Does it in any way resemble this description? “An honors student and Ph.D. candidate at a nearby college with a clean arrest record, Holmes allegedly entered the movie auditorium wearing a ballistics helmet, bulletproof vest, bulletproof leggings, gas mask and gloves. He detonated multiple smoke bombs, and then began firing at viewers in the sold-out auditorium, police said today.” (from ABC news)

      I don’t want to be in the crossfire, if I am in a crowded area where a gunman is confronted by armed citizens. I’ll take my chances with a lone gunman. The fewer guns being fired, the safer I would feel.

      Let’s see links to video of people being shot while reaching for a weapon with which to defend themselves.

    • Here is a description of what is more likely to have happened if armed people fired back. http://daveholmes.tumblr.com/post/27705874429

      • Big Em on said:

        Good link, BC. It talks to the REALITY of a melee, of the pandemonium — it’s not like some TV or movie melodrama where the steely eyed hero faces down the villain in the middle of the street, where the ‘good’ & ‘bad’ (never very nebulous in the movies, unlike in real life) are clearly discernible AND physically separated. It’s often chaotic and the ‘bad’ guy is not known… If I came upon a scene where one guy was holding a gun on another, how would I know whether or not to shoot him? He could just have disarmed the ‘bad’ guy, OR HE could be the ‘bad’ guy. And if someone saw me blasting away, they might well think that I’m the ‘bad’ guy (rather than an over-armed, well-intentioned [assume that for the sake of argument] good samaritan) and they’d shoot me down.

  7. squidd on said:

    newt and rush pioneered the politics of personal destruction… newt in politics… rush on the now fairness-doctrine-less airwaves… both made millions…

    follow the money… video games to bullets… it’s money… and the false flag nexus of “freedom and liberty” with gun rights… is just one of the red meat ideologies used to advance monied interests…

    you never hear gun rights advocates cry loss of “freedom and liberty” because they can’t carry firearms in airports… this omission in the lobbying screeds alone exposes their whole ideological rantings as false… since lobbying for “freedom” to carry guns on commercial passenger airplanes would be political death for the NRA… the gun/bullet mfgrs. are not stupid… they are capitalists…

    how many americans had this much grief outreach to the wedding party bomb victims in afghanistan… the children of fallujah… the entire country of iraq… were the architects of the war in iraq and the public who cheered ‘shock and awe’ also “deranged individuals”…?

    we talk about these individuals as deranged… this country has decades… nay… centuries… of mass killings…

    and we’re shocked… SHOCKED i tell you… (when it hits home) again… so it goes..

  8. Charles Norrie on said:

    Most Americans do not like the gun law freedoms the Constution supposedly give them.

    And until the entire executive of the NRA is murdered by a deranged gunman at the AGM, which I DO NOT ADVOCATE, and sense it brought to the “gun law” debate these disgraceful crimes will continue.

  9. Jym Allyn on said:

    “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…”

    What part of “well regulated militia” justifies any non-military, non-police citizen having the right to own an assault rifle?

    The NRA and the opponents of gun registration are anarchists and terrorists.

  10. Guns have always been part of American culture. However, since Mayor of Las Vegas Carolyn Goodman opened to public The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement’ on February 15, honoring some of America’s most notorious Jewish mobsters – calling for a gun-control, could be considered anti-Semitism by some people.

    http://rehmat1.com/2012/04/04/las-vegas-museum-honors-jewish-mobsters/

    • ilse on said:

      In this case definitely justified anti-Semitism.
      I read the link with interest. I never knew to what extent those mobsters control the NRA.

    • borat on said:

      Go f yourself you nazi swine

  11. ‘ Whenever some deranged president, armed with drones or special operations forces, slaughters young Americans – like Abdul-Rahman al-Aulaqi who was killed at the age of 16 in an American drone strike on Friday, October 14, 2011, in Yemen – I think of those documentaries showing Wildebeest on their migrations through crocodile-infested rivers. ‘

    Smiling assassins

    I certainly will do everything I can to see that president is removed from office … to stop him befroe he kills again,

  12. G Smith on said:

    Back in the 60′s we had duck and cover drills in school. I guess we are going to have to renew those as we teach our kids survival skills for the new normal.