Can you believe it? That idiot child murders nine innocent people in Charleston and today we’re talking about how Walmart won’t be selling t-shirts and coffee mugs with the Confederate battle flag. From a “do something” perspective, the smoke and mirror segue is obvious. But is it not apparent too, that all massacres in recent memory in the U.S. have been about mental illness—those people who are anti-government kooks, religious fanatics and white supremacist racists. The Oklahoma City Bombing. The Boston Marathon Bombing. The Newton Massachusetts School Shooting. And our Charleston buddy, Dylann Roof.
Truly, how can anyone miss that the true commonality is mental illness? Setting aside John Noveske, founder of Noveske Rifleworks, who published a list of shooters and the medication they took for mental problems making the link clear, think about who does this and at what age. Because when a young man’s (and it’s always young men) brains twist up into thoughts that support mass killings to make a political, religious or racist point (that is never heard in the aftermath of the horror witnessed) to me seems to be the real issue. Anyone who knows anything about neurological development knows that the early 20s is when brains stop changing and growing vigorously, and—if they weren’t already into animal torture and violent bullying (a sure sign of probable mental illness and a budding criminal personality)—that’s when things like schizophrenia start to present themselves and cause a brain to decide that killing as many people as possible is the thing to do.
As for the flag … I’m Southern. My family has been living in the South since the mid-1700s. My family home is on the National Register of Historic Places. In the town square there is a monument to the Civil War dead, and my family name appears on the side for Union-affiliated names and on the side for Confederate-affiliated names. I was raised to be proud of being Southern—the culture of friendliness and warmth, visiting, and food—but not to venerate symbols (e.g. the Confederate Battle Flag) or stupidity (e.g. the Civil War was over states’ rights). From a design perspective, the “stars and bars” is a memorable image. From an honor those who did what they thought was right perspective, like in 1985 when former President Reagan acknowledged honor when he laid a wreath at Bitburg Cemetery in then West Germany, it’s understandable too. What? You think we shouldn’t be proud of those Americans who served in Vietnam—one of the most indefensible military actions the U.S. ever engaged in—because it was a “bad” war? If so, then you must have been one of the crappy people spitting on GIs when they returned home.
While I’m sympathetic to Southerners who only see that flag as a sign of honor and southern pride, in truth it’s an image co-opted by white supremacists. Co-opted by ugly racists who band together to preach hate and to intentionally refuse to cooperate (and lack of cooperation is the death knell of a democracy). And when you teach that you are one thing and someone else is a hated “other,” guess who buys into that? Isolated folks. Mentally broken folks. Uncooperative folks who don’t understand how the world works and just what a grim place the world would be if they had their way. We have enough stuff to deal with, why oh why do we humor these losers?
Sadly and reasonably, one reason we humor them is privacy. If you’re old enough to remember when we actually had “insane asylums” then I don’t need to tell you about the dangers of declaring someone mentally incompetent, jailing them in perpetuity, and assuming you got it right. It’s a form of cruel and unusual punishment. If we were all required to have mental health assessments, what’s the bar for it becoming something that denies you health insurance? That makes you unemployable? I’m not being irrational. I had a mental health evaluator I visited as part of a job interview tell me that this particular agency would only hire people who were popular in high school because that was a key sign of success. So clearly, mental health professionals can be off their rocker too!
I’m as disdainful as you at our current “PC” culture (hence my fondness for words like “whack jobs”). That said, I’m all for acknowledging a beloved symbol was simultaneously adopted as a symbol to propagate virulent, violent racism. Even as I know that not selling products with battle flag insignia on them won’t stop white supremacists, the less chance they have to have their viewpoint validated by the Walmarts of the world, the better.
But I wish we could talk about mental health, instead of beating up on Southerners or calling for gun control. When 27 year-old Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed Germanwings Flight 9525 into the French Alps killing 150 people. When a few days after Roof murdered nine worshipers at Emanuel AME Church, a 26 year-old man purposely drove his car into a pedestrian area in Graz, Austria deliberately running over people and then jumped out to start attacking them with a knife, successfully killing three (including a 7 year-old boy), and injuring at least 30. When attackers use bombs like in Oklahoma City (Timothy McVeigh 27 years-old) and Boston (Tamerlan Anzorovich 26 years-old and Dzhokhar Anzorovich 20 years-old). Can we not see that mass murder events are about whack jobs acting out and not about how there would be no violence if guns didn’t exist? These mass murderers? They are mentally damaged people who will find whatever tool is at hand to kill. Let’s do something about this. Because while I’m not afraid of guns, I am afraid of whack jobs with cars who know where the local feed and hardware store is.