The American Malignancy and the Slaughter of the Innocents in Connecticut

The image of the butchered little bodies in Newtown and the echoes of their parents’ anguished wails took this writer's thoughts all the way to the hell of the Holocaust.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

I hope the guardians of Jewish exclusivity of the Holocaust will forgive me, but my first thought upon hearing the news of the mass murder of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown was of the thousands of flickering candles in the cavernous Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem.

It was an emotional association, of course; intellectually there is nothing to compare. But the conjured image of butchered little bodies in a Connecticut schoolroom and the echoes of their parents' collective wail as they heard that their babies were gone led me, inevitably, to think of the only hell I know where such horrors can thrive.

“God takes pity on the kindergarten children” poet Yehuda Amichai wrote bitterly of a country in which it is the “grownups”, often Israeli soldiers, who are forced to pay the price. In America, God has no favorites: He allows even tiny angels to be massacred in a crazed and senselessly obsessed outburst of a lone gunman, armed to the teeth.

Perhaps, when President Barack Obama was shedding a tear, he grieved not only as a parent who thinks of his own children but also as a president who cries for his beloved country. These unthinkable but nonetheless recurring bloodbaths by shooting are peculiarly, if not exclusively, American, a stain on its image that gets brutally bigger as time goes by.

It is this combustible mix of angry American young men, often disturbed and usually white, spurred on by the pervasive and always growing presence of limitless violence in popular American culture, together with the easy-access, open market of guns and ammo, which together produce these shooting slaughters with such sickening regularity.

All three elements are critical in concocting the uniquely lethal American formula, as the Washington Post pointed out on Friday: Switzerland also allows for easy purchase of guns, but has no history of subsequent shooting sprees.
(Israel, which was also mentioned by the Post, is a more complex case: it has had much more than its fair share of mass shootings but these are usually carried out against “a nationalistic background”, as the Israeli authorities euphemistically describe the shooting of Jews by Arabs and vice versa.)

The world has always watched this particularly gruesome American phenomenon with an incredulity accompanied by sorrow, among friends, and gleeful schadenfreude among foes. The “Jewish lobby” may elicit fear and loathing in certain circles but it is the even more powerful “gun lobby” that is both alien and awe-inspiring to outside observers. It holds a stranglehold over any effort to curb the public’s access to weapons that can be used for mass destruction, as Newtown clearly shows, and it is resiliently blind to the obvious connection between the wildly free arms market and the fact that gun-related murders are so obscenely high, only in America.

Nonetheless, the presence of 350 million guns and the relative ease in acquiring them are not enough to explain the growing incidence of mass shootings – 16 in the past year alone – or their increasing lethality. One can make at least a circumstantial connection between the fact that 6 of the 12 deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past five years and the concurrent explosive growth of the Internet and social media. These have provided fertile fields for growing the most horrid of hatreds and for spreading them far and wide.

And if you pour in the often gruesome violence so rampant in the computer and video games that so many American boys are weaned on and addicted to, it should come as no surprise, perhaps, that not only are the most evil and inhuman of mass murders possible, they may soon become commonplace.

Americans appear genuinely shocked by the massacre of their innocents in Newtown. It remains to be seen whether this wrenching gut reaction will suffice to spur them to deal with their country’s glaring malignancy, or whether they will once again turn a blind eye and return to business as usual, as they wait for the next enraged gunman to make his move.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev

A woman places flowers and a candle at a makeshift memorial near Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 15, 2012.Credit: AFP

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