James Fallows writes:
One consequence of having been alive through a lot of modern American history is remembering a lot of mass shootings. I was working at a high school summer job when news came over the radio that Charles Whitman had gunned down more than 40 people, killing 14, from the main tower at the University of Texas at Austin. I was editing a news magazine during the schoolyard killings in Paducah, Kentucky in 1997 and sent reporters to try to figure out what it all meant. I can remember where I was when the live-news coverage switched to the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, and the shootings at the one-room schoolhouse in the Amish country of Pennsylvania, and the Virginia Tech shootings two years ago. And all the rest.
In the saturation coverage right after the events, the "expert" talking heads are compelled to offer theories about the causes and consequences. In the following days and weeks, newspapers and magazine will have their theories too. Looking back, we can see that all such efforts are futile. The shootings never mean anything. Forty years later, what did the Charles Whitman massacre "mean"? A decade later, do we "know" anything about Columbine? There is chaos and evil in life. Some people go crazy. In America, they do so with guns; in many countries, with knives; in Japan, sometimes poison.
We know the emptiness of these events in retrospect, though we suppress that knowledge when the violence erupts as it is doing now. The cable-news platoons tonight are offering all their theories and thought-drops. They've got to fill time. I wish they could stop. As the Vietnam-era saying went, Don't mean nothing.
I want to agree with Fallows on this, but it's difficult not to see the Fort Hood shootings as different from Austin and Columbine and Paducah. The fact that they occurred on an Army base; the fact that the shooter was Muslim officer; the fact that we're currently fighting wars in two Muslim countries--they all add up to make the meaning of this more apparent than the others. Rather than Columbine, think of Oklahoma City as a more appropriate historical precedent.
Look, it's a given that cable news adds nothing to the public discourse at moments like this (which, alas, is preferable to the rancid contributions of people like Michelle Malkin), but to ignore the circumstances of this particular shooting would be like saying Oswald was just some random wacko whose actions occurred in a total vacuum, that the Cold War, his Marxist sympathies, the fact that he lived in the Soviet Union for a time, were all basically irrelevant. They weren't. And while the are are many things we don't yet--and may never--know about Nidal Malik Hasan and what drove him to commit such an evil act, we can't ignore the things we do know. If only because, by ignoring them, we allow others, like Malkin and her ilk, to try to define them for us.