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A Tale of Two Marines


These two young men may have an infinite number of things in common, but the actions they took this week do not.

One used a pro-war ceremony at a professional basketball game to reject the celebration of militarism, and to protest war-profiteering advertising in sports.

One became the latest “mass shooter” — which I put in quotation marks only because he had already been a mass shooter, but he had been an acceptable kind of mass shooter.

On Tuesday evening, former U.S. Marine Josuee Hernandez was scheduled to be honored for his so-called service at a Portland Trailblazers game. He unzipped his jacket to reveal a shirt with a protest message shaming the team for accepting money from a weapons dealer. He rejected the bag of prizes being given him. “We should not feel honored by being gifted a bag of trinkets and then paraded in front of an audience,” Hernandez said. He acted righteously and bravely, and perhaps (I know nothing about him, but have known a lot of veterans) therapeutically as well.

On Wednesday evening, former U.S. Marine Ian David Long failed to stop doing his job. He had been employed by the U.S. government to fire a machine gun at people. That had been his job for years, and part of that time he had participated in the war on Afghanistan. He had been given awards for the fine job he’d done in combat. Nobody had been outraged. Nobody had called him names or questioned his sanity.

CNN’s inaccurate headline, “Thousand Oaks gunman went from Marine vet to mass shooter. Investigators want to know why,” creates a mystery where none exists. The question is not how he became a mass shooter but how so many others have managed to cease being mass shooters.

Ian David Long died in the most common manner for participants in recent U.S. wars, namely by suicide. The difference is that he killed a lot of other people-who-matter first. But this, too, is not as unusual as we might wish. At least 35% (probably much more, and it seems to be rising) of U.S. mass shooters were trained by the U.S. military.

Imagine if 35% of U.S. mass shooters were . . . anything at all: black, Asian, Muslim, atheist, female, wealthy, foreign, red haired, Latino, gay . . . can you imagine? It would be the leading news story for weeks. There would be chairs endowed at universities to study it. But the fact that so many of the killers are men who were trained to kill by the world’s leading killing institution is not only unworthy of mention, but is depicted in each isolated instance as a mystery to be explained in some other terms.

Imagine if the mounting death count from all of these shootings included not just the hundreds killed within the U.S. but also the hundreds of thousands killed outside it. Imagine treating the vast majority of the victims as if they mattered.

A public debate over how to tackle a mass murderer is as insane as a public discussion of how to build a stronger house on the beach. If you won’t address the training of murderers, and you won’t ban guns, and you won’t stop destroying the earth’s climate, what’s left is madness.

Often the madness takes the form of repeating the evil that goes unmentioned. Stick an armed security guard in front of every building. On Wednesday that policy simply determined the name of the first victim. It may even (one can only speculate) have presented the killer with an inviting or rationalizing sense, a familiar sense, of taking on an “enemy.” The solution is not even more armed guards.

The solution in the war on Afghanistan is not even more armed killers. The war on Afghanistan came “home” to California this week, but how many people know that? How many people know the war is still raging? How many know that Obama promised to escalate it and did so, and that Trump promised to end it and escalated it (albeit on a smaller scale)? How many were outraged when Ian David Long was killing mere Afghans? How many are outraged that thousands of U.S. and NATO troops are still over there making Afghanistan worse and bringing the war back with them?

How many can put 2 and 2 together and recognize that all the just-retired U.S. commanders in Afghanistan who have said the war is counter-productive have been right, that it endangers the very people who cheer for veterans at basketball games — who cheer, that is, as long as those veterans don’t take a stand for sanity?

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