An American Nightmare
I had done three things you should not do within three hours of going to bed: eat a heavy meal; drink alcohol and discuss politics. Those were contributing factors to a quality nightmare featuring three anxiety scenarios starting with walking on stage to play a concert, but realizing I have not rehearsed. After I leave the stage to run get my instrument, I return to the next level nightmare.
Back in the theater I find that I am backstage with actors before a play. I am desperately looking for a script because I don’t know my lines. Before I can locate a script I am shoved in a line with actors going on stage. The toga I am wearing clues me in to the title of the play, “Shadow of the Cross” and I start screaming, “NO. I DON’T WANT TO KILL CHRIST AGAIN.” Somehow, I can’t extricate myself from the procession which only leads to the next level of this Jumanji-like nightmare.
As I go past the curtain instead of walking on stage I am walking upstairs into military barracks and suddenly I am wearing a soldier’s uniform. In a very short turnaround I am on the training field with rows of soldiers. Row by row soldiers are stepping into a line and marching between two sergeants facing each other. Some soldiers raise their hands as they pass these drill instructors. Trying to ascertain the situation I notice the World War I uniforms. Realizing what a raised hand means I start screaming, "DON’T DO IT! YOU ARE VOLUNTEERING TO GO TO THE FRONT."
Fortunately, I was able to force myself awake. As I reoriented to reality, I found reassurance in recognizing all the real life antecedents to my nightmare: my older sister sending me a brass ensemble CD as an early Birthday present, reading about the apparent moral compromise of Jerry Falwell Jr, and a picture of World War I and a meme on Facebook.
The picture of soldiers playing soccer between the trenches during the World War prefaced the story of the Christmas truce of 1914. The meme depicted Gaige Grosskreutz holding his bloody bullet shredded arm after allegedly being shot by 17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse using an AR-15 on the streets of Kenosha, WI and was captioned, “His palms are sweaty, Glock is ready, Attacks a 17 year-old with an AR-15, Arm spaghetti.” The meme had me scratching my head, “is this really a rhyming meme about shooting in the streets?” Then the meme left me shaking my head with the realization, “Yes, it is.” Nonetheless, meme’s are the modern language of the people and a gauge of public sentiment, so I read the comments until one struck me, “Should have shot that sum bitch in the head too.”
I reacted, “Wow!” However, I saw this comment had gotten several likes and even a love reaction so clearly I was missing something. I turned away from Facebook to cook dinner but that process was impeded by getting caught up in a political discussion. Eating late, having a margarita with dinner and political discussion gave me the pre-nightmare trifecta. Even worse I read more before going to sleep. The commentator had further stated;
“I hate to say it but I believe we the protecting folks need to open up more on these pussies who pray [sic] on the weak and old. Start shooting enough of these F----rs it will all stop. We as a nation have been to [sic] sympathetic to the political correctness of today's world and it has reached up and bit us on the ass. We need to stop this shit and restore order. Enough is enough. “
The one who originally posted the meme responded, “…agreed wholeheartedly. That is one of our primary jobs. Protect our families, protect our Republic” I sensed that he identified with “we the protecting folks.” This is where memes epitomize the American ethos, with each proudly promoting a particular partisan political perspective.
That is where I thought of the Jingoistic fervor of World War I George M Cohan song “Over There”
The song even makes reference to “Johnny, get your gun…Show the Hun you’re a son-of-a-gun!” Most of us can’t even say what a Hun really is because the distinct civilization ceased to exist 1400 years before World War I. Even more most of us cannot even explain why World War I was fought: How did a single assassination of an Austria-Hungary royal family member by Bosnian Serb Yugoslav nationalist lead to the mobilization of 70 million military personnel, the deaths of 9 million military personnel and 13 million civilians?
The short answer is alliances. Through a series of preexisting treaties countries were obligated to take sides regardless of the merits of the original dispute. That is the state America approaches, divided into sides based upon preset alliances and associations. I see people ready to go to war for their side endorsing a 17- year-old grabbing his rifle and travel 20 miles away from Antioch Illinois to Kenosha Wisconsin to be in the middle of the protest. Kyle clearly saw himself on the side of the police. Likewise the police saw him as someone on their side. Seeing him standing ready with his rifle and med kit the police thanked him for being on their side and tossed him a bottle of water.
Inadvertently, I became a target of the “us-and-them” mentality wherein “you either agree totally or you are the enemy.” Seeking further understanding I asked the commentator, “OK -you show up at a protest with your AR-15 who do you shoot first? What are your kill/no kill orders? Or do you just kill all the protesters and let it get sorted out in the afterlife? Have you ever been in combat? Have you fired a weapon at another human being before? I am just curious how you see this playing out in your head.”
That garnered an angry and dismissive response: “I believe you are just trying to start shit. Good day. If it has to be explained to you then you don't get it period.” At that point I just had to admit that I did not get it. I am not sure Kyle got it. Did he have a realistic anticipation of how things might play out? Retrospectively, I know how World War I played out. Even though they discovered they had more uniting than dividing them while exchanging gifts and playing soccer, weeks after the Christmas Truce the soldiers returned to killing each other. There would be three more years of skirmishes between trenches, three more years of bombardment, mustard gas and disease in those trenches. Every time the field marshal blew the whistle men would charge forth to kill those who were in the opposite trench with enemy body counts giving some distorted view of progress in a plodding war of attrition.
I was not sure that was where we want to be as a nation, because those people entrenched on the other side are actually Americans just as we are. “Johnny, get your gun” but when you take up a gun there is the possibility that you are going to end up shooting someone. Even if Kyle is acquitted in court by a self-defense argument, he still will have killed two people and possibly caused permanent disability to another. Can we differentiate between legal justification and a desirable outcome?
Curiously in “Shadow of the Cross” portion of my nightmare I was in a robe dressed as Pontius Pilate, but in the real life Shadow of the Cross production I played a Roman Soldier, a member of the execution squad which crucified Christ. I was screaming in my nightmare, because I did not want to be an executioner. After interrogating Christ Pilate concluded, “I find no basis for a charge against him...(John 18:38)” nonetheless the Jews wanted him crucified. Pontius Pilate “washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’(Matthew 27:24)”. However, that did not give divine absolution for shedding innocent blood. At least Pilate took the time to hear Christ’s testimony. However, some seem ready to act as judge, jury and execution out on the streets of America. Later in the comment thread I posited that there was a difference between standing in your home or business with a gun for self-defense and forming a militia to patrol the streets of another town. The Second Amendment references a “Well-regulated militia”. However, even our well-regulated militia, the National Guard, has had undesirable results when turned on our citizens; remember the Kent State shooting which killed 4 and injured 9 others.
In as much as I respect the Second Amendment I think the Eighth Amendment which proscribes against “cruel and unusual punishment” deserves equal respect. There is a difference between enforcing the law and exacting punishment. Police officers are given guidelines for use of force as much as necessary to apprehend suspects and protect themselves. However, there are cases when police officers have overstepped those bounds to punishing suspects, even executing them. I am not one-sided on that issue. I don’t think defunding the police is the answer because in some cases increased funding might be needed to improve training and increase accountability (like buy body cameras). However, if trained police can make mistakes what can we expect from untrained flash-mob militias with no training or rules of engagement? What can we expect from a 17-year-old high school drop-out with a rifle? What can we expect if we allow America to devolve into two armed camps taking sides firmly entrenched in their political ideology?