Actually, when it started out, it was going to be a column about my own imperfect gun-control stance: I would like guns more closely monitored and perhaps even banned, but there are also, secretly, times when I dearly wish I owned a gun and was better prepared for the neo-con terrorists gathering in their exceptionalist masses on the horizon.
THE CASE FOR IMPLAUSIBLE DENIABILITY
NORTHAMPTON — At $35,000 per weapon and $55 per round, the XM25 “smart grenade launcher” is scheduled for renewed testing by the U.S. Army early next year. And the BBC article detailing the capacities and wonders of this weapon caught my eye recently because it seemed to offer a small window on what my tax dollars buy.
Some 8-year-old macho male hormone just knew I’d want one of these babies if I were in combat.
Called “revolutionary” by one of its proponents, the XM25 allows combatants to program their ammunition to explode at a predetermined distance. This means a grenade can be set to go off just after it passes through a window or over a trench: No need to hit the target directly — an airburst near-miss is close enough to be fatal.
With an effective airburst range of about 700 meters (that’s 2,296.59 feet), there are obvious advantages for the shooter who is not forced into close proximity with his or her target. Still, even proponents concede drawbacks.
As one analyst put it, “[The XM25] is by nature quite indiscriminate — you can’t see behind the cover of what you are trying to shoot behind. Yes, you can shoot the grenades behind windows, for example, but you’d have to be very, very sure that [the target aside] there was no-one else in the room.”
The BBC article does not detail how anyone can be “very, very sure” at a distance of something more than a third of a mile. But I have a hunch that if bullets were emanating from a particular window or doorway or trench and if those bullets were aimed at me, the imperative to be “very, very sure” might diminish rapidly. Women, children and other noncombatant bystanders?
And it is at this juncture, with the XM25 as with other matters in life, that policy-wonk double-speak kicks in.
I’m like anyone else: In my life, I’d like to be credited for the “good” stuff I do and be absolved of the “bad” stuff. I too would like to look in the bathroom mirror and be pleased: “What a handsome, thoughtful, compassionate dude!”
Enter “collateral damage,” a phrase devoid of personal responsibility. No one is at fault. “Collateral damage” is the price of doing the business of war, sexless and without a face. Perhaps it is “patriotism” or perhaps just “war,” but where the negative fallout kicks in, applause is notably absent.
It is under the “collateral damage” umbrella that my 8-year-old can take refuge and claim the medals for the “good” stuff while eluding criticism for the “bad.”
On Oct. 1, a 26-year-old gunman shot and killed nine people at Umpqua Community College near Roseburg, Oregon. Nine others were wounded. It was just the latest in a litany of school shootings that have “shocked the nation” ... or at least shocked the nation until the shock wore off and the nation prepared for the next school shooting to “shock the nation.”
In each instance, hanky-twisting solutions are offered and forgotten. In each instance “mental health” or “background check” cards are played and everyone cares. Sort of.
In the United States 319 million people own a guesstimated 270 million to 310 million guns. Gun ownership has an enthusiastic fan base and none is more enthusiastic than the National Rifle Association. Gun ownership has been ruled a constitutional right and while other nations may be shocked by America’s principles, America is not.
And with the principle of gun ownership as deeply entrenched as the blasé willingness to pay taxes for the likes of the XM25, I wonder if it is not a good time to revisit the double-speak of “collateral damage.”
Perhaps instead of “collateral damage” and its ability to mute the screams of those not immediately targeted, some thought should be given to calling “collateral damage” what it is, namely, “collateral responsibility.” If the NRA and fellow enthusiasts are willing to assert the universal principle of gun ownership, isn’t it time to shoulder the “collateral responsibility” of slaughter on the Umpqua campus?
If I pay my taxes with the regularity of a good American, how long can I hide behind the double-speak notion that I am not complicit in the impossibility of being “very, very sure” that innocents are harmed? Is there a philosophy or religion that does not deserve equal scrutiny and responsibility?
How long, in short, can I go on claiming like some third grader that “the dog ate my homework” and that I get a free pass because my intentions are pure or my flag is more brilliant than yours?
Roughly speaking a belief is something that benefits the believer. Principles — as for example the principles of the Constitution — benefit a wider range of individuals and demand a self-examination that is not always pleasant. Believers are a dime a dozen.
Principled people do not have it so easy, since collateral responsibility does not always shine brightly from the bathroom mirror.
At 75 years old, I am no longer 8. Perhaps it is time to stop insisting the dog ate the homework I didn’t do.
Adam Fisher lives in Northampton and writes a monthly column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.