Monday, April 30, 2007

Council Winners

[posted by Callimachus]

Late, as usual, and catching up. Here are the winners for the week of April 20. Nominations were full of Virginia Tech shooting posts.

The winner was Fighting Back Was Not an Option, Part 2 by Dafydd at Big Lizards. This is a careful and thoughtful post which steps deliberately into the most difficult aspect of the story: What ought the victims to have done differently, if anything, to rescue themselves from being victims of the shooter?

Dafydd's conclusion actually is the opposite of the title.

The greater issue is that, by fighting back against evil, the students, faculty, and staff at Virginia Tech would have fired the shot heard round the world, the meme that "fighting back is always an option." Whenever such a massacre is aborted by extraordinary courage on the part of ordinary people, we send the message that good men (and women) must do something to prevent the triumph of evil.

I have some sympathy for that position. It feels right in the heart. But I just don't agree with it as a realistic option. The comparison with the people on Flight 93 is inevitable, but the fact that the passengers on that doomed plane had sufficient time to collect their thought and to ascertain that their plane was going down, one way or another, puts their heroics in a different category.

This classroom shooting was split-second heroics, and perhaps only rigorous military training and experience can equip someone to deal with it with a cool head and make the right choices.

I feel for the young men who were in those rooms and survived. Their agony will last a lifetime. Did they do the right thing? Could they have done better? Are they ashamed simply to have survived? This tragedy will seem to them a test -- a random test that not one in a million men ever has to face, but they drew the unlucky number. They'll lie awake for decades with those thought eating at their souls.

Dafydd wonders about that, too:

Did they gather those around them and hurry with them to safety? Did they save themselves? Each of these is a minor virtue, and I don't want to knock it. Sometimes, such minor virtues are all that a person can achieve, given the time, place, and opportunity.

But surely there must have come a time when a man or woman, hiding not far away, saw that the gunman had turned his back. What that person did in that moment is the true assay of character.

Maybe someone charged at the gunman -- but foul fate intervened, and the butcher heard, turned, and added another victim to his hellish toll. Anyone so killed is as heroic as Professor Librescu.

I have even seen it argued, in other posts at other places, that had there been more ROTC training on campus -- which includes studies of what to do in an ambush -- some quicker and less lethal resolution of this attack might have been possible.

The trouble is, apparently, there was just such a person on the scene, who did just what a hero would have done. Cheat Seeking Missile, another Watchers Council member, wrote about him here:

There was more carnage in the hallway. Kevin Granata had heard the commotion in his third-floor office and ran downstairs. He was a military veteran, very protective of his students. He was gunned down trying to confront the shooter.

In our fantasies, heroes fix things through their heroism. Kevin Granata didn't do that, but he died trying and that makes him a hero of the highest order, like the soldier who falls on the grenade to save his buddies.

I think that's right. The hero isn't defined by his luck or success in turning around an impossible situation, but by the character that drives him to try it. It's human nature to wish for a truly heroic and miraculous outcome to this awful story. To somehow find a way to make it turn out so that the good triumphs. I can't scold anyone for seeking that, even in hindsight.

It reminds me of what I felt after 9/11, and at that time, I found it in Faulkner's evocation of Gettysburg in the mind of a Southern boy who knows the dream of independence was crushed in that short space of time:

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.

But it never happens.

Cheat Seeking Missile also got a vote this week for the post Media At Its Worst On Display At Virginia Tech.

A few non-VT-shooting posts that got votes, including The Beast Among Us by Eternity Road, and my Happy Netted Nose, both of which took the Don Imus dogpile as an entree into larger social topics; and They Should Get Out More by The Glittering Eye, which is a good kind of post. It takes exception to a bad argument (in this case a newspaper editorial) in favor of something the blogger essentially agrees with. Pointing out sloppy thinking or poor research in an argument you think is fundamentally sound is the hallmark of a true thinker, as opposed to a polemicist. If you are heard and heeded, you make your own case more solid by weeding the field of the argument.

Outside the council, the top vote-getter was The Laughter in the Dark by The Belmont Club. Wretchard just writes this sort of thing so finely, and so tersely, that I think there's hardly any point in me trying to do it, too. But no one seems to listen to him. His starting point is the latest horrific attack on a civilian target in Iraq. And his dismay is, in part, for those who can read about such things and feel the need to surrender to it, to throw up one's hands and leave, rather than the burning desire to end it:

Implicit in the enemy use of these tactics is the presumption that its political target has a moral sensibility -- that it somehow cares about the threat to kill innocents unless it bends to their evil will. Otherwise it would not be affected. Blackmail is useless against those who don't care for the victims because there can be no assault on the sensibility of the insensible. Pity and virtue are treated as weakness -- but only by evil -- by those who hate pity, and hate it from pride.

But still more evil than terrorists are those who help them in projecting a moral inversion. For terrorists are themselves fully cognizant of the difference between innocence and guilt. It is this fine sensibility that allows terrorists to design one outrage greater than the other; that teaches it to seek out the child that they might mutilate it. Lucifer would have been a poor devil had he not the memory of an angel. But their apologists have no sense of evil; and are in some way morally inferior to the terrorists themselves. They have no memory of Paradise Lost. Darkness and light are all the same to them; or rather darkness is light and night their shade of preference. For the apologists of terror, the victims themselves are "little Eichmanns" and those who try to defend the victims blamed instead of the murderers. And not only do they believe this but will try to persuade anyone who will listen of its truth. The phrase "lost soul" is not just a metaphor but a diagnosis.

How can anyone leave the field to such evil? Or think that we could, by giving it victory, escape it ourselves?

I have no idea. But such attitudes walk all around me here where I work.

Also getting votes were BREAKING: Present At the Bombing at Pajamas Media; Tax Day Self-Congratulations at The QandO Blog; Bill Clinton Grabs Some Contributions for Hillary by Pillage Idiot; and A Few Thoughts on Female Leadership by Western Survival. I want to tip my hat to this last one, which, though I don't agree with the argument structure in large parts of it, took a lot of courage to put into print.