The Amish child said, "Shoot me first." The survivors counseled forgiveness and prayed for the soul of the murderer. This was all too solemn and too real to be purveyed by the mainstream media as picturesque curiosity, horse-and-buggy morality in the age of the Hummer.
The Amish modeled courage and healing for the rest of America. They modeled a peace built not on intimidation and conquest but on respect and forgiveness. They shut down the cynics for almost a week. They grieved, they buried their dead and they reached out to the killer's widow.
Kneel with them, mourn with them, rise up angry.
The body count in our nation's schools over a period of barely a week was eight innocents: students, a teacher, a principal, shot point-blank by psycho-terrorists with easy access to personal arsenals. Another eight were injured and at least one of them, an Amish girl, is in grave condition. More than 400 people have died in school violence in the last dozen years, many hundreds of others have been wounded, and uncounted close calls - like the one this past Monday morning - have been averted.
On Monday, a 13-year-old boy in a black trench coat walked into his school in Joplin, Mo., with a Mac-90 assault rifle and fired it into the ceiling. No one was injured, but "it was a very close call," the superintendent said. Let me repeat: 13-year-old boy, Mac-90. An officer interviewed by the Associated Press said, "Police believe they know where the student got the weapon but would not disclose those details. He said it was not uncommon for people in the area to own high-power firearms."
We're stalled in the pretense of not knowing. "Experts can only speculate . . ." Who the hell are these experts the media invoke in the wake of every slaughter, to blink and shrug through their fog of innocence and tell us nothing? We know, I submit, more than we think we know. We know that the path to begin addressing this horror lies in the direction we most fear: the path of disarmament.
"This is imitation of Christ at its most naked," author Tom Shachtman told the New York Times, speaking of the Amish practice of nonviolence (I came across the quote in a fine column by Rod Dreher in the Dallas Morning News). Who of us dares to stand naked in the presence of our deepest fears? Yet this is what we must do. What a leap we'll have to make if we are to save our children - if we are to survive.
This is not about having the right religion. This is not about being Amish. This is about living our lives with a calm courage that understands that survival lies in reaching out, not striking back. Even more so, it is about renouncing the culture of heavily armed fear that surrounds us. Look where it's gotten us.
Consider: "But the enduring tragedy of Bush's 'mother of all presidential miscalculations,'" writes Robert Parry for Consortium News, "is that his underlying theory for addressing the problem of Islamic militancy hasn't changed. It is still a strategy of 'kill, kill, kill' - get revenge for 9/11 even against Muslims who had nothing to do with it - and that is likely to continue, if not expand, after the Nov. 7 elections."
Milk-truck driver Charlie Roberts, who was angry with God, had pretty much the same policy. So did the Columbine killers and all the other lost souls who have yielded to the ultimate temptation of our times. What if this kind of behavior were not role-modeled from the top?
A week after the murder of the schoolgirls in Lancaster County, Pa., and the day after the 13-year-old boy loosed a round of Mac-90 ammo at a water pipe on the ceiling of his school in Joplin, the Bush administration convened a summit on school violence in Maryland. It was led by, of all people, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the guy who called the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and asserted that torture was legal.
The highlight of the summit seems to have been a rebuke of Bush administration policy by the manager of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence in Raleigh, N.C. He wanted to know why the administration attempted to cut the $347 million allotted for school-safety grants for states this year.
In the context of what the administration actually stands for - bloated militarism, niggardly incompetence in the social sphere and, of course, a president who's above the law - the platitudes the first lady and others mouthed at the summit were particularly painful. "I urge all adults across the country to take their responsibility to children - their own children, and their community's children - seriously," Laura Bush said.
Responsibility this vague has a way of being passed along to someone else. I fear Marian Fisher won't be the last child to have to say, "Shoot me first."
(Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.)