“Shame on us if we’ve forgotten,” was Barack Obama’s lament concerning the Sandy Hook school slaying.
But we will forget. It is human nature, and not a subject of shame despite Obama’s attempts to make it such.
To forget is natural. Memories not etched strongly and personally fade. Even great memories of people loved and then lost dim over time (and if you don’t believe that, try remembering exactly how your high school sweetheart sounded and smelled). After their initial grief, Americans came to learn that the relatively small (statistically speaking) Sandy Hook killing spree was the work of a lunatic, like similar massacres that preceded it. Since most American’s never knew the children and teachers or their families, there is no personal connection or personal horror. The scale was too small, the reference too remote and the circumstances too foreign for these memories not to fade.
Human nature is what it is.
What we remember most are the things to which we can connect. Sometimes these are very personal, events made far too vivid. I have a buddy who earned a Purple Heart in ‘Nam, and who shows no signs of the trauma until you suggest watching a fireworks display – bright flashing lights in the night accompanied with loud booming sounds are too much for him. The Pentagon and the Trade Towers in New York were and are enduring connections we have to American exceptionalism, and thus 9/11 remains etched in our memories because they were defiled and destroyed. Mention Culloden to any Scotsman and signs of disgust appear on their faces though the horrors passed nearly 300 years ago.
Institutionalized memories are often stronger than personal one, because of their shared nature. We teach our children tribal stories to reinforce tribal commitment. Often the stories come from great causes such as the American Revolution, and sometime they get whitewashed such as founding fathers being slave masters. Yet the goal is to make sure important things are not forgotten, be it the need to own arms or a spiritual heritage.
Which makes a recent lawsuit by an oppressed religious minority to overturn gun control laws a double play.
Sikhs are interesting folk. They are deeply philosophical, which is a side effect of other people perpetually trying to kill them. Caught between Hindus and Muslims in northern India, they were the Jews of Jaipur and the target of nearly everyone. Their religion thus came to incorporate self-defense as a tenet, mandating that men of their tribe carry arms. For some this commandment has devolved to wearing ornamental daggers.
Others want to tote AK-47s to Walmart.
In their lawsuit, a group of Sikhs petitioned against California gun control laws on first and second amendment grounds, noting that any form of gun control hinders adherence to their religious commandments. “I feel, as far as my religion goes, it dictates that we should have all weapons of all kinds to defend ourselves. By not being able to carry an assault rifle or weapon that has a high-capacity magazine, I don’t feel that I can defend myself or my family,” was how one plaintiff phrased it.
“It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion,” was Barack Obama’s first flub. It has nothing to do with bitterness Barack – it has to do with not forgetting.