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Dear Mr. President:
I woke this morning wanting to write a letter to President Lincoln. He must get us better gun control laws, more restrictive around auto and semi-automatic weapons for sure, the details I’ll leave up to him. Then I realized Lincoln was president in the movie I saw last night. No, you, sir, are the president, and I thank God for that, although I am a Buddhist, and we don’t speak much of God, more about the practice of a peaceful and compassionate life.
However, you and President Lincoln are uniquely connected. First, in an obvious way: he passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which enabled your election 150 years later. He prosecuted a war intimately connected with that amendment, a war to legitimize the idea that all men, and ultimately all humans, are absolutely equal. But where Lincoln had to make a war, you are tasked with ending one. That is my second point.
This is the war we wage in our schools and streets, the epidemic of guns in the hands of deranged individuals like the young man yesterday who killed 26 people and himself. I grew up in a town south of Newtown, Connecticut, where the shooting took place. I haven’t been there in more than 50 years, but I remember Newtown as a bucolic village of shady elms and white farm houses. As a family we would pass through there on Sunday drives.
I can’t imagine a place less likely for such an awful thing to take place.
When Columbine happened here in Colorado, I was shocked, less by the killings than by the reaction to them. Not just Colorado but the nation should have gone into mourning for a week or a month, whatever it took. Children killing each other? In school? We needed to get to the root of that violence for it was not senseless or without cause.
But we did not. It was business as usual.
Except for the Columbine community in Jefferson County, we quickly turned away from that tragedy, put our heads in the sand until it happened again and again and again…until it became apparent that it was not about wackos but about all of us.
That root grows deep and stretches wide in our American culture. It has spread and strengthened with every war we’ve fought, including Mr. Lincoln’s war, however necessary it may have been.
Unlike that war, many of them have been greedy and aggrandizing. I am thinking of the wars and atrocities against Native Americans fought to take their land. The same can be said of the Spanish American War, the war in the early 19th century against Mexico which gave us Texas. The wars in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq fought for ideology continued our long tradition of soldiering in the name of freedom.
This tradition is not without merit.
We should not lie down before the likes of Hitler or the leadership in Noorth Korea today or Iran. But we pay a price for being the world’s premier soldiering nation because war is violence, and violence is a learned behavior that does not confine itself to the battlefield.
The battlefields strewn with corpses in the film Lincoln are today our malls and schools and theaters where men roam with guns and hearts unhinged from their true nature. Reducing the availability of guns will not solve the root problem, but it will save many innocent lives, like the 20 kids killed yesterday.
You, sir, are charged with liberating us from ourselves, from our lust for violence and the quick fix of guns as a solution to problems far too complex for the military nostrum, guns that make us equal in the very worst of ways. President Obama, you are the man of the hour, and thank God for you in this office at this time.
May you be safe, wise and effective in the benefits you can bring about. May they lead us ultimately to healing at the root of the disorder. And may we be patient as you face the challenges of dealing with an entrenched cultural illness.
Very truly yours,
Tom deMers lives wherever he can, writes as often as he can, meditates regularly and sings whenever the spirit moves him. You can reach him at [email protected].
Editor: Jennifer Townsend