Tomorrow is Memorial Day. Very much a bitter sweet holiday. It has become a three day weekend to mark the unofficial “official’ beginning of summer. Lots of grilling, going to the lake, consuming beer. And that is cool. But it has other meaning more somber.
When I blogged the first time, I made sure to write a special post for Memorial Day. I felt that the original meaning was getting lost in the shallow glut of commercialism that frankly surrounds nearly all of the holidays (at least, those still largely celebrated). Here it is….not real impressive, but at least it has survived intact, unlike most of my posts from that time:
Talk about a painful walk down memory lane….but the point I made then is still valid. Essentially….over a million people have sacrificed their lives that we might be free, and untold millions more have sacrificed family, sanity, fortunes….and it seems the best we can do to honor them is to grill hotdogs while they wander homeless in the streets.
I sat down today, the Sunday before Memorial Day, and I had no idea what to write about. I’d written a post ten years ago that pretty well expressed what I felt then, and the only change I would make now would be to remove all mention of….hell…I won’t mention them here. The small town I wrote about that never recovered from the fighting of WWII….their population is (surprisingly) up in the last ten years, but still significantly less than pre WWII levels. Some wounds never heal.
So I sat and pondered, thinking about those who died that we might live free. About the veterans who live homeless, or commit suicide because our society doesn’t care about them. I wanted a snappy title, something that would catch the reader. So I looked up the 100 most googled questions in the US. I was almost ready to move on to another idea when I came across query 99. “Why is the flag at half mast?”
In this particular case, I believe it likely was because of the mass shooting, specifically the one at Uvalde. You can actually take your pick of tragedies, there were eight mass shootings in the US since Tuesday. (Editorial note: the figures climbed almost exponentially as I wrote this post. I’m leaving the figure unchanged to make a point…you can’t even get a fricken blog post about mass shootings finished before there are literally 20 more.) I see the working definition is at least four people not counting the shooter maintain injuries or die from a gunshot. One of these was in my proud red state of Oklahoma, the municipality of Taft was afflicted by a 26 year old who allegedly fired into a crowded Memorial Day festival, leaving a 39 year old woman dead, and seven other victims suffering non-life threatening injuries.
Memorial Day is (well, was before it became a big party day) the day when you remember those who have passed. Especially and specifically those who served in the military (though in my family it was to remember the family that had passed on). And God knows we lost a lot of people in the last week.
I’m going to make three observations on the topic of half mast flags.
- The flag has been at half mast in these recent years more than any time in my memory.
- Mass killings, which I barely remember happening before the Columbine tragedy, have become so common it is hard to not be numb to the pain.
- The apparent Second Amendment/gun control arguments are a red herring of the most despicable order.
Some years ago I noticed the flag was at half mast a lot. There seemed to be a steady stream of mass shootings, important government people passing away, and in the end, there was Covid, a failed coup, and all kinds of horrible things going on that often merited a flag lowered in grief.
According to Mercury News, the flag flew at half mast somewhere in the US (it can vary by state) 328 days during the year 2015. Biden ordered the flag flown at half mast (so this figure doesn’t include the various states) for 92 days in 2021. I find innumerable articles talking about Trump ordering flags to fly at half mast (most of them condemnatory), but I have failed to find any stats. I have found stats for the three previous President’s citing slate.com, who in turn cites USA Today:
“USA Today reported recently that that’s a record: Obama has ordered flags at half-staff more than any other president in United States history; more than George W. Bush’s 58 orders and Bill Clinton’s 50. All told, the flag has been perched halfway down the pole for 162 days of Obama’s administration.”
Mercury News asks the question j the gesture is being overused. Your Tired Blogger (What Blogged at Midnight) asks….is this just another example that our world is falling apart?
My second point dovetails with the first point. Frankly, if we are suffering more mass shootings than ever before, it only makes sense that the flag would fly low more often than before.
I looked up the number of school shootings before the 1990s, and the first thing to pop up was Wikipedia. One reader has voiced concern about the reliability of that site, so I looked up on Activebeat.com, and several useful articles popped up, but I found nothing telling me what happened before 1994. So back to “ol’ reliable” I go. The figures I am about to share are not “mass shootings,” just any shooting at all either on campus, or on a school bus.
In the 1840’s there was, in the US, one incident “John Anthony Gardner Davis, a law professor at the University of Virginia, was shot by student Joseph Semmes and died three days later. In the 1850s there were three. In the 1860s (Wiki excludes “war incidents” so this may be incomplete, as the first half of the decade is dominated by the Civil War) there were five. In the 1870s there were seven. The 1880s saw ten, the gay 90s saw only six. The first decade of the 20th century broke an average of one or more per year; there were 13 shootings in a US school. Finally there is a decade that matches….last week…..(Editorial note: once again, I wrote too slow. From the time I wrote this till the time I pushed the “publish” button there were seven more mass shootings).
The roaring 20s with their much touted violence saw a decline back down to ten shootings (again, let me reiterate, we are not talking mass shootings….just any shooting that in some way involved a student either as the shooter or the victim on school grounds or on a school bus). The 30’s saw a further decline to seven. The 40s saw 8, the 50s must have seemed like an explosion of violence, since the numbers more than doubled to 19.
I feel a bit pedantic, but I also feel a dark awe at the sheer meat grinder life has become. Let’s see….everyone says America went to hell in the 60s when prayer was taken out of schools and drugs and hippies took over the scene. What were their numbers like? 21 school shootings in the US. So worse than the 50s, but only slightly so….how about fatalities? The numbers are pretty sobering here……40….the fatalities exploded from thirteen to forty. 18 of these fatalities happened on August 1, 1966, at Austin Texas. My Dad used to tell me about that one. The guy climbed the University of Texas tower, and started firing. He made it 96 minutes until police brought in a sniper who could finally get at him at the right angle and take him down.
We get to my lifetime, now the numbers should get crazy. The 70s me generation with their drugs and angry Vietnam vets saw forty school shootings (one of which was in OKC) with 39 deaths. So the much touted violence of the seventies doesn’t seem to be much different than the sixties. But the 80s….that’s where it will go nuts! Reagan messed up everything, there was all this violence in the movies and tv, and all that cocaine and the introduction of crack…surely the 80s were a blood bath.
Well….the 80s is in fact where things get out of hand. We go from forty to sixty incidents, and the fatalities sixty seven. I remember how horrible we thought things were, and from pulpits and “prophets” there were warnings. “Repent or it will get worse.” I wish I could say they were wrong.
The nineties was the decade ol’ Bill Clinton taught us to be peaceful, loving people. How well did his message take? In the nineties there were 92 incidents. So in raw numbers of events, we have two decades with roughly 50 percent increases in events. The fatalities in the nineties roughly double, to (if my math is correct) 119. 15 from Columbine alone. Remember though, as bad as Columbine was, even at that time, it was not the record for school mass shootings. As a nation we had finally arrived.
The 2000s were the new millennium, the Age of Aquarius was upon us. We survived Y2K, we agonized over 9/11 and sold our liberties for security that never came. It became hard to think about school shootings when terrorists were killing thousands of people and we were threatened with WMD’s in the Middle East. I was a new husband and father, trying desperately to figure out how all that worked. I barely had time to listen to anything at all. Usually I was the last to know.
In the 2000s there were 68 incidents, so very roughly there was a 25% drop in incidents, while fatalities….they exploded. The bad guy’s aim got significantly better. If my math is right there were 105 fatalities this decade, a whopping 33 (and there we have the dark side of the Pareto Efficiency) from the Virginia Tech shooting in April 16, 2007. The story just kept getting better.
Finally….we get up to date….since 2010 there have been….are you sitting down….? 254 school shootings. So the rough number of incidents quadrupled since 2010. Granted, we have two more years to factor in, still….and as for fatalities…..if I’m doing my math right there have been 247 deaths associated with school shootings since 2010. So very roughly, we have 2.35 times as many deaths.
There are then, very demonstrably, more school shooting than any time in the past. Numbers aren’t everything, but they also don’t lie.
I’ve written 2532 words on this topic, and still have not covered my third point. I’ll cover it in my next post. Comments are more than welcome. I will hopefully have the second post published tomorrow. Oh and….since I started writing this particular post, there have been 20 more mass (not necessarily school shootings), one of which is in my own home of Tulsa. A mass hospital shooting, no less.