The Great Debate

from Jim Gaines:

Waiting for the cold light of day in Missouri and the Middle East


Aside from the strange fact that both the Ferguson Police Department and the barbarians of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are using U.S. armor and weaponry, the shooting death of Michael Brown and the murder of James Foley would seem to have little in common, about as little as the Midwest and the Middle East.

Yet the similarities are evocative. Both frame enormously complex problems in the context of a single, riveting incident. Both were deaths in the American family, calling every parent to feel something of the Brown and Foley parents’ bottomless grief and to think, if only for an instant, “there but for the grace of God….”

Both events draw attention to life-and-death issues that call on every resource of our minds and hearts: What to do about racial divisions at home and the horrific outbreak of lethal sectarianism abroad.

A man holds up a sign supporting American journalist James Foley during a protest against the Assad regime in Syria in Times Square in New YorkBut both stories are also missing some critical specifics: What actually happened between Brown and Officer Darren Wilson, and exactly how -- in pursuit of what regional and global strategy -- should the United States act against the forces that killed Foley?

Both incidents hit uncomfortably close to home for me. I might well have felt one way about the Islamic State—“Go all in and shoot the bastards”—if my eldest son had not just told me that he thought a good way to start what he hopes will be a career in public service would be to sign up for Officer Candidate School. The military is an honorable profession, but I lost friends who did that when I was in college.

Terror born from rage

Thus far, nothing of reliable note has been revealed about the motives of James Holmes, the arrested suspect behind the Dark Night Massacre, where a dozen people were murdered and others injured at an after-midnight premiere of the latest Batman movie. What we do know suggests intricate planning, and the planning suggests a rationale, irrational though it may be.

Holmes carried a shotgun, a high-powered pistol, an assault rifle and a knife.  He was reportedly costumed in body armor and might even have employed smoke or tear gas grenades. Holmes’s apartment was deftly booby trapped, stymieing police search efforts. In custody, the suspect has so far been unrevealing.

The explanation here might be as simple as a psychotic break with reality, as when Jared Lee Loughner murdered six people and shot 19 in Tucson as he attempted to assassinate Representative Gabrielle Giffords last year. Or there might be more of a narrative behind this, as there was with high school outcasts Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 13 people during an assault on Columbine High School in 1999.