April is the cruelest month

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April is the cruelest month

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By: George Henson, ghenson@smu.edu
Posted: 4/26/07
No matter how much we try to make sense out of the horrific events of Monday, April 16, we can't.

Last Wednesday, under the guise of news reporting, NBC pimped the "manifesto" and video that the Virginia Tech assassin FedEx-ed the network during the two-hour gap between the first and second shootings.

"The Today Show" last Thursday morning hyped the same video footage, feigning that journalistic imperative outweighed tabloid sensationalism. For all intents and purposes, the morning infotainment show was co-hosted by a deranged murderer.

It was journalistic pornography. Sideshow journalism. Capitalism. I don't know who's worse-them or us. The pornographers or those of us who consume their pornography. To their credit, the students of Virginia Tech ordered all media off their campus by Monday.

The question still remains: do we really want to allow a for-profit infotainment corporation to be the voice of our national conscience?

Throughout history, poets have given a voice to the tragic events that marked the time in which they lived. In 1865, Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd" gave voice to the assassination of President Lincoln. In 1922, the American modernist poet T.S. Eliot published "The Waste Land," gave voice to the chaos following World War I, the irrationality of modern society, the age-old theme of the universe in chaos.

That's how many have felt during the last week.

The first three lines of the first canto, "The Burial of the Dead," read, "April is the cruelest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain."

Those lines are especially poignant now - in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy. If you've never read the poem, it's worth a read. Don't worry if you find the language difficult or the references obscure, let the imagery speak to you. You'll be surprised how much clarity - context - the poem will lend to the horrific murders.

April, it turns out, has truly been a cruel month in our nation's history: On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumpter, South Carolina, igniting a civil war that tore apart the fabric of our country and killed over 600,000 Americans. Four years and two days later, on April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre.

In fact, when Eliot wrote that "April is the cruelest month," he was referencing, at least tangentially, the assassination of President Lincoln. Eliot understood the paradox of death in April, a month that normally symbolizes hope and the renewal of life.

On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

On April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed, killing 168 men, women and children. Two years earlier, to the day, the FBI siege of the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco resulted in the deaths of an estimated 79 people. Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for the Oklahoma City bombing, said that the Waco siege was a motive for the bombing.

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold slaughtered 12 students and one teacher and wounded 24 others at Columbine High School in a Denver suburb. Virginia Tech's assassin mentioned Columbine in his manifesto.

President Bush, mourner-in-chief and master of platitudes, attended a memorial service on Tuesday at Virginia Tech - but not before reaffirming his belief in the "right to bear arms."

I can't be the only person who sees the perverseness in his rush to defend the assassin's right to buy the guns that killed 32 innocent people.

Amid the personal mourning, Bush and other Second-Amendment supporters want us to chalk up last week's mass killings to the inevitable price of democracy. What an absurd distortion of truth!

What point have we reached when we allow a president to minimize the preventable deaths of 32 people by blithely reducing the events to "[t]hey were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time"? Spare us your absurdist reductionism.

No, Mr. President, they were exactly where they were supposed to be - in class.

Surely someone else sees the hypocrisy in the manufactured shock that a 23-year-old with a history of mental illness is allowed to buy two guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition that he uses to massacre 32 innocent people.

Surely someone else sees the insanity in allowing someone - mentally ill or sane - to buy a 9mm Glock with the same ease and casualness with which a 10-year-old buys a Slurpee.

It may be years before anyone is able to find meaning in the chaos of April 16. That meaning won't come from politicians or pundits. It will come from the next Eliot. Perhaps that will be you.

Until then, all we can do is console ourselves, as Eliot wrote, with "the murmur of maternal lamentation."


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Original Source:<a href=http://media.www.smudailycampus.com/media/storage/paper949/news/2007/04/26/Opinion/April.Is.The.Cruelest.Month-2881930.shtml>SMU Daily Campus - April 24, 2007</a>

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George Henson

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SMU Daily Campus

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2007-08-24

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Sara Hood

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"Norris, Mark William" <mnorris@mail.smu.edu>

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eng

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George Henson, "April is the cruelest month," in The April 16 Archive, Item #1210, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/1210 (accessed December 19, 2014).