Sunday 24 October 2004

Wither America?

Wither America ...
Alastair Cooke
Watching a tribute to Alistair Cooke, an Englishman who for 50 years penned and broadcasted "The Letter from America" [1] for BBC Radio and died in March this year, for once one realised that we as the world had lost the objective assessment and analysis of news issues that pertain to America with the deluge of adversarial commentary on the 24-hour rolling news channels.
The title chosen reflects a very poignant saying in which he said he would not be found writing a book with the same name.
However, topic after topic that he touched on revealed an amazing understanding of events, their historical context and wealth of experience.
These being the war in Korea; the assassination of JFK; then of Robert Kennedy; the assassination of Martin Luther King; war crimes of Vietnam; Watergate, WhiteHouse and Whitewash; Reagan's Inauguration; the Columbine Massacre and the September the eleventh.
No right to bear arms
The Columbine Massacre in which two school boys gunned down 11 of their schoolmates and a teacher before committing suicide [2] highlighted a more sentimental issue in the American psyche - the right to bear arms. The film "Bowling for Columbine" (2002) [3] tried to explain these issues to the world at large.
Mr Alastair Cooke's research on this topic was most poignant in that the often quoted right to bear arms is not in and of itself a right without the situation in which it is based. The National Rifle Association [4] the behemoth lobby group that supports this misguided right quoted the truth out of context.
"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of the free state, then the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." [5][6]
This is the text of the 2nd Amendment of the Bill of Rights; any ordinary student of English would read this as the right to bear arms is necessary for the security of a free state in a well regulated militia.
As Alastair rightly observes, the regulated militia which was common place over a century ago is now replaced by the armed forces of the United States and the National Guard.
This amendment does not in any reading support the individual's right to bear arms except as part of a regulated militia - now if the reading is that each individual in America is a well regulated militia of one - this point is defensible.
However, amendments would not hold their mysticism if not shrouded in ambiguity that can be disputed and appropriated by those with the will to use or abuse it to their own ends.
Herein is the power of lobbyists, the ability to take part of a whole truth and convert it into a mantra that represents the whole truth. This is one of the failings of American democracy amongst other issues.
What is most interesting is that bearing arms in a responsible and regulated fashion in society does not need to be enshrined in the constitution in the 21st Century, just as the definition of marriage from a particular doctrinal stand-point does not have a place in the constitution.
To then slant this issue towards the idea of this right infringing on the freedom to hunt game is disingenuous in the least and dishonest at the most.
But who in America has really read the constitutional amendments without tinted glasses?
I do feel, before long the top ten titles on the New York Times bestsellers list night would include the book titled - Wither America? Only the American People can help us prevent a pending apocalypse.
[2] The Depressive and the Psychopath - At last we know why the Columbine killers did it. By Dave Cullen
[3] Bowling for Columbine (2002)
[5] BBC News ¦ Letter from America ¦ These are my times and I must know them
[6] Encyclopaedia: Second Amendment to the United States Constitution

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