If a young American person is lucky, she will grow up with parents who teach her about boundaries. These boundaries are founded on the principles of selfhood ranging from intellectual freedom, to the sanctity of one’s physical health and safety. However, the Nanny State tells her that everyone around her is responsible for her well-being, both emotional and physical, so they will put in place measures to protect her. These measures include legislative foam bumpers on social interactions to insure that she never has her feelings hurt, and gun-free zones that are meant to seduce her into thinking they have taken care of everything. However, the Nanny State represents itself falsely: they cannot guarantee our girl a life free of emotional pain from others, or that she will never be at the wrong end of a gun barrel. Fortunately for this girl, there is a relatively recent example in American history on which this she—and every American—may model their behavior in those off-script situations in which everything has gang aft agley: the case of United Flight 93, in which a group of people who faced certain doom determined to embugger the nefarious plans of evil people. This lesson is a prime illustration that passivity is useless, and that sometimes, we must risk the ultimate harm to ourselves to stop bad people in their tracks and keep them from harming possibly thousands more people.
On September 11, 2001, four commercial planes were commandeered by terrorists in a synchronized effort to inflict maximum damage and casualties on American institutions. Armed with razor-bladed boxcutters, a group of men on each plane killed the pilots and subdued the passengers. Two flights ended at the World Trade Center towers in New York City, resulting in the deaths of thousands in those buildings and all souls on the planes. One plane was crashed into the Pentagon to yet more disastrous effect. However, passengers on the fourth plane, United Flight 93, learned via phone calls to friends and family on land that the hijacking was part of a larger planned attack. They knew they were going to die, so they determined to do what they could to thwart the ultimate plans of their attackers. The story of those 33 passengers rushing the terrorists with little more than determination and brute strength is awe-inspiring, and they most likely saved hundreds or thousands of lives at whatever structure was meant to be the crash site for which the terrorists aimed. The heroes of Flight 93 did not need to be told about boundaries: their lives in the hands of people who were the mind-numbed products of defective cultures, Thomas Burnett, Jr., Todd Beamer, and Sandy Bradshaw, and their fellow passengers effectively said “not today, Satan. Not today.” They drew a line in the sky.
As a middle-aged woman completing grad studies at a state university, I have plenty of time to observe the behaviors of young people in hallways, common areas, and classrooms of my campus. I see many young people who do not lift their eyes from their device screens even to check for cars at crosswalks. Many students spend entire lecture periods paying attention only to a smartphone. These people are halfway checked out of their physical environs, often with situational awareness that would register in the negative range, if that were possible. Let’s call it a zero level of situational awareness. In fact, they seem unaware when mass shootings on other campuses have taken place, as though they could never be touched by such violence. These people are so immersed in their headspace that they seem less than fully present, mentally. Such people would be ill-prepared for an emergency situation, such as an active shooter, should one arise.
My mind keeps going back to the eternal question about the Jews and the Nazi death camps: “Why did no one resist? Why did no one fight?” The answers to these questions would probably be as baffling and heartbreaking as anything else about the story itself. In his superb book Ordinary Men, Christopher R. Browning tells of how during the Nazi terror in Poland, 8,000 Jews were loaded onto a train that was overseen by only 20 guards. Can you imagine this? That crowd of humans--even if only a quarter of them were of hearty health to resist--could have CRUSHED the guards, but they did not. Why do American students not rat-pile active shooters? Because they are told to be passive, to hide, to run, to hope for mercy or the dumb luck of the numbers that they will be missed by the shooter. When the subject comes up on campus, I ALWAYS tell my peers that if something like that happens near me, if I am a student or a teacher, I will do my damnedest to get to the shooter from behind and claw their eyeballs out. I could do better to stop the threat if I could legally carry a gun in that situation, but even with recent changes in state ordinances on campus carry, most buildings on campus proudly declare at every entry that they are gun-free zones, so I guess it’s down to me and my fingernails. All this is by way of saying is that even if I am the only one, and even if I must give my life in that situation to try and stop the threat, I will do so. I pray I am never tested in this manner, but in the hideous case that something happens, I at least have a plan, and I hope I can go on automatic and do what needs doing.
In this age of decrying the violent and sexually licentious among us, why is there no movement to inculcate all people with a sense that they have a right to defend their own bodies by fighting back, if necessary? I think I have the answer: for at least five decades, Americans—particularly males—have been punished for behaviors that would keep them in fighting trim for a self-defense situation. These behaviors have been lambasted under the umbrella of toxic masculinity in an effort to eradicate violence, and the net effect has been a more passive populace that relies increasingly on the Nanny State for everything. The circular effect here is readily apparent: even though a small number of physically adept student athletes could easily subdue and shut down the activities of a malicious actor on campus, they simply don’t. The bottom line is the narrative of hiding or running is not good enough. Being able to defend the physical bounds of the self is a Good Thing. Why is self-defense not becoming a part of school curricula at both high school and college levels? If school administrations make self defense martial arts part of their curricula, all members of the student body would benefit, particularly female students who take these courses.
Life is messy. Eggs will be broken. We none of us are getting out of here alive, but in a free country that eradicated polio on the planet and put men on the moon, it’s not too much to ask that every girl and boy can be in a state of choice about how they face their ultimate demise, if that demise presumes to violently present itself prematurely. Girls and boys and men and women need to think seriously about what to do in the event of unexpected violence, and how to act. It would be nice if we never had to think of this again, but these situations will not stop. And taking guns away from the NRA members who already abide by our Nation’s laws is not the answer any more than all Muslims are to blame for the extremists who killed thousands on 9/11. The instinct to defend one’s boundaries is not toxic, nor is it exclusive to men. Likewise, people who try to cross those boundaries with ill intent should be met with ultimate resistance. “Don’t let someone take your life without a fight” should not need to be said, but if it must be said, then drill it into the skulls of everyone around you. We are blessed to live in this time and this place, and no one deserves to take this away from us, and that goes for young people as well as for any adult here. When you see the ultimate evil, do everything within your power to resist it. Shoot it, kick it, or claw its eyeballs out, if that’s all you can do to stop it. To do less is un-American.
P.S., For additional information on meeting lethal force in kind, I highly recommend The Cornered Cat for information.