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Finding empathy

in Columns/Opinions/Staff Editorials by

This Sunday, the country witnessed yet another instance of mass violence. The shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas left 26 people dead and many more injured. Once again, we saw headlines of including the phrase “one of the most deadly attacks.” News publications increasingly use this line to describe massacres, such as the Las Vegas shooting on October 1 leaving 58 people dead or the October 31st New York City attack that killed eight people.

Around campus, however, this line seems to have lost its gut-punch feeling. Monday morning, for most of us, was just another day on campus. Students, staff, and faculty followed their regular routines. Some community members were unaware of the terrible attack that occurred just 24 hours prior, and few lost breath over it. These attacks have turned the lives of thousands upside down and scarred towns. Yet for us, life keeps going.

Anyone who watches the news will be able to tell you that it will often leave you feeling hopeless or depressed. This has caused many of us to lower our news consumption or compartmentalize the extreme things that we read about. This is dangerous. We cannot let these things become normal.

We cannot let these events paralyze us but we need to recognize the magnitude of what this country, and world, is experiencing. We need to recognize that the 26 people who died on Sunday and the countless victims of other attacks are more than just a CNN notification that pops up on our phones.

We need to find a balance between pretending these events never happened and letting them control our lives. This may look different for everyone. Some people may choose to get more involved with politics. Others may want to get more involved on a personal level and find some way to support the victims. Both of these options are valid responses to the terrible events that we keep seeing.

We know that it is impossible to give each news story the attention it probably deserves. You cannot donate to every fund or spend all day calling your congressman. That isn’t reasonable. What is reasonable is to take a few minutes every day to recognize the impact that these events have had on people and think about what you can to do help.

This college prides itself on being a social justice campus. We hold protests and vigils for many events, yet ignore so many others.

We recognize that, unfortunately, holding a collection or a vigil for every mass death would be impossible. But having a conversation about what happened with a friend at dinner is not. Reading about the stories figuring out what happened humanizing the victims is possible.  

Guns, gridlock, and voting

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

How Swatties can be the change we want to see this election

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, 91 people are killed on average by gun violence each day. Nearly 100 people will lose their lives in the United States today. Each person lost to gun violence has parents, friends, siblings, or even children of their own. At the end of Magill Walk, t-shirts identifying the names and ages of victims of gun violence in Delaware County commemorate each individual life lost. Walking by is a reminder of each life that was cut too short, while emphasizing the failure of our leaders in all levels of government to abate the problem of gun violence. Innocent lives are being taken from us daily, and it seems that nothing is being done about this tragedy. Congress failed to enact gun control legislation after the worst mass shooting in American history in June, despite both a Senate filibuster and a House sit-in by Democrats. The sentiment on our generally liberal campus is that common-sense gun control measures are the obvious choice. Instituting more background checks, closing the gun show loophole, and banning assault rifles all seem like simple ways to reduce gun violence. If people with histories of violent crime can’t get guns, and guns that can shoot dozens of people in seconds are removed from circulation, many gun deaths could be prevented. So why doesn’t the Republican majority in the legislature follow that same logic? There is a huge gap between what Congress and state legislatures are doing and what the people want done about gun violence. Many common sense measures are even supported among gun owners themselves, so why are the trends in gun legislation getting worse?

There are many answers to this question, but as voters we have the opportunity to help solve the problem. The NRA is one of the most vocal interest groups in our political sphere and they donate millions of dollars to elected officials to vote against gun control legislation. It often seems like legislators represent interest groups and not their constituents. The sheer amount of influence that lobbying groups have over our elected officials is disheartening, and the way that influence prevents the change Americans deserve is appalling. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and daughters and sons are dying each day because of the gun epidemic, and our elected officials have done almost nothing about it. To many, it seems like the average person can’t do anything about gun violence because of gridlock in Washington. Despite an almost 15 hour filibuster in the Senate by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut after the Orlando shooting, no gun legislation was enacted into law. State legislatures aren’t doing any better, either. The state of Missouri recently actually made it easier to get guns by removing mandatory state background checks, permits, and weapons training requirements for concealed carry. These trends contradict the growing trends among voters: people across party lines support common sense gun legislation. This all seems bleak, but we, as members of the American electorate and students of Swarthmore College, have an opportunity to help reverse these trends in November.

This election is crucial, and not just because of the presidential race. Down-ballot races—elections for local positions, state legislatures, and Congress that are all located under the nominees for president on voting ballots—are crucial in making change in the United States. It matters who wins the congressional races and it matters who wins the state Senate and the state House of Representatives elections. While choosing a qualified president who has clear policies to help Americans is absolutely imperative, if we let legislators continue to vote down gun legislation stay in office, then the laws cannot be changed and the gun epidemic will rage on. Researching the candidates running and their stances on guns ought to be required reading for election day. Making an informed choice at the voting booth is one of the biggest ways we can have our voices heard. The opinions of young people are often ignored by lawmakers because our age demographic has one of the lowest voter turnout rates. This fall is the time to change that. Swatties should feel a moral obligation not just to vote, but to get involved in the campaigns for candidates that share their views. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, our state representative, has an office in the Ville and is up for re-election. Her frequent interaction with student volunteers makes working on her campaign a great way to have your voice heard in Harrisburg. Gun violence can’t be stopped overnight, but making sure that the person elected to represent you is fighting for common sense gun laws is a great start.

Too many people have been unjustly killed by gun violence in Delaware County and across the entire United States for Swarthmore students to sit on the sidelines in this election. We have a moral responsibility to be politically active throughout the election cycle and make sure that the change we want is enacted into law. This means registering to vote, going to vote, and getting involved in campaigns. It may mean calling your senator’s office and telling them how you feel about the way they voted on gun legislation over the summer. Interest groups have a lot of influence with elected officials, but so do voters. Contacting your lawmaker and telling them how you feel can affect the way they vote on legislation and volunteering on campaigns can help ensure that someone who shares your beliefs gets into office.

All hope is not lost for reducing gun violence. Even in Missouri, Democrat challenger Jason Kander is looking to oust NRA endorsed Senator Roy Blunt. Kander, a military veteran, aired what is arguably the best campaign ad of the election cycle, in which he assembles an assault rifle blindfolded while discussing his support of background checks after his opponent criticised him for his stance on guns. There are young people fueling his campaign at colleges in Missouri, and Swatties have the opportunity to help elect candidates that will fight for gun control legislation in the Senate as well. As a community, we can help enact change that we believe in, and it starts with political participation.

Can anything be done to reduce gun violence incidence?

in Columns/Opinions by

As an American college student, I’m pretty aggravated. Just a few weeks ago, Swarthmore students were caught up in a scare related to a threat of violence to Philadelphia schools that was eerily similar to the one made before the Oregon shooting. What at one point would have been considered the hoax of some internet troll had become a serious threat to the safety of college students in the entire Philadelphia area. Unfortunately, threats like this are common in the United States, with gun violence becoming a significant cause for concern among many citizens, particularly students, in the past few years. The gun violence prevention debate thus centers around one question: Can anything be done to reduce the incidence of gun violence in the United States?

Interestingly enough, it appears that the majority Americans agree that something at the structural level has to change, whether it is more or less restrictions on gun ownership, more background checks or better access to mental health care (although psychosis and violence are not strongly linked, so it is fallacious to presume that psychosis is a significant catalyst for violent behavior). Gun violence is an issue that Americans do care about, so it is unlikely that civic apathy is directly to blame here.

Tuning in to gun politics in the United States is beyond frustrating. Democrats and Republicans frequently make unsubstantiated claims regarding the implications of gun violence statistics in order to further their political agendas, coloring facts with personal ideologies that abstract the gun debate into a culture war. The reality is that there is a heinous lack of rigorous scientific inquiry into the causes of gun violence in the United States. We simply cannot infer causation based on the data available to us at the moment, but this lack of data isn’t simply because of disinterest. Rather, the fault can be traced to the influence of the National Rifle Association on Congress. In 1996, the Center for Disease Control self-imposed a ban on firearm research as a response to the NRA’s accusation of promoting gun control and the consequent pressure from Congress to strip the CDC’s funding. CDC funding for firearm injury prevention fell 96 percent from 1996 to 2013 as a result. This had a chilling effect beyond the CDC’s research, as nearly no funding was relegated to gun violence studies in academia, while those few studies that were conducted had to obfuscate any connection to firearms.

It is clear that the main deterrent for a scientific investigation into the causes of gun violence and effective solutions for stemming violence is the NRA. The group has massive lobbying power in Congress and as a result holds significant sway over the course of gun laws in the nation. It seems that campaign expenditures and the NRA’s infamous rating system have done a good job of keeping lawmakers in line with the organization’s values. The vast majority of these expenditures and high ratings are afforded to Republicans, which helps explain the nigh impossibility of gun reform proposals passing the House of Representatives.

Seeking to delve further, I decided to take a look at the National Rifle Association’s website. What I saw was frightening. I wasn’t able to stay long for fear of the damaging effects on my intelligence from reading the NRA publication “America’s 1st Freedom,” a magazine in which the NRA releases their “Daily Threat Assessment for your Firearm Freedoms.” Columnists for this magazine pride themselves on slinging ad hominem attacks at their opponents and dismantling the arguments of straw men. I became depressed by the realization that the organization defending one of the fundamental amendments to the United States Constitution was just as bad, if not worse, than the politicians embroiled in the gun debate. I was forced to promptly exit the browser.

The future of gun violence prevention in this country rests on the ability of Congress and researchers to overcome the chilling effects of the NRA’s influence on scientific investigation into the nature of gun crimes. The NRA’s unbridled and unapologetic attachment to their ideology, while apparently heroic to NRA supporters and certain gun rights advocates, unfortunately borders on the maniacal. Such a culturally normative nation as America is expected to be littered with ideologues, but for them to hold so much sway over reforms is a bit ridiculous. I wonder, does the NRA realize it is as tyrannical in pursuing gun rights as the straw state it despises is in taking them away?

If the answer to gun violence prevention aligns with the solutions proposed by gun rights advocates, gun control advocates would never know, and vice versa. It is one thing to find issue with a study on the grounds that there is a significant error or mishandling of the data, but it is another entirely to discourage any studies on the account that they are against your ideological preferences. Stop drinking the kool-aid and let the data do the talking, I say.

Works referenced:

“Americans’ Desire for Stricter Gun Laws Up Sharply.” Gallup.com. October 19, 2015. Accessed October 21, 2015.

How often and how consistently do symptoms directly precede criminal behavior among offenders with mental illness? Peterson, Jillian K.; Skeem, Jennifer; Kennealy, Patrick; Bray, Beth; Zvonkovic, Andrea Law and Human Behavior, Vol 38(5), Oct 2014, 439-449. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/lhb0000075

“Guns.” PollingReport.com. Accessed October 21, 2015. http://www.pollingreport.com/guns.htm. Polling report is an aggregate site for a variety of polls taken on U.S. citizens.

“Gun Violence Research: History of the Federal Funding Freeze.” American Psychological Association. February 1, 2013. Accessed October 21, 2015.

“How the NRA Exerts Influence over Congress.” Washington Post. January 15, 2013. Accessed October 21, 2015.


On gun control, left should reflect on its past

in Columns/Opinions by

For a country founded in revolution, the United States has a strikingly barren tradition of successful armed revolt. In the nation’s two centuries of history, its government has only once faced a real existential threat from within — the insurrection of the Southern slavocrats — a rebellion infamous both for its perfect villainy and its utter defeat. The spirit of American (mis)adventurism has, of course, never shied away from fomenting unrest abroad — “Support the Texan slave-importers against Mexico!” it shouts at one moment; “Topple Allende!” it demands at another; “Arm the Afghani Mujahedeen!” it snarls; “Support the Free Syrian Army?…the liberals?…the Islamists?…Assad?” it squeaks weakly today — yet our own militants have disappeared from the national memory. John Brown’s body does indeed molder in the grave. Seattle is famous for Starbucks and the Space Needle, not for its general strike. The Black Panthers are remembered as the “dark side” of the Civil Rights Movement, a distraction from the nonviolent heroics of men like Martin Luther King. In order to be extolled in the canons of American history, radicalism must be baptized in the same pacific waters as were Thoreau and Tolstoy.

Given this history (and its distortion), the American Left’s unease with civilian ownership of firearms is unsurprising (when I say the American Left, I mean the kind of person who voted for Obama twice, but felt funny about it the second time). The rifle has never been an agent for the kind of social change the Left desires. Rather, it has acquired a twofold meaning in the Left’s imagination. In the first case, the rifle is a symbol of reaction, wielded alternatively by robed Klansmen, misogynistic mass murderers, and Jesus and Jingo Republicans. In the second case, it is a factor of inner city social disintegration, a tool that, when paired with racism, institutional poverty, and the vicissitudes of the capitalist economy, results in blood and dead bodies. One or another of these evils is inscribed in every shell casing in the United States.

I do not mean to caricaturize the Left-wing gun control advocate. Their concerns are significant and should be treated as such. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, we suffer from four times as many murders annually as do the United Kingdom and France. Likewise, the almost daily terror of mass shootings is an unhappily American phenomenon. What Swarthmore student did not feel a heaviness in their chest when they heard about a 4chan troll threatening Philadelphia colleges? Whether or not this fear of being shot by a masked gunman is rational (the typical American has a very low chance of being murdered, and an even lower chance of being killed in a mass shooting), spree killings become more common, it has become an increasingly regular American anxiety. The problem of violence in the United States is a serious one, worthy of both careful thought and forceful action. If the proper solution to that problem requires increased regulations on civilian gun ownership, then so be it. The question of what exact form those regulations ought to take — background checks, bans on high capacity magazines, required liability insurance for gun owners — I leave to statisticians and policy analysts. My main goal here is not to endorse or denounce specific legislation. Rather, I want to suggest that the Left ought to reexamine its ideological relationship with firearms.

The American Left has a great fear of discussing political violence. This is in large part justified: political violence is generally horrifying. It is easy to romanticize revolution in the abstract, to imagine bare-breasted Liberty leading the people. It is much harder to contend with the glut of blood that revolutions produce; Robespierre and the Jacobins left a prodigious number of bodies in their wake during the French Revolution. Movements that promise justice via murder deliver mostly murder. The 20th century proved to be a particularly cruel testament to this fact. Time and again, communist movements rose to power by the sword and ruled by the sword. An ideology that promised salvation and dignity for all humanity brought instead tyranny and common ruin, due in large part to the self-perpetuating nature of the violence its leaders were willing to employ.

The mainstream of the Democratic Party does not belong to the same ideological and political tradition as revolutionary socialism. But a substantial portion of its post-1960s intelligentsia has been influenced by the New Left, an intellectual movement that attempted to extract certain positive elements from the socialist tradition while rejecting the totalitarian excesses of the Soviet bloc. To oversimplify a terribly complex political idea, the New Left eschewed the Marxist idea of popular proletarian revolution in favor of more focused but tangible victories — racial equality, the breaking down of patriarchal gender roles, LGBT rights.

The New Left was right to do this. Proletarian revolution in the Marxist-Leninist model is generally inefficient, barbarous, and grossly immoral. It is better to learn to live with those who oppose you than to kill them. The new political paradigm privileges a certain class of agent: the non-violent activist, who typically organizes within a marginalized community and agitates for change to that community’s condition. This activist’s agitation often, but not always, aims to force the state to offer the community certain concessions, but the activist does not traditionally attempt to seize state power. They work outside but in parallel to the mainstream political system.

The activist model has proven tremendously effective at achieving certain kinds of change, particularly of a cultural nature. But in privileging this model above all others, we are at risk of dismissing legitimate uses of violence. Some conditions are so intolerable that they absolutely justify defensive force, even if that force is ultimately ineffectual. The Jews who rose up in Warsaw against the Nazis were heroic even though their rebellion was doomed from the outset. While their militancy could not stop the German war machine, it allowed the Jews in Warsaw to make a revolutionary choice: to die by their own terms, in combat, rather than in extermination camps (which is not to denigrate those who did not rise up; no one can in justice judge anyone’s response to such an impossible situation). The raid on Harpers Ferry was similarly justified by the profound inhumanity that was American chattel slavery.

These are extreme examples, obviously; they were responses to conditions that do not currently obtain, and hopefully will never obtain, in the United States. But the principle remains: the oppressed have a right to defend themselves with force in response to violations of their fundamental rights. The Left needs to seriously consider what the full implications of this right are. It is fundamentally absurd to claim with one breath that the police systematically victimize African Americans, only to call for confiscation of all firearms with the next. This is not a call for present day political violence by any means — our system is far from perfect, but progress and the redress of grievances are still possible within it. It is merely recognition of the fact that the future is not guaranteed. One need not be an absolutist about gun rights to understand that.

Key to gun control is debate, not debacle

in Columns/Opinions by

After the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, President Obama appeared before the press to deliver a speech that has almost become routine. However, this time he spoke much more candidly about his anger and frustration, furthering the honesty and forthrightness that he has been building in his second term.

It seems like every few weeks we get news about another mass shooting. One news cycle for a mass tragedy ends just as another one begins. In the aftermath, the conversation is always the same: The Democrats say we need gun control and the Republicans accuse the Dems of politicizing the tragedy, while emphasizing mental health. A lot is said and nothing happens. So far, we have not even been capable of having a conversation about gun control, much less implementing it.

Leaving aside the inappropriateness of associating mental illness exclusively with acts of violence, and the idea that we should try more than one approach at reducing mass shootings, this cycle misses the point. The vast majority of gun deaths are not due to mass shootings. Mostly, they are handgun deaths, whether homicide, suicide, or accidental. Of course, mass shootings are great tragedies, dramatic examples of the failure of our system to keep us safe, but emphasizing these examples results in a dialogue that is dishonest and unproductive.

We need to have an honest conversation, but we can’t. In 1996, the CDC was banned from doing research into gun violence, so we don’t even know the source of the crisis. The NRA has set up the conversation such that those who advocate for even modest gun control are treated as though they wish to ban guns entirely.

However, I need to comment on an attitude I have noticed in the gun control activist community. We give the NRA leverage when we say things like some voters “cling to their guns and religion…as a way to explain their frustration,” as President Obama said in 2008. There is a cultural elitism that is pervasive in some parts of the movement, a tendency to assume all gun activists are crazy hicks, terrified of any government attempts to prevent them from using violence

I come from a place where guns are commonplace. I have shot guns. My father used to hunt, and I could tell fall had begun when all of the students took off from school to travel to the woods and hunt deer on the first day of open season. Some families lived on farms and needed guns to keep themselves and their families safe. Many, hopefully most, knew to keep guns in a gun locker, and didn’t tell their kids the code. Everyone took hunter’s safety class.

Sure, some of it went beyond sportsmanship. Some people liked guns for their own sake. And this is where it gets tricky. If we are to take seriously our ideal of pluralism, we have to accept that some people will enjoy things we don’t understand, maybe things we don’t respect. But of course, we cannot allow people’s pleasures if they endanger others, which guns can do. There must be a balance.

The answer is not to deregulate the entire gun market; that hasn’t worked so far. But the answer also isn’t to try to rid the country of guns. Beyond preventing people from pursuing their own pleasures, it’s also astounding impractical. Unlike other countries that have implemented incredibly strict gun control, we are awash in guns. Guns from WWI remain perfectly functional, and more guns are sold every day. If we don’t want to search everyone’s houses, simply getting rid of guns isn’t feasible.

So, what’s the solution? Honestly, as far as a specific policy is concert, I don’t know. There are a lot of moving parts to gun reform. Different parts of the country need different things, but the laws in New Jersey affect the guns in New York City. What I do know is that we need to learn to talk honestly and respectfully about this issue. Liberals need to realize that conservatives have good reasons to fear a government set on taking away their ability to defend themselves. They need to learn to accept that other people have a different way of being in the world. Conservatives need to be honest about the facts of gun violence. They need to clear the way for honest analysis of the crisis.

Both sides need to realize that the loudest voices on the opposition are not necessarily the predominant ones. If we can start from the baseline that we all want fewer shootings while retaining the greatest freedom, maybe we can figure out a balance. But I’m damn sure that if we can’t have a conversation, nothing is going to change.


Gun Control Legislation Stalls In Senate

in Columns/Inside Capitol Hill/Opinions by

After the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last December, many expected Congress to temporarily put aside its dysfunction and pass a limited but not inconsequential package aimed at regulating the sale of firearms. However, three and a half months have passed since the massacre, and a gun control bill has not yet come to a floor vote in either chamber.

The centerpiece of the current Senate plan is a mandate for universal background checks on would-be firearm owners. This is the least controversial measure that has come to a debate; a CBS News/New York Times poll taken in January found that 92 percent of those surveyed support universal background checks. Among households with NRA members, support for universal background checks is nearly as strong, with 85 percent in favor.

For a number of reasons, though, the measure has failed to come to a vote. Not least of these is a movement spearheaded by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to include an assault weapons ban in the legislation. The Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee passed Sen. Feinstein’s measure by a party-line vote, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) ultimately elected to drop the measure from the final Senate package.

Feinstein, a liberal Democrat from a solidly blue state, announced, “I’m not going to lay down and play dead” on the legislation, vowing to keep fighting for an assault weapons ban. Reid, though, decided to drop the ban due to the risk that it would torpedo the gun control package should it come to a floor vote in the Senate or the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The Democratic Party’s control of the Senate hinges on its ability to win seats in Republican-leaning states. While a fair share of Senate Democrats – including all on the Senate Judiciary Committee – represent very liberal states, there are also dozens who represent moderate or conservative states. Should the final gun control package come down too far to the left, these Democrats may defect and vote against the legislation.

Feinstein and Reid are emblematic of these two breeds of Senate Democrats. Not only does Feinstein hail from a strongly Democratic state, she also has a personal interest in passing a gun control package. In 1978, Feinstein discovered the body of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to political office in America, moments after he had been shot and killed. Since the assassination, Feinstein has relentlessly pursued gun control legislation, authoring the 1994 ban on assault weapons which has since expired.

Reid, by contrast, has received support from the NRA and represents a perennial swing state. In 2010 he waged a tough reelection battle against Republican challenger Sharron Angle. Though Reid will not be up for reelection in the upcoming cycle, many Democrats will, some representing more conservative states. These include Mark Begich (D-AK), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Kay Hagan (D-NC). Already facing fierce battles, these Democrats will be reluctant to vote for a package that reaches too far in the eyes of their constituents.

In the current Congress, the Democratic leadership has seen defections from this group on routine votes like budget resolutions. Reid’s refusal to include Feinstein’s provision, then, is understandable. In addition, Reid will need votes from moderate Republicans to clear the 60-vote threshold required to overcome a filibuster.

Vice President Joe Biden, who worked with many senior Republicans during his time in the Senate, has held private meetings with many over the course of this week, likely to discuss the gun control legislation that has become a priority for the Obama Administration. But many, notably Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have been reluctant to support the legislation. Graham said he would not vote for the Democrats’ package but would also not support a filibuster, a tacit signal that he is not opposed to it but fears outright support would bring a primary challenge from the right in 2014.

Republicans and Democrats alike have also expressed concern that passing the legislation too fast and with a slim majority of votes would expose it to criticism and potentially a legal challenge, as was the case with President Obama’s healthcare law.

The Obama Administration has made gun control and other social issues such as immigration priorities for the second term. Given the unexpected emphasis in the 2012 presidential campaign placed on social issues, President Obama will naturally be looking to populate his legacy with reform on these persistent issues. Earlier this week, Obama made a trip to Connecticut, the state of the Newtown massacre. The state legislatures in Connecticut and Colorado, another state which experienced gun violence last year, are soon expected to pass more comprehensive gun control packages.

However, such far-reaching legislation is more difficult to accomplish on the national level, and the previous months’ debate exposes the reality that the Democratic party is more expansive than the very liberal politicians found in Connecticut and California, and their interests are more diverse. Mr. Obama and the Senate Democratic leadership will have to accept that the gun control plan may have to stop at background checks, or else the whole package risks defeat.

Reflections on “Senseless Violence”

in Columns/Opinions/The Swarthmore Conservative by

Writing for The Corner on National Review Online last week, NRO media editor Eliana Johnson criticized President Obama for calling the Holocaust “senseless violence” in a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. She wrote that “the idea that all violence is ‘senseless’ violence is one that has taken deep root on the left; it’s also, unfortunately, one that poses a major impediment to understanding the world.” This created a backlash in the blogosphere, with many blog writers going as far as accusing Johnson of anti-Semitism and providing a justification of the Holocaust.

Back in September, I wrote a column critical of Obama for describing the Benghazi consulate attack as “senseless violence,” and reached a similar conclusion about the term’s use. Johnson is also critical of Obama for using the term in that case, as the attack was clearly premeditated by an Al Qaeda affiliated group looking to make a political statement in Libya.

The sharp rebuke of Johnson’s NRO post is not surprising, considering the lack of understanding of the term “senseless” by our political leaders and media alike. “Senseless” implies irrationality. While we would like to think of violence as “senseless,” in reality, violence is a powerful coercive mechanism, whether orchestrated by Islamic terrorists or the Third Reich. Violence in these circumstances is also based on an ideology manufactured to justify its use.

In his rebuke of Johnson, Daily Kos writer Jed Lewison accuses Johnson of implying that since Nazism was not “senseless violence,” this means that “Nazism made perfect sense.” This is a misunderstanding of what it means for something to be “senseless.” Lewison seems to think the opposite of “senseless” is “sensible,” which Johnson correctly points out as untrue in her response to the onslaught of criticism. Planned attacks on individuals in the name of ideology or the attainment of a political goal are neither “sensible” nor “senseless.” These attacks represent the use of radical dogmas to justify the egregious and evil actions that we find in Hitler’s Germany and from modern day al-Qaeda.

“Senseless violence” is an incorrect label for these attacks, and the term has been used far too often to describe violent actions that occur for very different reasons. President Obama accurately used the term to describe the devastating Aurora, Colorado movie theatre shooting last year, where a gunman opened fire at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, killing twelve innocent moviegoers. Since then, he has called the Benghazi consulate attack the result of “senseless violence,” and now same with the Holocaust.

There is a profound dissimilarity between these situations, and it is troubling that our government equates them all with the same overused phrase. Not all violence is irrational, and to imply otherwise makes it sound like the Obama administration lacks an understanding of rational violence committed in the name of a belief system with sensible followers. There is a reason people participate as willing accomplices in rational violence. As I said in September, the Benghazi terrorists had a “political goal” in taking over the consulate and killing Ambassador Stevens. Trying to fill a power vacuum left after Gaddafi’s fall from power, the terrorist group with ties to Al Qaeda sought a display of power. They used violence as a “means to achieve” this end.

So why label all these events “senseless violence?” I’m not entirely sure why the term is used so often, except to brush aside a much more problematic ideological current that tries to legitimize its means. Is it that we do not want to admit that “sensible people” have been responsible for great evil, as Johnson mentions in her clarification post? It’s certainly easier to dismiss these individuals as “crazy” and “irrational” than deal with the harsh reality that they have been driven to murder by an ideological current.

The critical reaction to Johnson’s post, and the Obama administration’s constant use of the term, makes me think that there are influential individuals who view all violent actions as “senseless.” This is a grave mistake, and one that has serious implications for American policy. Individuals around the world hold values diametrically opposed to our own. Al Qaeda recruits people and carries out terrorist attacks in the name of ideological opposition to American values. This is scary rationality, not senseless irrationality.

We need to have a mature conversation that recognizes where the roots of violence come from instead of dismissing all violence as “senseless.” There seems to be an impulse in the other direction, and that’s unfortunate.

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