Every man, woman, and child in America seems to have an opinion on the "deep root causes" of the tragic shooting at Columbine High School. This is one situation where I suspect that silence might be the best response -as in the J.D. Salinger story where the oldest brother, Seymour, is reported to have said that the "Gettysburg Address" would have been more eloquent if everyone stood in silence until one man stepped forward, mutely shook his fist at the sky, and left.
But beyond being a male and having an opinion on almost everything, and beyond the fact that I turn to language as a formal thought process in the way writer E.M. Forrester did - "How do I know what I think until I SEE what I say ?" - this shooting was less than an hour’s drive from my home, my wife was in that community that day, my daughter is a junior in high school - the age of many of the victims - and I was a teacher for 18 years, morally and legally charged with protecting children. I feel very deep emotions about this tragedy and the climate of madness in America that allowed it... no, not allowed it... made it inevitable. The shooters - two white high-school age boys - were equal opportunity killers. They shot one boy in the head three times because he was black. They killed one girl because she said that she believed in God. They gunned down another boy because he was mentally retarded. They announced that they were hunting for "jocks" (athletes) to kill and shot several boys and girls because they wore baseball caps with the bill turned forward, rather than backward. Some of their surviving victims and others who witnessed the killing said that the two boys were having the time of their lives (those lives to be measured in minutes, since they shot themselves) - laughing, joking, and giggling. Their comments included - "Peekaboo !" at a cowering girl before shooting her in the throat, "Hey, look at the nigger’s brains. Cool !" after they shot the African-American student, and "Hey, it might be funnier (sic) to use a knife on some of these guys" while they were reloading their semi-automatic weapons.
Already I have received e-mail from horror-writer friends and local SF writers who are worried that the "goths" the "other trench coat mafia kids", shock-rock fans, students obsessed with Marilyn Manson, DOOM-type "first person shooter video games fans", and others are being unfairly singled out and "demonized". They point out that these two boys were treated as outsiders and teased. Something had to snap, they say. This is madness. It is also illogical bullshit. The two killers in Littleton planned this massacre for more than a year. They acquired illegal weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition. They boasted on the Internet of what they were going to do and learned the details of bomb-building well enough to make almost 50 home-made explosives - some large enough to destroy the huge high school and kill most of the 1000 students in it that day. One of the boys boasted of playing DOOM every day of that year of planning and took the time to reconfigure the floor plan of the game to match the floor plan of Columbine High School. 13 innocent students are dead today, as well as one teacher, and more than 50 kids were injured. Hundreds more have been traumatized for life. Two days before the shooting, I went to see The matrix because a story analyst for director James Cameron had contacted me and mentioned that many of the "plot points" from my Hyperion series had been stolen by the filmmakers. I saw the film, but there was no reason for a lawsuit. The young filmmakers had ripped off a dozen other real SF writers, but all of their stolen elements were totally out of context and confused in the confused mulch of their martial-arts, virtual reality, pornographic power fantasy.
In one scene in The Matrix, Keanu Reeves - a pale, outcast computer hacker, unappreciated by society but secretly a new messiah - enters a public building and sets off the metal detector. When the security police ask him to open his coat, he flings back his long, black trench coat and displays a dozen semi-automatic pistols and machine guns. He then proceeds to start shooting, killing police by the score. This is all right though - the cops and civilians Keanu is gunning down are merely virtual human beings - extensions of his own mind, really - or are vicious artificial intelligence entities masquerading as humans. The slaughter continues in beautiful slow-motion, sunlight glinting off spent cartridge cases as Keanu uses a helicopter and mini-gun to cut more dozens of people in half. A beautiful ballet of power-fantasy pornography.
When this scene was shown at a theater in Washington DC, this week, while the funerals for the Columbine students were still going on, local filmgoers - most the age of the dead students - laughed and cheered and chanted "Columbine ! Columbine !".
America is well and truly fucked if it doesn’t grow up. The deadly collusion of an atmosphere of unrelenting ultra-violence via every medium, combined with our national insanity related to gun ownership and use, provoked by young people’s growing inability to distinguish reality from fantasy, unchecked by parents, teachers, school administrators, and politicians too cowardly to intercede leads to... to the inside of Columbine High School as it stands today, filled with abandoned backpacks, torn and bloody books, abandoned notebooks, half-eaten lunches, deep pools of stagnant water from the fire sprinklers, pools of blackened blood, fragments of skull glowing white in the darkness, dried brain matter on walls and floors, and hundreds - literally hundreds - of empty shoes, left behind when the female students literally ran out of them in their panic (or were blasted out of them by the two boys.)
This week, on the same day as three of the students’ funerals, "shock jock" Howard Stern - carried on local radio and TV - made a joke of the video images of the teen-aged girls running from the school, running with their hands over their heads because the police did not know who was armed and were searching everyone who escaped, the girls’ breasts jiggling under T-shirts and sweatshirts - 15, 16, 17, and 18-yr.-old girls running for their lives after seeing their friends shot down. "Hey, did you see some of those babes running with their hands over their heads ?", says Howard Stern with a laugh. "Those gunmen should have raped some of them before shooting them."
I am not worried about "demonizing" the trench-coat-mafia-goth-neo-Nazi kids who spend their lives nursing grudges, sulking about being discriminated against while wearing their combat boots, Swastikas, and eye shadow to school, and spend their days and nights in violent revenge fantasies on the Net, in the movies, and in the video arcades. I worry about the targets - the children, the teachers, the families, the community. This has gone beyond worrying about hurting feelings - whether Howard Stern’s or the next bunch of angry "outsiders" to shout "They deserved it !" through the cowardly anonymity of the Internet. This has ceased to be a debatable matter - even in this confused mess of a democracy. Stopping this sort of thing - reasserting adult supervision in our own homes and schools, stopping the cancer-spread of these countless firearms, enforcing mandatory weapons-storage rules for hunting rifles and shotguns while making the ownership of handguns illegal, stopping the ceaseless sci-fi disconnection between violence and pain and loss - all of this has now come under the heading of basic national hygiene.
The gun laws will not happen. America is currently living in a self-delusional world where the majority of citizens actually believe the NRA Big Lie of "Guns don’t kill people ; people kill people" while we slaughter more than 35,000 of our own each year through gun violence.
If the post-industrial, information-society countries comprising "Western Civilization" and its values truly form a "family of nations", then America needs to be clearly seen as the crazy-as-a-shithouse-rat brother-in-law, refusing to take his psychiatric medicines, paranoid and delusional, frothing at the mouth, wearing a long, black trench coat and Swastika tattoos because he’s never matured enough to form his own identity, and he is - of course - armed to the teeth.
I love the United States of America. I am ashamed of the United States of America. I send my deepest and most profound sympathies to the families of the murdered students and teacher, to the scores of wounded children, and to the thousands of effected families who will never completely recover from this senseless and useless act.
Dan Simmons, Longmont, Colorado. April 30, 1999.