It’s very rare to witness a murder first hand. It’s even rarer to have a murder recorded for posterity. So it was on November 22, 1963 that Abraham Zapruder made what is arguably the most famous and important 27 seconds in film history when he inadvertently filmed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The film shocked and horrified the nation when it was first publicly broadcast on TV in 1975. In 40 years since then, how times have changed. Then again, it’s both remarkable and unfortunate how little we ourselves have changed. Two reporters were brutally shot and killed in Virginia on live television today. I’m not going to address the issue of guns, since it would probably be good for America to not pretend anymore that anything will ever happen to mitigate their unchecked proliferation in our society. Rather, what strikes me harder is the insatiable fascination we seem to have for watching this loop over and over and over and over again. Even the camera still, which shows a young reporter conducting an interview with maybe a second or so to live, is eerily hypnotic to a culture with thrives on death and death imagery.
Think about it. Where would the anti-abortion movement be without carefully edited footage of dead fetal tissue? Where would the crusade to curb smoking in America be without a rogue’s gallery of people slowly and horribly dying of cancer? I know what you’re thinking. But you’re wrong. You are a ghoul and you should be ashamed of yourself. They say people who watch porn are deviants. Bull. You want deviant and sickening behavior? How about the millions of us who watched two lives being snuffed out in an instant on our handy YouTube mobile app; perhaps during a quick break along with your friends during lunch? Thanks also to the online news outlets to make sure we all got our collective fix. Some will simply say “Death is a part of life” to excuse themselves of the guilty pleasure of watching a murder as often as they like with the perpetuity that the internet grants us. A poor excuse for watching a cold-blooded killing on repeat. Death is a natural thing. But this is as far from natural as you can get. This is not “part of life”. This is Murder Live with Kelly and Michael and it’s entertainment. If your aim is to see public death, try 1793.
Face it. You love this. But sadly, no gray matter for you to see here and I know you were SO hoping for some. Mr. Zapruder was good, but not that good. In a moment of time captured purely by accident, he helped to create an America which will never get enough bloodlust on film. A media player like Lee Harvey Oswald (remember ”I’m a patsy!” in front of the cameras?) could never have imagined the kind of instantaneous, viral exposure his moment of abject violence would have brought him today in his most fevered dreams. A live killing as it happens is what we all wanted. It’s OK, though. I’m a deviant, too…and I’m ashamed.
There is a tendency on the part of many people to assume that any and all brave, selfless and heroic actions conducted by American servicemembers while on leave in the civilian world, both here and abroad, must be done by members of the US Marine Corps. The bravery and courage of Marine Corps personnel has garnered such fame over time that even local media on the scene of such events simply come to the immediate assumption that any Americans involved who are in the armed forces and conduct themselves with heroism and courage are Marines.
Indeed, there were few news outlets in the US that did not report that 2 members of the USMC were responsible for neutralizing a gunman who began opening fire aboard a Thalys high speed train en route from Amsterdam to Paris yesterday. The gunman, as of this writing, is reported to be a Moroccan national familiar to Spanish authorities and with possible connections to terrorist elements. The gunman was armed with a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle, a knife, a pistol and several clips of ammunition. The two American servicemen subdued the gunman, one of them sustaining serious injuries in the attack, and disarmed him. Due to their quick thinking and fast action, nobody was killed and what surely would have been a massacre was foiled.
But they weren’t Marines. The American servicemen were members of the US Air Force and US Army National Guard.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris earlier this year and other similar attacks, we are reminded that even a train in Western Europe, tragically like so many other places in the world we assume are safe, can in an instant become the scene of death and carnage. This writer, for one, is grateful that there are people, ordinary people, civilian and military, who in their everyday lives face a terrifying circumstance and step up to the challenge to stop violence and hatred. There is a word for such people. The ones we should emulate and make us all wonder how we would react in a similar crisis. Would you or I face a man armed with an assault weapon and without hesitation engage him before lives were lost and a nation once again grieves? There is a word for such people and it has been much overused. The word is hero.
Let the record show that the two American servicemembers involved who averted what would almost certainly have been a horrifying bloodbath were Airman First Class Spencer Stone, US Air Force, 65th Air Base Group and Spec. Alek Skarlatos, US Army, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oregon National Guard.