Tom Matlack looks at the shootings at Chardon High School through the lens of manhood, war, guns, and video games.
School Superintendent Joe Gergant said school will reopen for classes on Friday. Until then, school facilities will be open for counseling on Wednesday and for parents and students to return together on Thursday.
“I want to assure parents our facilities, and most important our students, that you will be safe when you’re re-entering our program,” Gergant said. “We’re not just any old place. Chardon, this is everyplace. As you’ve seen in the past this can happen anywhere.”
On Monday, panicked students screamed and ran through the halls after gunfire broke out at the start of the school day at 1,100-student Chardon High, about 30 miles from Cleveland. Teachers locked down their classrooms as they had been trained to do during drills, and students took cover as they waited for the all-clear.
Thomas “T.J.” Lane began shooting at Chardon High School on Monday morning. The USA Today is reporting that a 3rd student is now dead.
I know only what I have read in the papers and on the web. I know nothing of what happened to make this young man do what he did with such tragic consequence. I have no answers. The folks in the community have no answers. Only devastation.
But it brings to mind questions.
The Superintendent says that such a horrific tragedy could happen “anywhere.” And I believe that is true.
I have two high school students, a sophomore and a senior. My sophomore spent his February break touring West Point because he has decided that the military is his calling. As the son of Quaker pacifists that is not an easy message to hear from my boy, but I was also brought up to believe that we each have our own path and even a parent can only influence his son so much before allowing him to make his own choices in life.
The thing I wonder, though, as it pertains to this tragedy and others like it, is the role that guns, video games and a romanticized view of our military warriors has on how our boys think of themselves in crossing that threshold into manhood.
I have a seven year-old son, too, who is obsessed with relatively mild (in the scheme of things) Star Wars video games in which the object is to fight and kill the dark side enemies. I’ve watched my older nephews play hour after hour of Call of Duty. It would be totally hypocritical of me not to add that I have been involved from a business perspective in MMO games (I own two sites which review these games) so if I am pointing any fingers the finger is directed at myself as much as anyone.
I wonder if these imaginary games instill violences and guns as part of what it means to be a man, with killing the main objective.
Then we come to the real wars which have dominated the last decade of our national history. Never before have we fought such long wars, with such murky objectives, at so high a human cost, with so little public attention. It’s almost as if we all have gotten so tired of talking about men and women coming back in body bags or in fractured pieces that we just stopped talking about it in a vain attempt to pretend like it isn’t happening. Those wars, too, became more video game than traditional ground offensives since the enemy is not across the trench or the front but hidden amongst the innocents requiring the use of drones and drone pilots playing life and death games that look from the outside remarkably like the games my nephews are playing.
All of which brings me back to Ohio and three dead students and one horribly disturbed shooter. And no answers. Only questions.
Are our boys growing up in a world where we are teaching them not by word but by action that manhood is about winning the vast video game of life, including guns and bad guys and shooting? Do we spend enough time teaching them about love and kindness and compassion as the mark of a what it means to be a man? Do we show them enough pictures of the real consequences of war, not heroic but just god awful painful and tragic beyond words? Do we ask our returning veterans to come into our high school gymnasiums to speak openly about what PTSD is or the ravaging affects of brain injury caused by being too close to roadside bombs on a repeated basis?
My friendship with NYTimes photojournalist Michael Kamber has been an honor and constant reminder of the horror of war, the bravery of men put in situations not of their own making which require them to fight one another to the death, and the fact that violence is never a good or ideal kind of manhood. The pain in Michael’s words when he describes watching men in his embed unit being blown to bits (“Shooting the Truth”) or when his best friend Tim Hetherington was lost in Lybia (“Remembering Tim”) keep me honest, and remind me how much I admire Michael for putting himself in harms way to try to show the world that violence is not the answer to anything, especially manhood.
But we keep playing our games and trying to block out the true impact of our foreign policy, not only abroad but right here at home with our boys who don’t listen much but sure do pay close attention to what do.
I have no idea if any of this played into the death of three students at Chardon High School.
But I sure do wonder.
And with the nation, I cry at what would cause one of our boys to do such a thing.