Back in September, my class worked together to design our “Morning Meetings”.  The kids decided to include the usual items, like “Greeting” and “Sharing” and “Teacher Announcements”.  They spent a bit more time debating the relative merits of “Activity” (which is, as we all know, a game) and “Newsflash”.

It has been the last item which has added a whole new layer of complexity to the morning in my fifth grade classroom.  While I applaude the students for their desire to keep up with current events, I am sometimes left speechless by the actual events which are discussed.  Sometimes I can find a way to soften a news report so that it is comprehensible to these generally protected and relatively innocent ten year olds.  I am usually able to rephrase or redefine the situation so that it makes some sense to upper middle class, suburban American children.

This week, though, I am truly at a loss.

On Monday, one of my students raised his hand for “Newsflash” and told his friends that an American soldier had gone out of his base in the middle of the night, carrying his weapons, and that the man had shot and killed 16 innocent people as they slept in their own homes. He said that the soldier had killed a whole bunch of children, sleeping children, in the dead of night, in their own beds.

An American soldier.  A “good guy”.

How on earth was I supposed to respond when the next child asked, “Why did he do that?”

What was I supposed to say when the kids asked me, “Was he crazy?”

You see, at the tender age of ten, human being know that it must be the work of a crazy person to walk up to a sleeping child and shoot him in the head. They understand that some behaviors absolutely cannot be explained in any rational way.  They jumped quickly to the idea that the killer must be “crazy”.

I am considerably more upset and more concerned when I hear the same idea being repeated by news reporters and radio talk show hosts.  I am confused and dismayed as I listen to Americans discussing this terrible event. I am left with a million unanswerable questions, and a sense that even the act of seeking answers is somehow wrong.

In the past few days, I have heard extensive discussions about the “mitigating circumstances” that may have lead to the tragedy.  I have heard people talking about the multiple deployments, the serious head injury, the personal stressors that preceded the attack.  I have heard my fellow Americans struggling to explain how one of our own, one of our  heroes in uniform, could have “snapped” to such a degree.  How desperately the news media, the press, the lawyers and the people around the water cooler have searched for a reason, an explanation, a rationale.

And I am left both horrified and bewildered.  You see, I remember very well those first few days after the attacks on the World Trade Center.  I remember the cries of “Bomb them back to the stone age!” and “Evildoers” and “Terrorists”.  I don’t remember a single American newsman asking the question, “What happened to these men to lead them to this act?”  I didn’t hear anybody looking for explanations or mitigating circumstances. I just heard that these men were pure evil, and that they, and everyone who knew them, had to be punished.

If I make myself  step back, squint my eyes and refuse to see the nationality of the killers, I am forced to admit that it is somehow more evil to kill an individual child in the arms of his mother than it is to blow up a plane or a building full of humans who you will never see.

I can’t excuse this horror with any stories of mental stress, or brain injury or anything else.

Some things are simply and purely evil.  Training a man to kill on command, putting an arsenal of weapons at his fingertips and repeatedly sending him out to use them: this is surely evil.

Taking those weapons into your own hands, walking off base and finding homes full of sleeping children to murder; this cannot be anything other than evil.

Wrong is wrong.  Evil is evil.  I don’t think that either God or the Devil would choose a team based on the uniform.

Now.  How do I explain all this to those kids?




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