Eric Harris, the dominant half of the trenchcoated psychopathic duo who rampaged through Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, was the demented product of two enduring legacies of the Cold War: the consolidated super-school and the rootless military family.
This is guaranteed not to be the conclusion of the sham National Dialogue that always follows such tragedies.
At first, the Harris-Klebold carnage was tallied a hate crime. “Minorities Targeted” read the headline in the local chain paper on the day after, though soon it was revealed that the dead included only one black student, and he had been an athlete and thus one of the hated jocks.
Before the last bomb had detonated in Columbine, the mass media zombies—who swallow the genuine grief of real persons and recycle it as mawkish TV-movie tripe—were drawing their invariably prohibitionist lessons from Littleton. Ban guns, censor the moronic Marilyn Manson, regulate video games and the Internet and black fingernail polish.
But gun shows and schlock rock did not kill those people. Conceding that evil might grow in any garden, let us consider the sorry life of Eric Harris as the product of the mobile and anonymous society bequeathed us by the Greatest Generation.
Harris was an army brat, spawn of a bizarre subculture (revered by many “conservatives”) that prizes rootlessness and places transience next to godliness. He grew up on a series of socialist reservations. The family’s final move was from Plattsburgh, New York, to Littleton, 2,000 miles distant. There he became just another brick in the wall of the inhumanly large Columbine High, whose 1,950 students were connected by a web so attenuated that dozens might fall through the cracks without the principal even knowing their names.
Impersonal education factories like Columbine were a domestic innovation of the Cold War. The consolidation of small and rural schools into centralized warehouses was given its greatest push by Harvard President James B. Conant, who, subsidized by the Carnegie Corporation, produced a series of post-war reports arguing for the “elimination of the small high school.” According to Conant, defenders of human-scale education were “still living in imagination in a world which knew neither nuclear weapons nor Soviet imperialism. They believe they can live and prosper in an isolated, insulated United States.” Conant the barbarian triumphed: The number of school districts plummeted from 83,718 m 1950 to 17,995 in 1970.
Brutish kids will always make fun of nerds, retards, fatsos, fags, geeks, those who know polysyllabic words, etc. But in a small school, parents or other adults have a fighting chance to enforce at least a minimal code of respect. And children in small, settled communities grow up with each other; by high school, they almost certainly will have been to each other’s homes and birthday parties and been on each other’s ball clubs. Each student is essential to the small rural or neighborhood school; sports teams and the school play and the handful of clubs (4-H rather than Model U.N.) depend upon widespread participation. (The sharper kids even catch on that forming their own punk-rock band is far healthier than buying Disney dreck or the lifeless pornography of Marilyn Manson and other rich poseurs.) In a stable—which is to say blessedly immobile—community, kids know one another, and while to know Eric and Dylan may not have been to love them, the ties of human sympathy and lifelong friendship with at least some of their classmates might have braked their homicidal slide.
Once they step out of the bathos, Clinton and the Congress and the corporate media will use the corpses of Littleton as battering rams against what remains of the Bill of Rights—in particular any liberties that might be enjoyed by rural and working-class men, for example, those guaranteed by the Second Amendment. The dead of Littleton should be mourned by their survivors and respectfully left alone by the rest of us. But if we must erect a legislative monument to them, we ought to dismantle the consolidated school and the standing army, which ill combination can produce men without names or souls.