Rhodes Scholarship selection committees occasionally open interviews with the question, “What is the world’s fight?” Since I entered the realm of fellowship advising, I make a point of asking myself the same question on a regular basis. I know that when I was a fellowship candidate myself, I would have answered immediately, “how people with fundamental differences among their cultures, appearances, and beliefs can live in peace.” I think that remains humanity’s fundamental question. If we find a framework in which we can build consensus, all other possible answers: environmental recovery, universal health care, universal education, and much more would become items on a constructive agenda for action as opposed to fraught motives for verbal and physical argumentation.
However, as I have watched my own American society become increasingly militarized through the easy availability of weapons intended for war, I see their removal from the public sphere as a prerequisite for my grander aspiration. To win my oddly named “fight” for peace, we need to ensure that everyone who suffers a personal slight cannot turn a squabble into a bloodbath. My own British Marshall Scholarship interview focused on the civil war that then raged within the dissolving borders of the former Yugoslavia. The conversation turned on what one could do about such tribalism. For one, I argued, don’t think of it a “tribalism.” Factionalization is as great a threat to the so-called “civilized” as to populations politicians in Westminster or on Capitol Hill might think products of an underdeveloped society. When those who hate have weapons to put behind their frustrations, college students die in DeKalb, Illinois; Roseburg, Oregon; Austin, Texas; and Blacksburg, Virginia; and as well as Garissa, Kenya and Iguala, Mexico. Colleges and universities, those supposed bastions of so-called “civilization,” have no ability to turn faculty ideals into flack jackets.
Whether we speak of megalomaniacal politicians, psychotic students, or deranged drug-dealers, our best interests are best served when we make the acquisition and operation of weaponry as difficult as possible. The Kingston Trio treated listeners to The Merry Minuet with the promise, “we know for certain that some lovely day someone will set the spark off and we will all be blown away.” Where weapons exist, someone will use them, no matter whether in underground bunkers or bedside tables. I am not naive. I know weapons will persist in both locations likely in perpetuity. However, you do not give every congressman the code to the underground bunker, and we should not give every undergraduate access to a gun.
At a moment when faculty around the United States have spilled much ink over psychological “trigger warnings,” I seek to remove the presence of firearm triggers in our classrooms, our streets, and our homes.This is my fight; this is our fight; and we lose it at our peril.
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