Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Gruesome Anniversary in Austin

We observed a gruesome anniversary here in Austin yesterday. It was 40 years ago that Charles Whitman went up to the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower and began randomly shooting passersby. Fifteen people died that day, 31 were wounded.

I have been on the UT campus now for 29 years. I came here as a student in the summer of 1977, then after graduation in 1982 began working the day job I still hold (but will retire from in the near future). During that time, with the exception of weekends, holidays, etc., the Tower has been a daily part of my life. I occasionally enter the building on an errand, I look up at the Tower's clock to see what time it is, I hear its bell toll every fifteen minutes. And usually I do not think about the sniper incident.

Then one of those even-numbered anniversary years (20, 30, and now 40) so favored by the news media will occur, and I will be reminded.

In 1986, for instance, I was working in my office when I heard a commotion in the hallway. I got up to see what it was. It was an ABC News crew preparing to interview a woman who had taken cover in that hallway 20 years earlier on August 1966. And then I was reminded yet again that the familiar paths I walk every day—running an errand, getting a cup of coffee, doing this, doing that—are the very places Whitman’s victims fell, cut down as they went about similar mundane tasks.

On the day of the shootings I was in North Texas. It was the beginning of the last month of summer vacation. I was sitting on the front porch of our house in Cleburne, listening to the news reports on my transistor radio. I had never heard of such a thing—someone going crazy and randomly shooting people for no particular reason. At least the killing of JFK three years earlier had not been random; for whatever reason, he had been singled out because he was the president. Thus, it made some sense. But shooting someone just for the sake of shooting them made no sense. It could only be understood as the crazy act of a crazy man; in other words, it was not meant to be understood.

The Tower shootings made the cover of Life magazine the following week. Featured prominently inside was a photo of Charles Whitman as a child holding a rifle. In its way, this was as damning a photo as the fake photo (also published by Life) of Oswald holding a rifle. I am not saying the photo of Whitman was faked. What I am saying is that this image helped convict guns as the real culprit in the Tower shootings: Oh look, it's a little child with a gun, a little child who will grow up to be crazy. If only he had not learned how to shoot, if only guns had not been available, then the terrible thing would not have happened ... It was powerful propaganda, that photo.

In the aftermath of the Tower shootings, President Johnson called for stricter gun control policies. Thus the national debate began. Not mentioned in the debate was the fact that, during the shootings, the police called on citizens with guns to help out. In the top floor of the building where I work, these citizens—many of them UT students—fired on the Tower, providing a much-needed distraction that allowed two policemen to slip up on Whitman and shoot him. One of these policemen, Romero Martinez, said on the Alex Jones Show yesterday that he has always felt that these citizens have never received the proper credit for their assistance that day.

The Tower shootings were followed two years later by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy—events which, like the killing of John F. Kennedy, were explained by the government and mainstream media as the acts of “lone nuts.” Lone nuts with guns were the big threat to society, therefore the solution was to crack down on guns--that was the propaganda, and a great many people bought it (are still buying it, for that matter). In 1968, Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968, a word-for-word translation of the Nazi Weapons Act of 1938. Under the guise of benevolence, the government was taking the first step all police states must take: disarming the citizenry.

We now know that King and the two Kennedys were not gunned down by lone nuts. We also know that a great many other incidents have been contrived over the years to justify more and more police state legislation—the Oklahoma City bombings, for instance, which led to the Anti-Crime and Terrorism Act; also 9/11 which led to the Patriot Act. In addition, there have been questions raised about random, Tower-like shootings, such as the Columbine shootings. (LINK)

All of which causes me to wonder about Charles Whitman. Might he have been a Manchurian Candidate? To my knowledge, there has been no attempt to research this possibility, therefore we can only wonder.

The Tower, as I say, looms over my mundane tasks every day. I walk around campus, walk up and down Guadalupe Street, following in the footsteps of Whitman’s victims, yet rarely thinking about it. Nor do I think to look at the patched-up bullet hole on the building where I work. It is only this gruesome anniversary that I do so, and when I do I ponder not only the horror of that day, but its legacy: the Nazi law that became law in the United States. I ponder, and I wonder … (LINK)