I have a suggestion for a new motto for the United States of America: “Fire At Will”. This seems far more accurate a description of where we are headed as a nation.
As it turns out, “In God We Trust” was on our money long before it was our national motto. Pressure on the Secretary of the Treasury mounted during the Civil War as national religiosity increased. The first recorded letter requesting the phrase be added to our coins is from Rev. M. R. Watkinson, a minister of the gospel from Pennsylvania.
You are probably a Christian, wrote the reverend to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. What if our Republic were not shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation? The letter is dated November 13, 1861. Times have changed. I don’t question the integrity of the request from the standpoint of sincerity. I do question it from the standpoint of Jesus’ message; and more to the point, I question it from the perspective of the facts. Since when has this nation depended more on God than on our money? Since when have we placed our fate in our faith in God more than in the accuracy and potency of our weapons?
The phrase “In God We Trust” did not become the national motto until 1956 when, at the height of the Cold War and after having dropped two nuclear bombs, we had to distinguish ourselves from the heathen, godless Soviet Union. It does seem a bit disingenuous to be stockpiling nuclear weapons and testing hydrogen bombs on one hand while trying to join that hand to the other in a symbol of prayerful sentimentality. It has always been money and weapons. Let’s come clean.
“Fire At Will” helps to account for the thirty-three thousand persons who lose their lives each year by firearms. It helps us get our heads around how we have gone from the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby on national television back in 1963, all the way to the scripted, self-filmed shooting during a live TV broadcast in Virginia on Wednesday. The video went viral. Thanks to our penchant for guns we are catching up – firearm fatalities to automobile fatalities. In 2013 there were less than two hundred more deaths on our highways than by firearms.
“Fire At Will” is how our politicians talk these days. With some notable exceptions, the politic-talk that makes the news tends to be shouting, insults, interruptions, thinly veiled insinuations, name-calling.
“Fire At Will” is almost to the point of being boring; that’s why the tragedy on Wednesday was expertly filmed (live, hand-held for a sense of the on-the-ground action) and carefully presented using social media to insure the greatest impact. We have so many people “firing at will” these days that it’s getting harder to get noticed.
Let’s be honest about who we are becoming. We aren’t a society that protects the right to bear arms; we are a people who continue to kowtow to an organization – the NRA – that spreads fear and hatred as far as it can. We aren’t interested in protecting the rights of hunters or the interest of target shooters. We have become a “Fire At Will” nation whose children, reporters, politicians, teachers, folks at a bible study, movie-goers and shoppers are all fair game for anyone who gets upset. Even our soldiers have become domestic targets.
Rev. Watkinson was playing the age-old religious game, thinking he could fool some future generation into believing that this nation would be characterized by its verbiage rather than be held accountable for its actions. Religion has been trying to get away with that for millenia.
We used to worry in this country about the outlying effects of mean speech. We are way past that now. Let’s admit it. When it comes to violence, we are addicted. When it comes to gun control we are spineless. When it comes to national mottoes, we have one – and it’s not the one everyone likes to quote.
Photo: Kent State Student shot and killed in May, 1970 protest.