July 9, 2016
Solzhenitsyn's Line in Dallas
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
With the great Russian’s famous sentences before him, a Dallas native and long-time friend of this blog, John Zmirak, has produced the best thing yet written about Friday’s treason against the men in blue.
Last night, someone tore out a piece of America. Five hard-working, brave policemen of the City of Dallas are dead. Seven others lie wounded, as do two civilians. Racial resentments, not wholly groundless, have been needlessly inflamed. All this in Dallas, a vibrant, economically thriving city where before the shooting, cops were posing for photos with the Black Lives Matter protestors whom they were there protecting; where misconduct by members of our highly diverse police force has plummeted thanks to higher quality training; where the black citizen carrying the AR-15 whom someone misidentified as a suspect was in fact a law-abiding gun owner exercising his Second Amendment rights, who handed his rifle to the cops in case they needed it.
As Dallas Police Chief David Brown said at the prayer rally I just left in downtown Dallas’ Thanksgiving Square, “We will not let that person steal this democracy from us.” The mood here isn’t sour. At that rally, evangelical preachers black and white, a rabbi, an imam, and the city’s Catholic bishop led a multiracial crowd of more than 1,000 in prayers for the police and for racial healing. We held hands and prayed, and the Salvation Army band sweltered for our benefit, playing “God Bless America.”
Nationally, things are bleaker. Social media bubble with charges and counter-charges. Each of the major presidential candidates is so divisive that it’s a blessing neither of them chose to visit. It’s also very sad: presidential election opponents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, even George W. Bush and Al Gore, could have (and probably would have) changed their plans and made an appearance in Dallas, after the worst strike against law enforcement in more than 100 years. This year, neither of the candidates has any place preaching healing or unity.
Just before adducing Solzhenitsyn’s line, Zmirak articulates some fundamental truths, relating to very sensitive matters, which are forever wanting articulate repetition.
Last night brought me back to New York City in the 1970s. If you’ve never seen it, Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam is a powerful document of memory. It immerses you in the moment when a rampant serial killer (Son of Sam), a record heat wave, an electrical blackout and massive street looting brought our nation’s greatest city to the brink of civic collapse. The film depicts the powerful role that racial division plays in making order harder to keep and justice tougher to find.
But ultimately, it isn’t the conflict between one group and another that causes chaos. In a lily-white society like 1930s Germany, or an all-black republic like 1990s Rwanda, we will still find sufficient divisions to make us hate each other, if that’s where our hearts incline. And incline there they will, if we don’t push back continually against the powerful currents that otherwise sweep us along — the world, the flesh and the devil.