The walls of a city are its glory and safety. From the long walls on the Egyptian frontier, watchful sentinels eyed the hostile desert, home to the nomad and the savage. The towering walls of mighty Babylon resisted every intruder, and its gates were never breached. In like manner, the walls of Troy stood for 10 years, withstanding fire and missile, yielding not to force but to cunning deception.
Walls and sentinels belong to Maine’s past, being thankfully abandoned with the arrival of peace and security.
When the wars ceased, our defense became the mutual respect and trust of our citizens. If anyone doubts this, let him consider the scene depicted by Mark Twain, wherein Tom Sawyer entered his one-room schoolhouse every morning and propped his loaded rifle against the classroom wall. If Tom was a menace, he was a menace for threatening to dip Becky’s pigtails in an inkwell. Tom took no mind-altering drugs, and Tom was exposed to no entertainment that delighted in human pain and degradation. He opened his school day with prayer and addressed his teacher as ma’am. It was a good time in the life of our nation, a very good time.
Here in Maine there are many such reminders of this bygone age. One such reminder is the one-room schoolhouse at the Willowbrook Museum in Newfield. Visitors can still see the well-worn Bible sitting on the top shelf of the bookcase, close by the portraits of Lincoln and Washington.
School shootings like the one in Newtown, Conn., prove that a new type of savagery besets our age, more frightening than any of the past. It is more frightening for being more unpredictable, capable of greater evil and more intractable of solution. The type of savagery which confronts us is rooted in nihilism, a complete collapse of all ethical values. It is overly optimistic to say this reduces man to the level of a beast. History bears witness that godless men act with the fury of demons.
Aiding this nihilism is a false view of freedom and a misunderstanding of the nature of man. We are told that all will be well if each man decides for himself what is right, provided he does not infringe the rights of others. Into this moral vacuum rushes the prurience of Hollywood, video games filled with inhuman violence and pop songs that inculcate a hatred of legitimate authority.
And what is extinguished by this dark wind of nihilism? It is the notion that human life is sacred, that the young child busily drawing at her desk, her hands bright with finger paint, is indeed created in the image of God, a being only a little lower than the angels.
Many are proposing that we arm teachers. What a tragic and misguided proposal.
The arming of teachers is not a conservative solution. For each man or woman to reach for a pistol within the bounds of a school is a hasty misapplication of an individual Second Amendment right. Thus it is a liberal and libertarian solution, undertaken without regard for the common good and without due deliberation as to more effective measures. Worse, it is an admission that society is now at war with itself. Arming teachers will succeed on occasion but will as often yield tragic results. It is at best a desperate last resort.
The true conservative solution is otherwise. We can protect our children by teaching them that human life is sacred and inviolable, that each man, woman and child is created in the image of God, and that each of our fellow citizens is to be treated with compassion, kindness and justice. Together, these principles form an impenetrable barrier of safety, more safe and secure than the walls around any ancient city. It is not too late to rebuild this wall. And as Newtown makes clear, the alternative is chaos and collapse.
Fritz Spencer of Old Town is the former editor of the Christian Civic League RECORD.