The Nation's Pulse

Nightmare in Utopia

What a tragedy in Amish country can teach us.

By 10.3.06

Send to Kindle

Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, of Bart Township, Pa., entered the one-room West Nickel Mines Amish School in Nickel Mines, Pa., yesterday morning carrying "a 9mm semiautomatic pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun and a rifle, along with a bag with about 600 rounds of ammunition, two cans of smokeless powder, two knives and a stun gun on his belt," the Washington Post reported. Evidently he was angry about some past humiliation he suffered years before the Amish schoolchildren he terrorized and murdered had even been born. Sounds familiar.

The Nickel Mines tragedy was the third school shooting in a week, and it further highlighted the vulnerability of schools, where firearms typically are not allowed on campus even in the possession of administrators. But yesterday's shooting contained more than the typical anti-gun-control lesson missed by the Michael Moores of the world.

The Old Order Amish victimized by Roberts attempt to live a sort of Utopian life. They segregate themselves from the realities of human civilization in an attempt to protect their community from the evils of modernity. And despite the inescapable impossibility of that task, they persist in the delusion.

I don't mean to belittle the Amish, or any traditional sect that eschews modern temptations. There is much about the modern world to dislike, and I am determined to protect my own children from its evils. My point is that withdrawing from the world might offer comfort, but it is no protection.

It is better to face reality than turn one's back on it, to combat evil rather than hide from it.

I think of the terrified girls in their little Amish dresses, bound, lined against the schoolhouse wall, and executed, and I cannot help but immediately draw a parallel to Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and to the nearly 3,000 who perished at the hands of other men seeking to settle old scores by preying on the innocent.

Those little Amish girls died for what, not who, they were. A man who reportedly felt he'd been wronged by a little girl in the past sought his revenge not on the girl who'd wounded him, but on a proxy. Daniel Pearl died because he was Jewish. The victims of 9/11 died because they were associated in the minds of the terrorists with American power.

Constructing a grievance against a group that symbolizes various things one hates is a favorite pastime of those who have convinced themselves they are powerless, that they have been victimized by forces beyond their control. Islamic radicals blame the West for the backwardness of much of the Muslim and Arab worlds. People everywhere blame "the Jews" for every problem under the sun. The far-left blames "big corporations" or "special interests" for its own failures in private and public life.

This transference has terrible consequences. It makes victims of the innocent. And of course it does nothing to correct the situation that initiated the grievance.

The killings at Nickel Mine are yet another reminder that those who believe in individualism have an incredible uphill battle to fight. Perhaps Charles Carl Roberts IV was just a lunatic. But his taking vengeance upon innocent little girls for some perceived slight or degradation from his own childhood provides an object lesson in the horror that is wrought by the doctrine of collective guilt.

Anytime we seek vengeance upon a group for what we perceive as the sins of some individuals, we sin ourselves. Whether it is beating a random Muslim because of what the terrorists did in Islam's name, or taxing inheritances because of what the Rockefellers did a century ago, it is wrong.

Even the Amish of Lancaster County, Pa., cannot protect themselves from guilt by association. That's a pretty sobering thought. It also helps illustrate the uselessness of wishing the world were something it is not. We cannot make ourselves safe by going about our business and hoping the rest of the world will leave us alone. The world will not.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.