The Children Strike Back

By From the July 1999 issue

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
Don't criticize what you can't understand

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging.

-Bob Dylan

You can say that again, Bob. Live in a nice house in the suburbs; buy your kid a BMW and the other trimmings of the prosperous life; teach him tolerance and medicate his demons—and he still turns into a storm trooper who happily slaughters schoolmates and hopes to land a hijacked jetliner in the Trump Tower.

Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, whose kill rate (13 deaths, not including their own) bested the Manson family (7), Richard Speck (8), and the perpetrators of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre (7), not only pierced the heart of America on April 20th, as First Lady Hillary Clinton said. They also unleashed a series of events making it clear that some of the nation's children are taking mom and pop's old "Question Authority" bumper stickers a bit too seriously. Within a month, 220 schools had been closed by bomb threats, according to one tally. Students were arrested in Port Huron, Michigan, in an alleged plot in which they hoped to beat the Littleton body count. Near my home in central Virginia, two students were arrested and accused of plotting to blow up a middle school. One month after Littleton, a student opened fire in a suburban Georgia school, wounding six and inspiring House Majority Whip Tom DeLay to observe that "We are in a national crisis when we have children all over the country shooting each other."

DeLay should know better. School violence has been decreasing and the number of perpetrators is but a handful of the 53 million of America's school-aged population. But he did give air to a common fear: There may be lots of Klebolds and Harrises out there. Which raised a couple of panicky questions: How did we get here? And how the hell do we get out?


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About the Author

Dave Shiflett is a writer in Midlothian, Virginia.