Paul Greenberg

"What is there to say?" That's the question editorial writers all over the country were asking themselves after what happened at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. It's no longer necessary to specify where Newtown is, or just what happened there. It has become one of those places that has become indelible in the nation's memory. Unfortunately.

All those children. And the teachers who were killed trying to protect them. There were no words. Words would have been a kind of sacrilege. So here at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette we just ran an empty box in the editorial column in memoriam.

It was a natural enough, a human enough response. A respectful enough, even reverential enough, response. Like that of anyone who knows he has nothing to say but hurries to a house of mourning with a plate of food, a green plant, or nothing but his presence. Just to be there. To listen. And be still. To observe a moment of silence. To just Be Still.

There would be words enough later, more than enough. A flood of words -- turgid and muddy, a whole sea of platitudes and banalities and worn phrases are rolled out every time something like this happens. The psychologists must have a term for it -- the way a shocking event may only confirm what we've believed all along. It's not Cognitive Dissonance exactly. It's not cognition at all, but just a kind of autonomous reaction, like a knee jerking. A new outrage? It only seems to solidify old ideas. Here is what we've always thought and too often said. And now say again.

The gun-control people concluded that the answer was ... more gun control. The NRA, after a long hesitation that showed it does have some shame, announced that the answer was ... more guns. Specifically at schools. The usual guilt merchants were there to say it was all the fault of Society, which is always a handy scapegoat. If everybody is to blame, no one is. By making the responsibility collective, none of us in particular have to accept it. The critics of today's culture, if that's the right word, thought long and hard and intellectually, and concluded that it was all the fault of ... today's culture.

The usual Job's Comforters, arriving late but unchanged, were there to say we'd brought it on ourselves. All the voices fell into their accustomed places in this Greek chorus, producing a swelling discord.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.