Bloodbath Nation by Paul Auster Review – A Response to America’s Gun Crisis | history books

wchicken reports About gun deaths in the United States, I’ve always asked bereaved parents an open-ended question about what they believe made the tragedy possible. Generally speaking, they mentioned poor parenting, teen pregnancy, absentee fathers, and a host of other talking points on TV. The only thing they won’t lift is guns. After, after 12 years In the United States, I conclude, many Americans consider gun killings like traffic fatalities—an unavoidable, if horrific, consequence of everyday life.

This sense of learned desperation bleeds into the political system. Most Americans who have been shot do not die in mass shootings, but mass shootings are the scenes that attract attention and motivate protesters and lawmakers. When such an incident occurs, the urgency that something should be done is quickly eclipsed by the sense of resignation that nothing will change because a significant and well-organized minority thinks nothing should be changed, and refers to the Constitution as if it were a Bible. in a theocracy. Thus what should be a discussion of public safety descends into a set of well-rehearsed incantations, dedicated to grief and dogma, that make up an enduring patriotic requiem for the massacre of the innocent that most Americans feel either too defeated or too obstinate to save.

Part memoir, part essay – Paul Auster’s Bloodbath Nation offers a reflection on the role the gun has played in history, society, and the novelist’s life. We learn of his gradual, uneventful introduction to guns, from childhood games to the gun he tries out at summer camp and a double-barreled shotgun on his friend’s farm; When he joins the Merchant Navy, he meets people from the South and marvels at their reckless relationship with firearms. We also discover that although there were no guns in Auster’s home, there was a significant, if rarely mentioned, death in the family history: his estranged grandfather was shot by his grandmother in front of his uncle.

Bloodbath Nation by Paul Auster Faber & Faber

Having unpacked his contradictory, scatterbrained, and somewhat antithetical personal relationship to the gun itself, he then sets out to understand where the nation comes from and why. He writes: “America’s relationship to the gun is not rational…and thus we have done little to solve the problem.”

He claims the problem is not new and the nation will have to dig deep to uncover its roots. “In order to understand how we got here, we have to take ourselves out of the present and back to the beginning, back to the time before the invention of the United States.”

The fix, he insists, is not to ban the manufacture and sale of all guns—because trying to do so would be as impractical and ineffective as banning alcohol during Prohibition, which criminalized ordinary people and created a thriving black market. Furthermore, he points out: “The gun owners in this country are not going to stand for it.” Dealing with the problem, which is unique to the United States among developed countries, Oster argues, requires a more comprehensive and introspective process that does not begin with legislation. “Peace will break out,” he writes, “only when both sides want it, and for that to happen we must first make a painfully honest examination of who we are and who we want to be as people progressing into the future, which must of necessity begin with a painfully frank examination of what we were like in the past.”

There is something in this. There is a strong association with firearms in America that places the gun at the center of some of the country’s most cherished myths. Venice speaks of self-reliance and small government: stand up for yourself, do not leave it to the state, which cannot defend you and may seek to oppress you. It speaks of masculinity and patriotism: real men protect their families and their possessions by any means necessary. To power and domination: The nation has been victorious, defended and protected by force in general and by the gun in particular.

These claims are either abhorrent, nonsense, or both. Most people killed by guns kill themselves; You are more likely to be killed with a gun if you have a gun; And you will most likely be shot by someone you know. In short, if guns really made you safer, America would be the safest place on earth. it’s not. according to Centers for Disease ControlIn 2013 seven children and young men were shot dead every day; In 2020, the latest year for which figures are available, it was 12.

Facts and arguments for reform are important, but they generally lose out when compared to myths. While the Gun Control lobby advocates for background checks and smart technology, the National Rifle AssociationThose who claim to defend the owners of arms talk about freedom and the constitution. The latter does not win controversy. Polls consistently show that most Americans favor stricter gun laws. But they generally lose the battle, and every time such legislation is introduced to Congress it fails to pass.

But while there is something in Auster’s argument, there is not enough to sustain it. It is true that an arms embargo in America would be impractical and impractical. But then no country bans guns completely, they effectively regulate their ownership and use. In a country still deeply divided over who won the last presidential election and whether Covid was real, it’s also not clear why he thinks a country engaging in a “painful examination” of its past is a more plausible prospect than an arms embargo. . And given the polarizing rhetoric of the NRA and its allies, who view every mass shooting as an opportunity to advocate for more guns rather than less, peace will not break out – because one side does not want peace.

I don’t expect Auster to come up with a game plan for how to wage such a fight, or even for how to craft his own version of peace. There are no easy answers. But I expected that, having demanded an honest and difficult national conversation, he would, at least, go on to tell us what he thought the nation should talk about.

does not. Instead, he takes us on a journey going through the Second Amendment, slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, Vietnam, the Black Panthers, The Black Lives Matter movementDonald Trump, neoliberal globalization and much more. There’s a lot of ground to cover in such a small book: it’s arguably too much. One of the best storytellers in the English language, Auster is a thoughtful and informed companion as he meanders through the subject matter. But his failure to point to a destination, much less to arrive at one, leaves the reader as lost and as hopeless as when he started.

Gary Young is Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester and author of Another Day in the Death of America. Bloodbath Nation is published by Grove/Atlantic Monthly (£25). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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