women and children first

Because of the nature of my work, our office has the two major television news networks on large televisions all the time. Aside from the fact that their respective ultimate concerns are underscored by their featured subject matter—especially when we can’t hear what they’re talking about—one story has been prominently featured by both of them throughout my shifts: the investigation into the death of Cooper Harris, the toddler who was left on June 18 to bake in his car seat by his father, Justin. Mr. Harris is charged with child cruelty and is the subject of findings for probable cause for murder, according to the ruling of a Magistrate Judge.

Also happening right now is a human rights crisis on the border between the US and Mexico, where children are being used as human shields by governments on both sides of the divide. Treated as refugees, and having entered the country illegally, camps are becoming hotbeds for disease while the federal government dumps them into sovereign states without approval or prior notice.

Earlier this year, dozens of girls were abducted by a militant religious group in Africa and forced to convert, upon penalty of death or mutilation. A few months ago, a little girl was abducted from near her home in Springfield, Missouri and, within hours, murdered execution-style in the basement of a public school employee. The news went from a community vigilant and on the alert–similar AMBER Alert situations in recent memory had been thwarted by a community on the watch–to a shocked by atrocity.

In what state of affairs are any of these events permissible in the minds of would-be perpetrators, or tolerable in the societies in which these events take place?

Yes, it is now apparently acceptable to engage in horrific acts of violence against the some of the most innocent amongst us. No one is immune from an increasingly ubiquitous evil. You want a human rights crisis? Quit bickering about the Supreme Court and start paying attention to the human condition. We argue ad nauseam about the definition of marriage while children are maimed, traumatized, kidnapped and butchered down the street and across the globe.


Women and children used to be the ones our culture, even the underbelly, would keep out of harm’s way. Now, hardly a day goes by without a story about a child being harmed, a woman being assaulted, someone being dehumanized in favor of another’s sense of pleasure.

I freely admit that these things to some extent have always happened, I’m not so naive as to think this a new phenomenon. And my awareness of this is undoubtedly influenced by a fatherhood. Seeing Harris’ goofy mug on the screen makes my blood boil: who sexts while his child dies? It seems that women and children first means something entirely different than it did, say, during the sinking of the Titanic.

If we live in a time where no one from the womb to the nursing home is safe, perhaps it’s better that we annihilate ourselves. We’ve forfeited the right to call ourselves human, the highest order of creation, the pinnacle of evolution. We entertain ourselves with the idea of The Purge, which is anything but cathartic: it’s not a purge, it’s a feeding frenzy. Everything, even our thought experiments given celluloid life, is inverted.

Whither the institutions that used to defend against the ills and evils of the day? The American church is listless, having been let down by a Rapture that was never coming, it settles in for the mediocrity of a weekly episode of Dr. Phil without the pretenses of Texas tough talk. Law enforcement exists to supplement civic balance sheets instead of serving the public. Government is logjammed with lawsuits ostensibly about marriage or religious freedom, run by politicians more interested in reelection and war chests than leading through public service. Everything caters to special interests, which benefits no one, unless you happen run an activist group.

What happened? And how do I, as a husband to a wife, and father to little daughters, simultaneously protect them from and prepare them for a world that all too accommodating toward harming them?

I don’t know that I have an answer. Then again, what order is there to chaos? Therein lies the terrifying potentiality: there is no answer. The ticker just keeps on scrolling on the bottom of the screen, each story more horrifying than the last.

That is, if anything induces horror within us anymore.


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