What’s the matter with America? A Memorial Day Assessment

It’s been a week since 19 children and two teachers were slaughtered by a deranged 18-year-old with a rifle in a Uvalde, Texas elementary school. We have had time to process that tragedy, debate the police response (or lack of it), discuss the attack, and of course, politicize it.

I am not going to do any of those things in this post.

Instead, on this Memorial Day, I want to reflect on what has happened to our country since we entered the 21st century.

I also want to disabuse people of the notion that deranged individuals attacking schools, packs of smash and grab thieves, and mobs of people looting and burning cities are illustrations of our “new normal.”

There is nothing “normal” about what is happening to this country, new or otherwise.

I speak as someone who has lived long enough to make personal comparisons between the America of 2022 and the America in which I grew up.

For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, there were no mass shootings in schools. None. Nada. Look it up.

My parents sent my brother and me off to elementary school without agonizing that an unhinged person might attack our school with a gun, a bomb, a knife, or some other weapon.

Why weren’t they worried?

Because back then (yes, WAY back then) there was no social media, and most families consisted of two parents—usually a mother and father. There was little or no graphic violence or sex on television or in movies. There were no explicitly violent computer games (heck, there were NO computers), and the hyperactive drug culture that today infects our nation had not yet emerged.

Say what you will about the 1950s—that they were “white bread,” boring, guileless, illusory, racist, artificial, etcetera, etcetera, and etcetera. I believe those are simplistic descriptions of the 1950s created by people who didn’t live during them.

If you examine the 1950s objectively you will learn that it was a time when America was the envy of the world. America’s global influence was enormous—and for good reason. American power and industry had swung World War II in favor of the allies, thereby crushing Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and bringing six years of carnage to an end.

Instead of an oppressive decades-long occupation of those defeated nations a la the Soviet Union, America poured foreign aid into their shattered economies and helped turn once dictatorial states into global economic powers. From the end of the war in 1945 until the new millennium, America battled global communism and essentially defeated it everywhere except China, Cuba, and North Korea.

Americans had a positive, “we can do it” attitude toward problems and issues. There wasn’t anything we couldn’t do if we put our collective minds to it.

In other words, things were significantly and immeasurably sanguine. The idea that someone would enter an elementary school and begin shooting innocent children would have been a fantasy that no one could have imagined when I was growing up.

I have no way of knowing for sure if a ubiquitous nuclear family, a lack of violence in movies and on television, a world without social media, no graphically violent computer games, and the absence of a pervasive drug culture are the reasons mass school shootings never happened in the 1950s and 1960s, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

Were there occasional acts of violence in schools? Yes, very occasionally. But a check of the records reveals that these were primarily cases of one or two individuals involved in an altercation on school grounds. In cases where somebody used a gun in a school, it was usually a troubled student shooting a teacher because of a reprimand or a bad grade–and THAT was extremely rare.

The most egregious act in the 1950s and 1960s involving a school invasion and students that I could find occurred on November 12, 1966, in Mesa, Arizona.

Robert Smith, 18, took seven people hostage at Rose-Mar College of Beauty, a school for training beauticians. Smith ordered the hostages to lie down on the floor in a circle. He then proceeded to shoot them in the head with a 22-caliber pistol. Four women and a three-year-old girl died, and one woman and a baby were injured but survived. Police arrested Smith after the massacre. It was the only such case on record.

Accordingly, we can say with certainty that mass shootings of children in schools didn’t happen in the 1950s and 1960s. Period!

I grew up in Kansas, which at one time was a rip-snorting place where everybody packed guns, and gunfights in rough and unruly cow towns like Dodge City, Abilene, Ellsworth, and Wichita were frequent and deadly.

It was the Wild West, after all.

But guess what? Even with most of the population walking around heeled (that means packing heat), there is NOT ONE CASE of anybody attacking a school full of children. Not ever. Not once. Nunca!

The first known mass shooting anywhere in the U.S. in which students were shot was on April 9, 1891, when 70 year old, James Foster fired a shotgun at a group of students in the playground of St. Mary’s Parochial School in Newburgh, New York, causing minor injuries to several of the students. The majority of attacks during this period by students on other students or teachers usually involved stabbing with knives or hitting with thrown rocks.

So, what in the hell happened in the 20th and 21st centuries? Why all this violence, incivility, criminality, and vulgarity?

I believe the answer resides in the disintegration of the nuclear family, morality, civility, and integrity in our country—something I blame on inept and deceitful political leadership as well as an entitled, self-centered society.

A decade ago, when I was a professor and college dean at the University of Illinois, I picked up a book in the campus bookstore entitled: “Are We Rome?”

Its message was compelling. It suggested, with the persuasive and rational use of historical facts, that the United States is on a similar track as ancient Rome was when its powerful empire was destroyed in 476 A.D.—not by a more powerful enemy from without—but by a multitude of forces and influences from within.

The Collapse of the Roman Empire

The parallels between the Roman Republic and the American Republic are undeniable and stunning.

In both empires, we can see the steady erosion of morality and a decadent society’s indifference to the sanctity of life. We see the insular culture of our capitals (Rome and Washington D.C.), the inability or unwillingness to safeguard and defend borders, the crumbling of a once-great infrastructure of roads and bridges, the escalating corruption and deceitfulness of central government, and our smug ignorance of the world beyond our borders.

We see two great empires being constantly split and fragmented into competing tribes of people, each concerned not with the whole but with their narrow, minority perspectives and opinions. We see the substitution of a once patriotic populace with one predominantly bereft of national loyalty and allegiance.

Where is the next “Greatest Generation”—one united by a common purpose, will, and patriotism? Sadly, there isn’t one. At least I have yet to find it.

American Crew of a WW II B-17 Bomber

Instead, we see decadence, self-interest, decay, and two powerful empires—one that lasted more than 500 years, and another that so far has survived almost 250 years.

We know that the glory that was Rome disappeared more than 1,500 years ago, consigned to the province of ancient history along with Latin, its similarly deceased language.

How much longer will the American Republic exist? What are America’s prospects? Whither our empire? Are we also doomed to insignificance and oblivion?

I can’t answer those questions conclusively.

But as I watch what is happening to people in our country, the stresses and demands we live under, our concentrated exposure to graphic violence and explicit sexual perversion, our obsession with social media, a culture increasingly addicted to drugs, the continued disintegration of the nuclear family, a government unwilling to secure our borders or enforce immigration laws, the bizarre irrationality of gender dysphoria and transgenderism, and the de-criminalization of felonious behavior, is it any wonder that our fragile society is collapsing all around us?

Most troubling to me is the demise of the nuclear family. Only 46 percent of children today grow up in a traditional two-parent family consisting of a married mother and father. That’s down from 73 percent in 1960. The rest are being raised by single parents, cohabitating parents, stepparents, or even grandparents.

               America’s Disappearing Nuclear Family

There is no political will to restore order to a disordered public, nor do mendacious politicians and a dishonest mainstream media feel any compunction about the lies and misinformation they inundate us with daily.

Our nation has lost all sense of rational structure and organization.

How are the most emotionally and mentally vulnerable among us supposed to function and behave when they are told that men are women and women are men; that centuries of biology and scientific fact are irrelevant; that every perversion, including pedophilia, is acceptable; and that serial looting and “smash and grab” thievery is okay because they are “reparations” that America’s assorted minority populations deserve?

The answer is the aberrant and caustic behavior we are witnessing in America today.

Though I try to live by the golden rule, I am not a Bible thumper and I don’t attend church regularly. However, there is one prophetic passage that I vaguely recall from the Bible that had to do with what to expect just before the end of nations and civilization.

Full disclosure here: I had to look it up. Here it is from Timothy 3:1-5:

“But understand that in the last days, there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

Sound familiar? It sure does to me.
















About Ronald E. Yates

Ronald E. Yates is an award-winning author of historical fiction and action/adventure novels, including the popular and highly-acclaimed Finding Billy Battles trilogy. Read More About Ron Here

4 thoughts on “What’s the matter with America? A Memorial Day Assessment”

Leave a Comment