'Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion'
Recently, a 16-year-old boy was suspended from Middletown High for bringing a knife to school to protect himself from getting beat up by bullies. It reminded me of how school can be such a tough place to be in when your own peers give you hell day in and day out. It also reminded me of a book I once read, “Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond.”
The book, written by Mark Ames and published in 2005, is an important read because it digs deep into the almost uniquely American phenomenon of workplace and school shootings that began in the 1980s, continuing into today, most recently and notably with the Virginia Tech massacre.
When such shootings occur, the common narrative carved out by the media has been to skip right over the “Why?” part and blame everything on the shooters. There is talk of profiling the perpetrators, blaming lax gun laws, leading a Godless lifestyle and violent video games. In this book, Ames essentially says that the scene of the crime is the cause of the crime.
Throughout the book, Ames argues that the shooters who commit these massacres are rebelling against the system, much like when slaves first rebelled against their masters. In both instances, people were stumped as to why they would rebel so violently. In “Going Postal,” it was how they raged against a system that completely failed them.
The term “going postal” was first coined after a rash of incidents involving USPS employees in 1983 came in to work and gunned down workers and managers. From there, the number of massacres have grown, moving in to private workplaces, high schools and universities.
Ames says the shooters in these incidents are rallying against the institution, not specific people.
Attempts to profile these shooters turns out to be impossible, like to trying to make a list of each and everything. The only common theme in these schoolyard shootings is that they occur in predominantly white, middle-class areas.
He goes on to present a working definition of today’s schoolyard massacres: “Attacker(s) attacks their own school in order to fight things like bullying, difficult-to-define-evil and pressure. Just as victims of terrorists tend not to have been specifically targeted but rather happen to be in the symbol that terrorists attack, many victims of schoolyard rage attacks are not specifically chosen but are part of an institution that is attacked, and therefore they are misidentified as having been shot ‘at random.’”
Ames also parallels the beginning of workplace and schoolyard massacres with the rise of President Ronald Reagan and Reaganomics. Until the Reagan era, these shootings were simply not occurring in America. He argues that the rise of corporate culture has eroded the middle class and created economic disparities, making life for an ordinary American much harder. Workers make virtually the same amount of money today than they did 30 years ago, and they have far fewer benefits.
The author dissects these incidents, including Columbine and the 1998 shooting at the Connecticut Lotto building in Newington, where a disgruntled accountant shot and killed four workers before turning the gun on himself.
Ames, an American expatriate who lived in Russia for over 10 years, offers a fresh perspective on these rampage shootings. His theory on the surface may come off as trying to defend killers - but he simply tells the big picture. Ames examines a question America has been asking without any conclusion. And he just might have the answer.