Antietam, Gettysburg, Shiloh, and Las Vegas

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 comparisons were routinely made with the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Such  comparisons were made to place the scale of human loss in perspective as well as the surprise-nature of the attack itself. Both were acts of war. One of the victims on 2001 was my cousin, Alisha Levin.

Like many of you, I am trying to come to terms with the violence and loss of life resulting from the shootings in Las Vegas this past Sunday. As of today 59 people have lost their lives and over 500 are suffering from wounds of various severity. I keep coming back in my mind to regimental casualty counts from the Civil War.

Not everyone was pleased with this series of tweets and as someone who has lost a loved one in a mass killing I completely understand, but here is what I can’t escape. A single gunmen managed to turn a peaceful concert into a scene of bloodshed that rivals some of the worst regimental losses from a single battle.

Many of us make sense of the scale of loss in the Civil War by focusing on its outcome. We argue that the death and destruction was meaningful, even necessary, because it resulted in a reunited nation and the end of slavery.

In comparison, we are scrambling to find some meaning in this most recent act of senseless violence. We focus on the acts of heroism of those in the crowd who protected and came to the aid of others. It would even help if we knew that the killer suffered from some type of psychological problem, but as of today we still have no answers.

What we are left with is just another act of mass violence involving weapons that have no place in society and a lingering sense that it is just a matter of time before it happens again.

30 comments… add one
  • Matt McKeon Oct 7, 2017 @ 6:28

    Several people on the web have noted this already, but the Las Vegas massacre is not the “worse” because massacres of the Native Americans in places like Sand Creek or African Americans in places like Colfax.

    • Shoshana Bee Oct 9, 2017 @ 8:48

      We have had this discussion on several Indian forums (Wounded Knee added to the list) but we determined that most — if all — the headlines include the terms “modern history” when referring to this being the “worst”. It is sad, indeed, that we have to categorize our “worst mass shootings” by timelines, because there have been so many of them.

  • Matt McKeon Oct 7, 2017 @ 6:26

    Last week we took the kids to Minuteman Battlefield for a field trip. Great presentation by the rangers. But I thought of your comment: fewer people killed and wounded than by this one guy in Las Vegas. The kids were also discussing the massacre, after seeing the musket demonstration.

  • Michael Lucas Oct 5, 2017 @ 16:15

    The root or rot is that Hate is taught and the progressive trend since possibly as early as the 1930s has been to teach history within a politically approved contextualized narrative for social control rather than constructive reasoning to consider the humanity of all. False Ideologies have been produced and labeled upon past people. Placing them into categories, that they would and could factually dispute, if they were alive, rather than be marginalized by fables of alibis and virtues condemning them, which have been popularly agreed upon. Those fables, have been overtly re-visioned and over simplified to mislead popular culture resulting in the divisiveness of this country.

    • Jimmy Dick Oct 6, 2017 @ 3:29

      So you are upset that historians use facts to develop interpretations that challenge beliefs constructed from the self-interests of various peoples?

      You make a claim, but provide no evidence to support that claim. If anything, historians have been challenging politically approved narratives that are not built with contextualization. The lost cause fiction is a good example. Challenging what was once the politically correct interpretation of white supremacy is another good example. Those are two popular narratives which were built upon beliefs and self-interests. When confronted with facts, those narratives fell apart.

      Sure you want to go down this road? Again, if you want to make a claim, you have to support it with factual evidence. Otherwise you are just whining about historians using facts to develop new interpretations of history.

    • Eric A. Jacobson Oct 6, 2017 @ 6:27

      “False Ideologies have been produced and labeled upon past people.”

      Actually you could not be more incorrect. For about 100+ years false ideologies and facts were hoisted upon the American people. You are upset because over the past generation we have started to move beyond those false narratives. Facts can be problematic. 🙂

  • Michael Lucas Oct 5, 2017 @ 14:11

    Well maybe things will improve when propagandists politically correct historians stop being propagandist politically correct historians and instead teach social consideration and tolerance for diversity and humility in each other. That we are all humans and fallible that all humans, societies, cultures have the potential for individual ideologies of good and evil integrated within all. There is no one perfect union or society or individual. We are all fallible humans. We can only progress with humility in knowing our fallacies, our limitations, we have to be wary of delusions, of utopian perfections.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 5, 2017 @ 14:13

      “Well maybe things will improve when propagandists politically correct historians stop being propagandist politically correct historians…”

      Yes, I am sure that it is the root of all of our problems. LOL

    • Msb Oct 6, 2017 @ 12:12

      You do know that “political correctness” is a synonym for “courtesy” or “treating people with dignity”, right?
      I really doubt that the problem is An excess of courtesy.

      • Reggie Bartlett Oct 6, 2017 @ 20:08

        Courtesy from the business end of a bike lock, these days. Especially on some particular college campuses.

        • msb Oct 9, 2017 @ 0:33

          Citation needed.

      • Kristoffer Oct 9, 2017 @ 5:56

        Here is the real definition of political correctness: informal codes of speech that are informally enforced regardless of merit, and result in ostracism regardless of merit.

        • Msb Oct 10, 2017 @ 11:54

          My dictionary’s better than yours. It includes Neil Gaiman.

          • Kristoffer Oct 10, 2017 @ 15:24

            Appeal to authority without explaining why that authority is relevant is a logical fallacy. My definition of political correctness above is intended to deal with the primary shortcomings of other people’s definitions: it is simple, it is flexible, and it does not require a conspiracy to work.

            • Msb Oct 11, 2017 @ 4:05

              Oh. I thought I was responding to nonsense with more cheerful nonsense. So I achieved a fallacy as well as a joke. Two for one!

  • Buck Buchanan Oct 4, 2017 @ 5:04


    I have to say I was in shock when the news hit about what happened in Las Vegas. But when I saw you posts on Twitter I was stunned. The numbers ceased to be an abstract but took on real meaning.

    Thanks you for taking the time to do that research and helping to put into stark terms just what the impact is from what happened in LV.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 4, 2017 @ 6:01

      Glad to hear you found it helpful.

  • Matt McKeon Oct 4, 2017 @ 3:51

    Now Kevin,
    Good thoughtful sincere men have decided that dealing with thousands of Americans being shot to death each year is an unsolvable problem. Small children being blown into shreds by a nut with an assault rifle is an issue simply beyond human capability to address. Hundreds of people being shot at a concert with converted assault rifles is a tragedy, like being struck by lightning, and can’t be even discussed, because trying to prevent hundreds of people from being shot at a concert so soon after hundreds of people were shot at a concert is in bad taste.

    You know what? I have some hot steaming “thoughts and prayers.” Offering them is sort of like doing something, except for the “doing something” part.

  • marykreutz Oct 3, 2017 @ 19:48

    Thank you for saying what needs to be said, and for comments made by Rob Baker and Billy Wetherington. We don’t seem to have the wisdom nor the wherewithal to talk about the gun problem in a way that brings a consensus that all can live with. We remain divided, much like after the Civil War. We seem to be more friendly with Japan and Germany than with each other when we try to find solutions about highly weaponized guns, the Confederate battle flag, Confederate monuments or taking a knee. The wounds of the Civil War never really healed for those who still carry the banner for their ancestors of long ago. They still pine for the south to rise again, not really understanding what that means, or I hope that they don’t understand. I wonder if that’s why so many are so afraid that their guns are going to be taken? What I do know is that I have a personal connection to several of those who died in Las Vegas. One was a former student, the young wife of a firefighter. One was a Little League coach friend of my sons. My grandson has had sleepovers at his house because he’s friends with the victim’s son and the third is the cousin of another student. She had her fourth baby on Aug. 12. A woman who works at a local restaurant we frequent was killed as was a Disneyland employee. Another friend lost her friend. So, today, I’m counting 6 that I can personally link to. Something is desperately wrong with our country. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that almost 600 Americans were shot in an American city in under 15 minutes and this is a topic of debate, but then I didn’t understand how we would fail to talk about the problem when 20 babies died with their teacher in a classroom or 49 died while having fun in a nightclub or so many died going to see a movie or kids died while going to high school and it goes on and on. What the f is wrong with us?

  • Shoshana Bee Oct 3, 2017 @ 9:31

    “In comparison, we are scrambling to find some meaning in this most recent act of senseless violence”

    There is no “meaning”. An attempt to draw parallels with historical events does not ascribe meaning or perspective to this massacre. Apples & oranges. Living and serving in a war zone teaches you that every day is a crap shoot: One foot on a banana peel, the other hangs over a cliff. Hold those you care about closer, and take nothing for granted.

    • Will Hickox Oct 3, 2017 @ 11:04

      “Hold those you care about closer, and take nothing for granted.” You’ve just given a parallel between gun violence and war violence. They are not entirely “apples and oranges.” And while I haven’t been involved in a mass shooting (though took place outside my workplace two days ago) I have served in a combat zone.

      • Shoshana Bee Oct 3, 2017 @ 11:14

        Nope. Just expressing what I learned and took with me for the rest of my life. No parallel.

  • Scott Ledridge Oct 3, 2017 @ 7:00

    For perspective, I think your tweets were eye-opening.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 3, 2017 @ 7:54

      Thanks, Scott.

    • Will Hickox Oct 3, 2017 @ 11:01

      I agree, and that is why I disagree with Eric A. Jacobson’s comment above. Comparing mass shootings to wartime violence is valid.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Oct 3, 2017 @ 5:23

    Obviously you meant Dec. 7, 1941, That said, with all due respect, Las Vegas has nothing to do with any conventional war. To draw such a comparison is irresponsible, in my opinion. A gun debate (which seems to be the premise on which your post ended), has nothing at all to do with war. Nothing at all.

    Take note how the police handled the recent vote in Catalonia. They have no gun violence there and it is pretty clear why.

    I respect you Kevin, but on this post I adamantly disagree with you.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 3, 2017 @ 5:39

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for the correction.

  • Billy Wetherington Oct 3, 2017 @ 5:15

    Thanks for raising the topic. Justifications for wars are always sought. You state “We argue that the death and destruction was meaningful, even necessary, because it resulted in a reunited nation and the end of slavery.” And I will agree that the nation was reunited (1/3 unwillingly) but not so sure about slavery or least legally defined slavery. The Civil War may have actually extended the blessings of, for all practical purposes, a form of indentured servitude upon many whites as well as most blacks. The problem in the South was as much a problem with the elite land owning aristocracy as it was with slavery. They wanted a cheap supply of labor (no matter its alleged status as slave or free) and they maintained by ending Reconstruction and establishing Jim Crow all through the South. They used race baiting and other division tactics to keep whites more worried about blacks than about their shared masters. We can’t forget that just 49 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. had to hide from the KKK after giving a talk in a small town in Alabama. Just talking out loud.

    And of course, let us remember there are ideas that are far more important than anyone’s life or the truth.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 3, 2017 @ 5:19

      I appreciate the comment, but I don’t really want to get too wrapped up in this thread. I am not in any way trying to minimize the problems that were left unresolved with the end of slavery. Needless to say the end of slavery was a significant moment that was certainly embraced by former slaves. Today most Americans acknowledge that the loss of life in the Civil War served a larger purpose. We can’t say that in the wake of Vegas or any other mass slaughter that we have lived through in recent years.

  • Rob Baker Oct 3, 2017 @ 4:32

    A tweet pretty much summed everything up – paraphrase..

    “The Gun Debate was over after Sandy Hook. When Americans decided it was ‘ok’ to lose children, the conversation pretty much ended.”

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