By Michael S. Rosenwald, April 20, 2016
Washington Post contributor
I found this article by Michael Rosenwald to be most revealing. It comes on the 17th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. Rosenwald went back and found essays written by Eric Harris, one of the Columbine shooters. These essays were written a few years before the Columbine tragedy. When I read the excerpts Rosenwald provides, my reaction was one of, “How normal, even eloquent.” Consider this passage from one of Harris’ early essays. Rosenwald introduces this passage thus: “Later in the essay, after detailing several moves his family made, Harris shows a remarkable sense of nostalgia for old friends”:
Loosing (sic) a friend is almost the worst thing to happen to a person, especially in the childhood years. I have lived in many places, but the last three places have been the most fun and the greatest experiences of my childhood. Although memories stay with you, the actual friend doesn’t. I have lost many great friends and each and every time I lost one, I went through the worst days of my life.
Rosenwald asks what is certainly a central question: How does one “reconcile” Harris’ early essays with the “Harris prose that came later?” Rosenwald continues, “Harris wrote [later] about killing ‘all retards,’ warning that ‘if you got a problem with my thoughts, come tell me and i’ll kill you, because………god damnit, DEAD PEOPLE DONT ARGUE!’ ”
Rosenwald suggests that we are looking at some form of “damaged masculinity.” Fair enough. But I cannot help but notice the attachment implications as well. As Harris writes: “I have lost many great friends and each and every time I lost one, I went through the worst days of my life.” Allow me to paraphrase: “I have lost many great attachment relationships and each and every time I went through loss, I went through the worst grief of my life.”
I’m not the only one to make the attachment–school shooter connection. Social critic Mary Eberstadt, writing in her 2004 book entitled Home-alone America—The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes, observes of the Columbine shootings, “[W]hen we look at the extreme end of feral humanity, the modern cold-blooded killer, the rest of us are really not surprised to see a connection between parental abandonment and savage behavior.” Sadly, most attachment researchers have remained conspicuously quiet on the connection between attachment and mass shootings. This is a good place to remind the reader that in Bowlby’s early career (back in 1939), he wrote a book with social activist and political commentator Evan Durbin entitled Personal Aggressiveness and War. One of the central themes looked at in the Durbin and Bowlby book was what societal forces contribute to personal and group aggressiveness. I would argue that this early thinking on Bowlby’s part probably contributed to his later idea that attachment patterns are passed along from one generation to the next (transgenerationally as Bowlby put it). I think Eberstadt is pointing to how parental abandonment on the part of one generation can be passed along to the next. We will no doubt be dealing with these transgenerational reverberations for generations to come.