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"Has anybody here seen my old friend John,
"Can you tell me where he's gone?
"He freed a lotta people, but it seems the good die young,
"But I just looked around and he's gone. ..."
The lyrics are culled from the iconic song by Dion from 1968: "Abraham, Martin, John and Bobby."
Abraham Lincoln (killed in 1865), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1968), John F. Kennedy (1963) and Robert F. Kennedy (1968).
Dion's song has been reprised by every singer from Kenny Rogers to Marvin Gaye to Leonard Nimoy (yes, Mr. Spock).
Abraham, Martin, John and Bobby were transformational figures assassinated in their prime during spates of senseless gun violence. As the song says, "... the good die young ..."
Those four were men; now we are talking little children. The stakes were raised astronomically in what became the most impactful story of 2012.
We witnessed that reality on Friday, Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. A total of 27 people were assassinated there, including 20 young and innocent children, in cold-blooded fashion. Each victim was shot between three and 11 times.
One dictionary defines "assassinate" this way: "To murder (a prominent person) by surprise attack, as for political reasons."
Now, I dare anyone tell any of the grieving parents their 6- or 7-year-old child isn't "a prominent person."
"... the good die young ..."
It's obvious there is a war on children in this country - in epidemic proportions. There are school shootings. There are countless cases of child molestation.
It seems every day we wake up to news about a young child suddenly gone missing, only to be found dead a month later in a remote ditch or wooded area somewhere in a grieving nation.
We don't need to watch Syria each morning on CNN to see young children assassinated. It's in our own backyard - urban and rural. Newtown, Conn., an idyllic setting fresh out of a Robert Frost poem and a Euell Gibbons nature book, is a tragedy that has shaken the earth to its core - an international catastrophe that has alarmed anyone with a sobering conscience.
And then the president spoke about our home-grown epidemic. In his "Enough is Enough" speech during a prayer vigil in Newtown on Dec. 16, Barack Obama said: "Since I've been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we've hugged survivors, the fourth time we've consoled the families of victims."
Obama obviously was counting the shooting sprees in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8, 2011, which involved Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords; in Aurora, Colo., on July 20, 2012, which involved the movie theater; in Oak Creek, Wis., on Aug. 5, 2012, which involved the Sikh temple, and, of course, Newtown. The White House may have comforted each community in a personal sense, but the reality of incidents is much larger in scope than those four Air Force One arrivals to the scene.
Newtown wasn't just the fourth mass shooting; by my count, there have been at least 16 since President Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, some of which many of us probably have forgotten because of the lack of intense, daily Newtown-type media coverage.
If that isn't enough, we have seen an Aurora, Colo., Redux as we begin the year 2013. News flash: "Four people were dead including the gunman following a hostage-taking incident on Saturday in Aurora, the same town where a man shot dead 12 people and wounded 58 more at a movie theater last July ..."
According to a timeline produced by www.thinkprogress.org, a social justice website, the number of mass-shooting incidents has accelerated each subsequent year of Obama's presidency.
Remember, according to thinkprogress.org: "April 3, 2009. Jiverly Wong, 41, opened fire at an immigration center in Binghamton, N.Y., before committing suicide. He killed 13 people and wounded 4."
Remember: "Feb. 27, 2012. Three students were killed by Thomas 'TJ' Lane, another student, in a rampage at Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio. Three others were injured."
Remember only three days before Newtown: "Dec. 11, 2012. On (that) Tuesday, 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts killed two people and himself with a stolen rifle in Clackamas Town Center, Oregon."
And remember there's the weekly weekend massacre on the South Side of Chicago. It reads like a droning Walter Cronkite script from the 1960s, when the late CBS anchorman would recite the daily Vietnam War casualty report at the end of his CBS newscasts.
According to the Chicago Tribune, as of Monday night, there had been 12 homicides and approximately 50 shootings in the city since Jan. 1. There were 15 shootings, three fatal, on New Year's Day.
In retrospect, notice many of the mass shooters tend to be late teens (Columbine in 1999) to early 20s (Newtown) in age.
What is the source of the rage that causes those so young to equip themselves with weapons of mass destruction in our coarsening society? Is it the rampant bullying? Is it the violent video games young people tend to play? Is it the denigrating music lyrics incorporated in some hardcore rock and vile gangsta rap in their iPods? Is it the epidemic of out-of-wedlock births? Is it the violent movies? Is it the daily devolution of prime-time television?
During the violent assassinations of the 1960s, Jackie DeShannon sang two of the most precious love-humanitarian songs of all time: "What the World Needs Now Is Love" and "Put a Little Love in Your Heart." So where did all the love go?
"We have some positive music," said DeShannon on Monday night from Los Angeles. "Music can't take all the blame. It's a bit of everything, not just the music. We have the video games, the breakdown of the family . . . I think there is an absence of caring about your fellow man, period. I think we have a big problem with the moral code. I think music gets a lot of the blame, but there are other things.
"It's so much deeper than love songs. Back in the day, you had a mixture of songs being played. Now, music is more corporate, which limits the kinds of music being played. Back in my day, the music was controlled by the individual stations.
"But I can't say that if we had 100 million love songs, things would be better. This (mass-shootings epidemic) is so deep in our culture. I feel this country has to invest in our children's future.
"There are a lot of love songs, but I don't think there a lot of 'What the World Needs Now Is Love' love songs.
"And I did learn to help my fellow man."
Then she lived to sing about it.
This epidemic of lost safety for children is ultimately a civil rights issue. Whoever would have thought the United States couldn't protect its own children on a daily basis? Perhaps we need a civil rights movement for children, similar to the one spearheaded by black Americans in the 1960s.
It may be necessary because now, the unthinkable is suddenly thinkable. And Obama can't afford to have his presidential legacy defined by a war on children spawned by mass shootings.
Fifty years ago, we didn't dare think anyone would assassinate a very popular president of these United States. Then, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas. It was one of the bleakest times in the history of our nation. JFK was 46 years old then.
Now, we are burying 6-year-olds.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.