A year ago tomorrow, 12 people were killed and dozens more wounded when a man opened fire on a theater full of late-night moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. A month after the massacre, I traveled to Aurora to report on the aftermath. The primary focus of the trip was to better understand how and why Americans live with the omnipresence of violence in our daily lives. Today, I wrote for The Awl about what I found. The answer in Aurora, if there is one, might be embedded in 150 years of history, crystallized by Harper’s Weekly contributor Theodore R. Davis’s 1867 observation about the frontier Indian tribes: "It is, to be sure, a hard thing to say, but there is safety in extermination alone."
Two words signified the promise of cataclysmic violence that reinforced Davis’s perception—his very consciousness—of America as an idea. "Extermination alone," the resolution necessary to uphold the idea. "Extermination alone," such a "hard thing to say" that nevertheless will be said as some rational outgrowth of experience. The irony is even more inseparable: "Extermination alone," so as to peaceably subdue the Great Plains. "Extermination alone," so as to hurry the territories into the more respectable, civilized, white-man’s dystopia plaguing the postwar East.