Soon after Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan shot to death 13 and injured many more at Fort Hood, Texas, on November 5, 2009, reporters and commentators began to wonder aloud whether warning signs of the homicidal outburst had been ignored. “Officials may not have heeded warning signs,” declared a headline in the Washington Post of Nov. 7. According to an article in the New York Times on Nov. 9, the FBI and the Army may be guilty of “missing possible warning signs that might have stopped a mass killing.” Whether or not such a massacre was predictable, the retrospective invocation of warning signs seems to take place regularly—predictably—in the aftermath of mass murder. Within a day of the massacre at Virginia Tech in April 2007, CBS News already had an article on its website headlined, “Warning Signs from Student Gunman.” Appended to the report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel, likewise, is “a list of red flags, warning signs and indicators.” It is as if the ritual repetition of a phrase served to buffer the shock of events. However, the notion that shocking events are preceded by legible warnings, and could therefore have been prevented if only the warnings were heeded, obscures the self-evident truth that it is easier to predict events after they have occurred.
© 2017 Stewart Justman