We often hear politicians pontificate about “American Exceptionalism”. It’s often a mindless soundbite, designed to appeal to the vanity of voters, and can be meaningless. This weekend in France, three young American men showed the world the true meaning of that phrase. With the help of a British businessman, they subdued an armed terrorist who opened fire on passengers on a European bullet train in France.
In the picture above, from left to right, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Anthony Sadler lept into action when a 26 year old Moroccan national tried to shoot passengers on the train to Paris. Skarlatos, with the Oregon National Guard, Air Force airman Stone, their civilian friend Sadler, and British national Chris Norman subdued the terrorist, who was armed with a Kalishnikov rifle, 300 rounds of ammunition, knives, and a handgun, according to Britain’s Daily Mail.
Unarmed themselves, they immediately took action to stop the shooter, later identified as a member of a terrorist group that European authorities had dealt with in the past. Stone was injured during the take-down, and is reported to have tended to the injuries of others before allowing his own to be treated.
President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande have commended the men, with President Obama speaking to them by phone, and the French President to meet them Sunday. Although not mentioned in reporting, I suspect a visit to the White House is being arranged.
Reminiscent of 9/11’s Todd Beamer aboard United Airlines Flight 93, who said “Okay, are you ready? Let’s roll” when passengers took action to stop the hijackers, Skarlatos yells “Spencer, go!” as the three Americans leapt into action.
I often cringe when I hear the term “American Exceptionalism”. It’s often a cover term for Americans acting badly, putting our own political interests and corporate profits ahead of the peoples of other regions. Another term that might apply in most cases is “American Imperialism”. This event, however, is the kind of thing we should mean when we talk about our exceptionalism. These men and their actions give us the moral and ethical authority to make such boasts.
This heroic action does present a major problem for the NRA, however. It’s clear that it does NOT take “a good guy with a gun” to stop “a bad guy with a gun”. All it takes is bravery, and a little luck. How many more would have been injured or killed, if a shoot-out between the gunman and passengers had occurred? Can you imagine the carnage that would have been evident if this event had happened in, say, Texas? (Assuming, of course, that Texas had a high speed bullet train. That’s a stretch, I know. We have people fighting the idea here in California, so… Texas? But, I digress.) More guns would have simply resulted in a body count, rather than a roster of injuries. I wonder how the NRA will spin this, if they even mention it.
Kudos and thanks to Skarlatos, Stone, and Sadler for their bravery and for representing the best of the United States. They truly are exceptional Americans.