The Truth About Cassie Bernall

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

When tragedy strikes, the human spirit yearns for comfort, a seed of hope to soothe the shattered soul. When tragedy strikes the young, that yearning is all the more unrelenting in its quest for closure. The spirit will not rest until it can find some good in the evil of this world.

Such was the case after the April 20 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. And in the wake of that inexplicable rampage was born the myth of Cassie Bernall — a myth that today begs the question of whether Americans are capable of telling the truth in the face of tragedy.

The girl who did (or didn’t?) say yes
Bernall’s name may not be familiar to the masses, but her story certainly is. She is — as a new book by her mother, Misty, says — the 17-year-old girl shot to death when “She Said ‘Yes'” to a gun-toting schoolmate who asked if she believed in God. She is the martyr whose death made some sense of a senseless crime.

Bernall’s proclamation of faith became a staple of Columbine lore, especially among fellow believers. Her story has been immortalized not only in her mother’s book but also in newspapers and congressional speeches.

Online memorials make dramatic statements like this: “Asked if she believed in God, her affirmative answer to the killers got her a mortal shot in the head.” And groups like Revival Generation have successfully seized on her story in their efforts to convert more teens to their religious missions.

The problem: The story of “Saint Cassie,” as The Washington Post called her in an Oct. 14 feature story, and her courageous confession simply is not true. The facts disclosed in recent weeks have begun to tarnish the inspirational tale.


Science And Food: A Volatile Mix

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Ask Ronnie Cummins whether science and technology have been a blessing or a curse to America’s food supply, and he does not hesitate in answering. “So far,” says Cummins, the director of the Campaign for Food Safety, “it has been a curse.” He acknowledges that the United States has the most productive agricultural system in the world, in part thanks to the technology’s ability to combat pests, drought and other farming woes. “But,” he quickly adds, “we also have the most contaminated.”

Ask the same question about agricultural science and technology to Ralph Hardy, president of the National Agricultural Biotechnology Council, and he is just as adamant in defense of his profession. He can think of no examples of where agricultural biotechnology has been a curse and points to one phenomenal blessing: “We wouldn’t be anywhere near having enough food for the six billion people on this earth” without it.

The backdrop to that question is the raging debate about genetically engineered crops — corn, soybeans, cotton and potatoes among them. And the competing responses represent the two extremes of national thinking on that hot-button issue. Caught in a food fight about the merits of downing genetically modified meals, Americans must consider just how much mixing of food and science they are willing to tolerate.

The world of high-tech agriculture
The nation has faced that dilemma before, as a 1997-98 report from the American Council on Science and Health confirms. “Facts Versus Fears: A Review of the Greatest Unfounded Health Scares of Recent Times” summarizes, with a blatant pro-science slant, the most noteworthy food-safety debates of the past half-decade — a pre-Thanksgiving panic over potentially tainted cranberries in 1959 and the banning of Alar on apples in 1989 among them.

Only with the advent of plant genomics research a decade ago, however, did the implications of high-tech agriculture become a staple of policy debate. And only in the past few years, with the harvesting of the first genetically altered crops, has the debate reached the level of full-blown controversy.

Talk of genetically modified organisms once was the domain of bioengineers and the corporate agricultural entities like Monsanto Inc., DuPont Co. and Novartis AG who hired them to create and patent super crops. Today, GMOs are the stuff of international trade disputes, crop sabotage and media sensationalism about “Frankenfoods” and “terminator” seed technology.

The Year The Wall Fell

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

On Nov. 9, 1989, the world changed dramatically and, to the thinking of most everyone, for the better.

At midnight, scores of East and West Berliners converged on the wall that had separated their lives, physically and philosophically, since August 1961, and that had stood as a symbol of the Cold War battle between freedom and repression, capitalism and communism. Hours earlier, communist leaders of East Germany, formally known as the German Democratic Republic, had unceremoniously approved an edict allowing unfettered travel to the West German Federal Republic of Germany.

Those leaders may have considered the gesture the tossing of a freedom crumb to calm the passions of a long disenchanted populace, but many East Germans saw something more — an opportunity to escape their past and embrace a more promising future. They did more than pass through the gate to West Berlin; they scaled the wall, chipped away at it with hammers and danced on its top as if on the grave of communism.

“It was,” said the Nov. 20, 1989 issue of Time magazine, “one of those rare times when the tectonic plates of history shift beneath men’s feet, and nothing after is quite the same.”

People back then knew the import of what they were witnessing but probably could not comprehend why everything changed so quickly and what it would mean for the future. Today, as the world commemorates the 10th anniversary of the collapse of communism with events like those at the Newseum in Arlington, Va., last month, the hindsight of history can begin to explain the end of the Cold War.

Recipe for revolution
Ask Gale Stokes, Rice University historian and author of the 1993 book, “The Walls Came Tumbling Down: The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe,” and he will tell you the changes did not occur as quickly as they might have appeared in 1989.

Sure, Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania all abandoned their communistic ways within weeks of each other that year. But the collapse, Stokes said in his book and in an interview this week with IC, had been in the making for more than two decades. He divides the era of European communism in half, with 1968 as the dividing line between its heyday and its decline. That year, Soviet troops and their Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia to quell internal reforms there and install a new leader.