Some Men Leave Nothing Behind

John Schindler, who blogs here and tweets as @20committee, has an interesting series of tweets about Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock:

Since the 1990s, I’ve long believed that target selection can tell us a lot about the attacker. For example, it never made sense to me that the Oklahoma City bombing was done by Muslims because a federal building in Oklahoma City isn’t a target that means anything to Muslims. Now, since then, attacks have gotten a lot less planned and a lot more haphazard — more targets of opportunity and ease, rather than anything meaningful.

But nothing about what happened in Las Vegas makes much sense. The target, an open air country music festival, initially suggests someone for whom country music means something negative. But if the reports are correct that Paddock was looking at concerts (like Lollapalooza), and this was just the one he chose, well, then, the target itself has no meaning. Except that it was easy.

So I agree with Schindler that much about the attack makes no sense. But I believe it may be possible for Paddock to be, in fact, a fairly blank slate. He may have left nothing behind.

My dad was 73 when he died in January, and I don’t think I ever really knew him very well. I thought, in going through his things, I might learn something about him. I found a treasure trove of letters he wrote to his mother when he was stationed in Kwajalein in 1970-71, and thought there might be some insight there.

But there wasn’t. He talks mostly about golfing, bowling, playing basketball, and going diving in the lagoon. He doesn’t talk about work — my dad was good at keeping secrets — except once to describe how beautiful the sight of an ICBM warhead reentering the atmosphere is (Kwajalein is the receiving end of ballistic missile tests launched from California). He doesn’t talk about feelings or thoughts or ideas.

Nor does he really in any of the other papers I found. He had them, and occasionally he parted with them when we spoke. But not often. And he didn’t write anything like that down.

Nor was there anything on his computer except photographs.

My dad is as much a mystery to me in death as he was in life. And maybe that’s who he was. He was what he did. He was a soldier, an officer, a project manager, a math teacher, a basketball coach. Not everyone feels the need to make great pronouncements about themselves to the world.

Granted, my father never planned or organized an act of individual terror (CAVEAT: outside his military service or his time working for General Dynamics, and we don’t generally consider those things terrorism), and so there’s nothing to explain. The only surprise I found in his apartment was a wall covered in baseball caps, a Keurig coffee maker, and a mess left buy a man grown too sick to clean the place where he lived.

It may be Paddock is one of those men, like my dad, who just kept things to himself. Who is largely imponderable and unknowable because he committed nothing to writing, left few traces, and had few public opinions on much of anything. You need such men if you’re going to keep government secrets — I’m a terrible keeper of secrets, and it is just as well I never got or had security clearances for very long. Paddock apparently never kept those secrets, but he was 10 years younger than my father and would have come of age in entirely different world. But my guess is lots of men (and lots of women, too) live such lives, leaving little behind when they go and letting us try and figure out who they are by what they’ve done.

So whatever concerns we have about what we don’t know, it may be we don’t know anything because there’s nothing to know. (Watch me be really wrong about this.)