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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  April 10, 2011 3:15pm-4:00pm EDT

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republic. >> on the go? "after words" is available via podcast through itunes. select which podcast you'd like to download and listen while you travel. up next on booktv, christopher strain looks at why american society is so violent. professor strain talked about his book at the west palm beach public library in florida for about 40 minutes. >> say that i'm very glad to be here today at the west palm beach public library. i really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you all about my latest book. i'd also like to thank anya rizzo for her help in coordinating this and making it happen. i would like to talk to you a bit, first, about the genesis of this book, about how i came to
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write it. and then i've got some selections that i will take you through from the book and read a little bit and then leave a little time for questions and answers toward the end. but this book grew directly out of my work in the classroom. oftentimes with professors research and teaching are two very different things compartmentalized without much to do with one another. and this book derived from a course that i taught originally at the university of california and then at florida atlantic university on violence. the class began as a class dealing with violence in american history. so it dealt with war, it dealt with racial strife, it dealt with labor unrest and familiar
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topics. and it seemed as if every time i taught this course -- which has wound up being about every other year for the past the years -- 12 years now, something horrible happened in the news. some sort of school shooting, some sort of mass shooting. and so we wound up talking more and more in this history class about current events. we were trying to place these events in some sort of context. we were trying to make sense of what was happening. and when i taught the class in 1997, there were school shootings in west paducah, kentucky, in pearl, mississippi. when i taught in 1999, the shootings at columbine high school in the littleton, colorado, happened. two years later in 2001 there was a school shooting in santi,
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california. in 2003 in cold spring, minnesota. again in 2005 in red lake, minnesota. and i was actually teaching this course in the spring semester of 2007 when the shooting in blacksburg, virginia, occurred at virginia tech. my students were getting ready for their final exams, and it became imperative to share what i had learned in prepping for this course. i was reticent at first to deal with these current events, but my students kept dragging me into the present and sort of forcing me to deal with these issues that were happening in the present time. and in the wake of the virginia tech shooting i felt that that need to write about what had happened. and i had a sabbatical in the fall semester of 2007, and i sat
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down and began to write up my research finding and write up the discussions i'd had which were very enlightening with my students who sort of pulled me into this new place and pulled me into new ways of wrestling with these questions of violence in our society. it seemed to be something that we couldn't get away from. and so i did that. i sat town to write, and i was -- i sat down to write, and i was working on project for about a year. i was actually wrapping it up in the fall of 2008 when my phone rang at florida atlantic university. the phone in my office rang. it was my father, and he was calling to let me know that i shouldn't be alarmed about what, what was on cnn. and i said i didn't know what he was talking about. and he told me that there had been a bombing at his place of work in a small town in the georgia where i grew up. and the details of what had
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happened materialized over the next few hours. it was very chaotic at first. i wound up flying from florida to georgia. but a disgruntled client had packed an suv full of explosives and rammed it repeatedly into my father's office building, tried to blow it up. it didn't work quite as the man had planned, but he did kill himself in the process, and he destroyed the building, and a number of people were hurt. and so that prompted a retrospective sort of look at violence in my own life. and it permized -- personalized this, this violence that had been, that i had been studying in a very abstract way in an academic setting, in an academic
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context. but as i thought, as i was wrapping up the writing for this book, i began to think about my own life as it relates to violence, and i began a different kind of writing that i'd never done before, much more personal kind of writing, which is reflected in the preface and introduction of this book. but i began to think about my own life and how much violence i had experienced in various ways, in various places as a boy in a small town in georgia growing up, as a student at various universities and just as a citizen in various places in different towns across the united states. and the incidents added up. and the crime added up. and i thought about different things that i'd seen; fistfights and altercations and what not.
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and i didn't consider myself a particularly violet person. -- violent person. i didn't consider myself someone who courted violence, but it seemed omnipresent in my own life. and i thought if it's something that i'm dealing with a lot as, you know, as a history professor, as someone who leads a fairly quiet existence, it must be something that other people deal with in a much more present way. so this incident prompted a sort of retrospective moment in thinking about this and sort of contextualizing this violence. so i wrote about that a bit in the book as well, about this incident in georgia in 2008. i was turning in my head how to write about violence, how to think about violence, and a lot of scholars and a lot of writers and a lot of thinkers and a lot of intellectuals in american
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life have talked about violence in various ways, and they've tended to focus on particular incidents, particular topics, ones that have captured the public imagination at different points. in the 1960s it was assassinations, it was race riots. in the 1970s gang warfare. in the 1990s drive-by shootings, in the early 1990s, car jackings, school shootings. seemed like there was always some aspect of violence that was being discussed and studied by academics. but there were very few larger studies that talked about violence in general. and that's really what interested me. because it seemed that in the wake of these mass shootings and
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school shootings that had been happening over the previous decade that there was no discussion of how to make things better, how to improve it. they were sort of short-term, small solutions. but there was no attempt to discuss violence in american life writ large. and that's really where this book comes from be. i'd like to read a few statistics that may help illustrate the scope of what i see as a major problem in american life. this is a passage from the introduction. statistics indicate shocking discrepancies between the united states and other nations revealing just how violent a place the united states really is. according to the justice department, the homicide rate declined in the united states from a spike of 10.5 per 100,000
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in 1991 to 6.1 in 2000, the lowest rate since 19 of 7. 1967. by comparison, according to the world health organization, the homicide rates in france, germany and great britain in the same year, in 2000, were .6, .8 and .9 respectively. children in the united states are far more likely to be shot and killed than their counterparts in other industrial nations. the firearms homicide rate is 16 times higher for american children. as alarming as such numbers may be, the united states' homicide rate involving -- it is the united states' homicide rate involving handguns that makes the united states stand apart internationally. in 1996, for example, handguns were used to murder 0 people in -- 30 people in great britain, 106 in canada, 15 in japan and 9,390 in the united
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states. the cdc, the center for disease control, reports the rate of firearms death -- that is the number of americans shot to death per 100,000 -- as hovering between 8.8 and 9.2 for white americans during the period 2000 to 2005, between 7.5 and 7.8 for hispanic or latino americans and between 18.4 and 19.3 for african-americans. such statistics suggest that there is something unique and frightening happening in the united states. and, of course, the homicide rate is only one measure of violence, and i talk about all kinds of different things in this book. and in part that's the point, to sort of look at undercurrents of violence in american life, to look at what i call the ethos of violence in american culture and american society.
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and accordingly, i spend time in the book in the first chapter looking at violence as a male phenomenon. violence is predominantly something done by men to other men, to women, to children as well. and so i wanted to look at the violence of american masculinity, how masculinity is constructed in the united states and to, to look at how boys are socialized into becoming men in this nation. and i found that in part there are ways in which violence is sort of built into that process. i talk about that in the first chapter. the second chapter of the book is entitled, "televiolence," and it deals with violence in the media, violence on television, violence in movies, hollywood
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violence. and it's no surprise to you to hear that there's a lot of violence in all of these media. and i looked in particular at entertainment. and how we entertain ourselves matters. i think. i looked at the research, and a lot of people are interested in this, in whether or not there's a causal relation between media violence and quote-unquote real-world violence. violence that's actually happening out in the world. and i'd like to read a brief passage about that if, if i may. again, this passage begins with a discussion of the problem by different groups beginning with the surgeons general. in 1972 the surgeon general
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report, "television and growing up: the impact of televised violence," provided an authoritative warning as did the national institute of mental health in 1982 and the american psychological association in 1992. health care providers have since agreed on the dangers. on july 26, 2000, the american medical association, the american academy of pediatrics, the american psychiatric association, the american psychological association, the american academy of family physicians and the american academy of child and adolescent psychiatry issued a joint statement on the impact of child -- i'm sorry, on the impact of entertainment violence on children. an excerpt of the statement which was subsequently endorsed by both houses of the united states congress reads, quote: the conclusion of the public health community based on over 30 years of research is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and
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behavior particularly in children. in addressing whether or not media violence causes real-life violence, skeptics have been quick to observe that some studies on the effects of media violence have been flawed and that correlation does not prove causation. millions of people view televised violence every day without subsequently acting in an overtly viability fashion. violent fashion. they correctly point out in the many studies that have sought to prove or disprove a causal link certainly warrant a degree of skepticism. there is some evidence that media violence makes people more violent. that is that it directly translates into post-viewing violent behavior. but the evidence is largely anecdotal and limited to certain individuals. few knowledgeable individuals would argue that a sustained
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causal relationship has been proven between media violence and violence in society. but as newton minnow, professor of communications policy at northwestern university and former chairman of the federal communications chairman, the fcc, has observed: social science is not in the proof business. but in the business of identifying relationships and measuring their significance, strength and direction. and -- end quote. these are my words. and the relationships between media violence and so-called real-life violence is measurably strong and undeniably significant. for those won over by empirical studies demonstrating causality, there is lots of research showing that prolonged viewing of violent imagery can increase aggression toward others, desensitize viewers to real-life
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violence and increase fears of becoming a victim. such were the findings of the 1994 national television violence study, a three-year effort by researchers from four universities overseen by several national policy organizations. others have confirmed these finding. there's also evidence that prolonged viewing of violent imagery can cause what psychologists cause disinhibition. that is, the viewing of violet media can remove or reduce reservations that people may have with regard to performing adepress i have acts that they are concern -- aggressive acts that they already knowment so in theory seeing bugs bunny blow up wile e. coyote with a case of acme dynamite can disinhibit unrelated act of aggression such as pushing and shoving on a playground.
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or hitting in viewers, regardless of age. and i think that future studies may confirm disinhibition as one of the more onerous effects of watching violent imagery. i talk more in the book about this relationship, about correlation and causality and about the relationship between media violence and real-life violence. there's a chapter in the book on guns and the gun culture in the united states. and i'd be happy to talk more about that. let me just read a brief passage. what i've tried to do is not rehash the same tired arguments regarding the second amendment and the constitutionality of gun ownership in the united states because that discussion has reached, i think, an impasse. those, and it's a debate and a dialogue that's controlled by
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those at the extremes. what identify tried to do -- what i've tried to do is sort of reconstitute the discussion about guns and the gun culture. which is, as it turns out, a really important part of american life. let me just read this brief passage. the arguments about guns and gun control in the united states are as tired as those regarding media violence. while studio executives and parental watchdogs have succeeded in maintaining a debate about an issue that could have and should have been resolved years ago, the gun nuts and gun grabbers alike have perpetuated an even longer argument worn in its after riches. it is a debate controlled at the fringes. at one extreme are those who would ban all guns, and at the other are those who would increase the armament of our already heavily-armed nation. gary kleck, a professor of
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criminology at florida state university, has characterized this debate as a dialogue of the death. what is needed, i argue, are fresh perspectives and ways of avoiding the die cot mouse talking points that inevitably lead to retrenchment and stalemate. a couple more things and then i'd like to entertain any questions that you all have. i think one of the, again, some more dangerous aspects of the many manifestations of violence in american society, in american culture are the ways that it is normalized and mainstreamed so that kinds of extreme violence become more and more routine and more and more regular. and this is something that is a phenomenon in media violence. but in other things as well. there's a chapter in the book
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that deals with what i call the combat culture, a new interest in fighting sports, in mixed martial arts and ultimate fighting championship which is on spike television. and i should point out, i guess at this point, in this discussion that these are all elements of our popular culture in which i freely partake. i watch violent movies, i watch violent television, i watch mixed martial arts, i have participated in shooting sports, and i have owned guns at various points. so i can talk more about that too. but -- and i will. but let me just read something quickly about this issue of normalization and mainstreaming. it is possible to ignore the
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rawest of the raw, the most acute, immoderate and excessive kinds of violence so long as they exist on the periphery and so long as social mores define them as extreme. but what happens when the extreme becomes increasingly ordinary? mainstreaming extreme violence is problematic because that violence becomes normalized and habitual in daily american life. once normalization occurs, it is difficult to gain critical perspective on the violence making it part of the warp and woof of everyday life. the bigger concern is that tolerance of violence is expanding as depictions of violence become more pervasive, and importantly, that a majority of people have become insulated to the viability of humanity that violence represents. in the end of this book, i talk about ideas for solving some of
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these problems and for fixing the issues and addressing these, this problem of seemingly random violence. i make the argument in the book that there really is no such thing as random violent. violence. and that violence directed at no one specifically is, in fact, violence directed at all of us collectively. and i think until we wrap our minds around that, the incidents such as what happened in tucson a few weeks ago, incidents such as what happened in blacksburg in 2007, incidents such as what happened in littleton, colorado, in 1999 will continue. but i find hope, ultimately, in, in the ability of us collectively to address these issues and to make our world a
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better place. and let me, let me read this passage and the conclusion. this is the beginning of the conclusion that discusses what i call biosense. at this very moment, it is possible to fix the problem of deadly interpersonal violence in the united states. we have not only the knowledge to curb the mayhem in our streets, schools, workplaces and homes, but also the means to shape a society relatively free of danger and fear. we can create a peaceful, lawful nation in which the taking of human life is a shocking aberration instead of a common occurrence. this newer, better nation would require minimal sacrifice in terms of rights and liberties. in fact, it could easily exist within our current framework of laws and social mores. this would mainly entail a shift in attitude, an adjustment in how we accommodate violence in
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our families, in our social relations, in our entertainment, in our public spaces, in our government and in our dealings with other sovereign nations. such a change is not utopian fantasy. it falls well within the realm of possibility. that's the good news. the bad news is that we first have to deal with some unpleasantries, things that most of us do not want to think about. we have to take a long, hard look at how violence manifests itself in our society. we have to face up to the ugly record of assaults, rapes and killings happening around us. but how? how can we deal with the limitations imposed by our own limited vantage point? the biggest impediment to positive change may be a personal one. our own inescapable sense that thing must be the way they are. we wonder what we can do, already convinced that the answer is nothing.
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when viewing the overall pattern of societal violence, we find it difficult to make sense of the chaos. the pattern is obscure, like looking at heavily pixlated images up close and seeing only squares. those searching for answers in black and white may see only judgementenned blocks -- jumbled blocks in no discernible order. but by holding the pixlated image at arm's length, a pattern emerges, a mind shift occurs. it becomes a matter of gaining depth perception and focus. with change and positioning comes change in perspective. i'm hopeful that there are ways to, to address the problem of random violence, to address the problems of mass shootings. i think it requires the creation of a national conversation, of
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public dialogue about, about all of these issues and how they interlock. we have been good at addressing particular problems like drive-by shootings in the 1980s or car jackings in the early '90s. finish what we need to do is -- what we need to do is figure out how to address the issue of violence writ large. and i hope that this book is a step in that direction, and i hope that it is able to contribute to a kind of dialogue. i said that i would talk a little bit about myself, and i'm self-conscious doing this because, again, as an academic, i don't usually, but this is a part of the book. so let me just address this by way of conclusion, and then we can open it up to questions and, hopefully, some answers too.
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let me read this passage. this is from the preface. while a large part of this book deals with guns and instruments of violence, i should probably note that i don't find gun detestable. on the contrary, i've gotten a great deal of enjoyment from them. nor do i think violent video games, movies or tv shows are morally reprehensible, at least not solely because of content. more often i find them reprehensible for their ability to suck time and eat up entire afternoons. i've fleefully and -- gleefully played such games as grand theft auto, max payne and a first person's shooter that rewards head shots for hours on end. i've watched pulp fiction more times than i care to admit, and whatever guilt i've felt in watching the ultimate fighting championship has usually blurred after the first flurry of bad
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blows. does this make me a hypocrite? perhaps. or maybe it just makes me american. on any given day, like most of us, i am unaware of the cognitive dissonance. on other days i'm unremorseful, even definal. you can have my joystick when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. however, while i remain comparatively untroubled about guns or video games or violent films on their own, i do confess a growing unease about how these elements freely combine in this our society and toward what end. are there ill effects cumulative, or do they actually catalyze into something different, a new and dangerous toxin born of other chemicals in the environment? i've only recently begun to understand and appreciate how they may potentiate one another like a bad combination of drugs to create unhealthy levels of
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violence. i harbor a special concern about how these interact with american notions of masculinity in a way that exacerbates violet outcomes. i talk about all of this in greater detail in the book, but in part why i'm here today at the west palm beach public library is to, to encourage conversation, to have a dialogue. and is so i would like to stop and answer questions, and maybe we can talk together about ways to crease some of -- address some of these issues. thank you so much. [applause] are there any questions? >> [inaudible] i know that --
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[inaudible] >> the question is, have i studied suicide at all in, in the book? and the answer is, yes. i can actually provide a few statistics about, about suicide. i haven't studied youth suicide in particular. i do address it at a couple points in the book, but if i may, if you'll permit me to read a little bit from the text. gun accidents account for two to three firearms' death every day in the united states. most are self-inflicted, most are caused by handguns which are easy to point this an unsafe
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direction, and most occur during routine gun handling such as cleaning, loading and unloading. for every unintentional firearm fatality, approximately 13 victims are injured seriously enough to be treated in hospital emergency rooms. in other words, every day more than 30 americans are unintentional hi and nonfatally shot by themselves or by someone else. this addresses your question. such figures do not account for deliberately self-inflicted gunshots which are even higher. since 1965, more than half a million americans have committed fire arms -- i'm sorry, have committed suicide with a firearm, nearly ten times as have died from gun-related accidents. almost 50 people each day kill themselves with guns in the unite. more -- in the united states. more than by all other methods of suicide combined. and the thing about guns is that guns facilitate suicide in the same way they facilitate killing
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others. that is, among methods of suicide, firearms are typically the most lethal, and that's what makes guns such an important part of the discussion about suicide. but, yeah, suicide is a huge part of the problem, and i do discuss it some in the book. that's a good question. i'm very glad you asked that, thanks. >> i'm always interested in the contrasts in violence between the united states and canada because there's so many different functions in their country. but one of the things that is very jarring to me throughout the united states are gun shows because even when you go, you hear them from the outside it's a kind of carnival atmosphere that's going on with them. and just as we have shows for everything else, it's probably as focused on it market as the
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boat show will be next week right here. and yet they don't -- i'm told they don't even have gun shows in the canada. it's a different set of assumptions that people have even though there's a very high percentage of gun owners in canada as well too. i know your concentration is american violence, but have you paid much attention to the contrast with canada? >> it's a great question. two, two points that i'd like to address. one, the comparison between the united states and canada. in order to make sense of violence in the united states, i think that we have to treat it comparatively, we have to look at what's happening at other nations, in the other nations. one of the misconceptions about canada is that canada has fewer firearms than the united states. they do have, i think, numerically probably fewer guns.
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there are a lot of guns -- >> it's higher, i understand. >> percentage of ownership is quite high. i'm not sure if it's higher, but i'll trust you if you know. >> so that, to me, makes it even more important to understand these underlying currents of violence. if there are similar thurms in the canada, why is there more violence in the united states. it's a difficult question. there are other societies that have high proportion of gun ownership. scandinavian nations, for example, sweden. you know, every household has a long gun in it because men serve in the militia, and they're trained. so very, you know, high numbers of guns in these societies, very few incidents of interpersonal violence. then there are places like
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japan. we've all been focused on japan in the news over the past week, and japan has very what i would call high levels of cultural violence. if you watch japanese cinema, if you're familiar with anime and japanese animation, incredibly violent, and yet again, low levels of interpersonal violence in japan. so these are all things that we should know, first of all, and second of all, study more closely in trying to figure out what's happening here in the united states. the other point i wanted to address that you brought up about, about gun shows is that there's a wonderful new book, relatively new book out by joan berbick in which she also tries to look at this climate of
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violence in the united states but understands the gun culture on it own terms. i think that it's easy for a number of gun control advocates and anti-gunners to sort of write off gun enthusiasts as irrational or to write off their interests in firearms, and can i think that that's a mistake. and i think berbick makes a conscientious effort to sort of get inside the gun culture. she writes this book after interviewing people about their ideas about firearms and their place in american history, american society, and i think that's a step in the right trek, sort of creating a dialogue between those who are interest inside firearms, you know, pro and against. thank you.
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let me say, again, that i'm very glad to be here today, and i really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you all. and i hope that we can treat this as a beginning of a conversation and a beginning of a dialogue and not an end. though i think we are at the end of our time now, so thank you so much. i appreciate it. [applause] >> is there a nonfiction author or book you'd like to see featured on booktv? send us an e-mail at or tweet us at >> so you arrived just -- time frame. the shooting happened at 2:27 approximately. six shots got off in less than two seconds. how long before the hospital was dealing with this? it was just a matter of a few more minutes. >> that's right. i mean, he came right to the hospital. he walked and then collapsed.
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they brought him into the resuscitation area. ordinarily, for most traumas we're notified that a trauma patient is coming and the trauma team assembles in the resuscitation area waiting. there was very little time to do that because he was so close, but they were there. they got there, they put him on a gurney, started inserting ivs, examining him and did all the right things. it was a flawless resuscitation. >> so reagan walks in, right? jerry parr's in the limousine, and jerry tries to get his hand to help him out. reagan says, no. and jerry thinks, he wants to be a cowboy, i guess. reagan hitches up his panels like he always does, and his aide right behind him goes, oh, yeah, i think he's going to be okay. the other aides don't think so, he doesn't look so good. ronald reagan was not going to get carried off. he gets in the about 15 feet, he collapses like a rock just like that.
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there's a paramedic i interviewed who's right there, he's kind of a source of mine, i guess i shouldn't have said that too loud. [laughter] not a secret one. bob is there, and he sees reagan fall to the ground, and bob fernandez thinks, my god, he's code city. and that means he's going to die. the other nurses there, their hands are shaking, they're having nightmare thoughts about the president's going to die. he looked that bad. >> what did you think, jerry parr, when he collapsed? >> well, i really thought he was going to die to for about the first maybe three or four minutes because he looked so terrible. and when i -- one of them, the first nurse said i thought she said no blood pressure, but what she said was low blood pressure. and faint heartbeat. and i did think he was going. but he kept living on and living on, and they kept doing the right things to him.
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>> doctor, let's go back to that page you got. in those days i guess it was a pager you were carrying? >> no, i had mobile. and usually they'd page me. i was very surprised to hear a stat page over the public address system. and it was unusual. so i went right downstairs, and i walked into the emergency room, and i saw a lot of strange people, you know? young people with earphones, those little tiny things in their ear. i didn't quite know what was going on. and when i went back into the resuscitation area, there he was lying on a stretcher, totally naked, and the president of the united states. my residents were there -- >> did you know right away it was -- how did you know it was the president. >> >> i just saw him. he looked like the president, there was no question about it. [laughter] >> you'd never seen him naked though. >> i'd never seen him naked -- [laughter] i just looked at his face. i can promise that, all right? >> all right. [laughter] >> anyway, my residents were already there, and can they were doing an excellent job
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resuscitating him and putting ivs in, all the things that we train to do. they all spent time in the shock trauma unit in baltimore for three months so they were very experienced in managing these patients. and when i got there, he actually was improving already. first of all, he was lying down, so that always improves blood pressure. secondly, fluid was going into him. and he was alert. he had a concerned look on his face. we asked him how he's doing and what's going on, he says a little short of breath, he had some pain. we saw the entrance wound, we looked on the other side to see if it came out, it did not -- >> and you knew it was a bullet, he'd been shot. >> yeah. we had the information, it was a small little hole right underneath his ax la, and so things moved very quickly. there was six or seven people around, anesthesia in the front. people from the outside looking think it's a very chaotic event, but it's not. everybody has a job to do, and they're moving very quickly to
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get the job done. and within a relatively short period of time, his blood pressure started coming up. we knew because he had lost blood and there was no breath sounds on the left side of the chest and the bullet wound went in the chest that he had bleeding into his left thoracic cavity. >> so how long before there was surgery to try to remove the bullet? >> well, the first thing you have to do is put a chest tube in. the way you treat most of these patients -- successfully this way -- is you put a chest tube in. the idea is to put the tune in the thoracic cavity, draw out the blood and the air, and the lung reexpands. the lung is a low pressure system. and once it reexpands and goes up against the chest wall, it usually stopped 35, 90% of the time -- 85, 90% of the time. this time it did not. >> so there was that preliminary by, what, 3:30 he was under -- >> he was in the emergency room about 40 minutes. we gave him four units of blood,
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a whole bunch of saline, we put the chest tube in. and you watch the blood come out of the tube. initially, there's a rush because of all the blood that's accumulate anything the thoracic cavity, and once that's out, you hope that blood loss is starting to get less and less, and this did not happen. to the contrary, it got more, and that's when i called dr. ben aaron who is the chief of thoracic surgery, an excellent surgeon, to come down. he came down and took over the care of that patient. >> you can watch this and other programs online at next, from the 2011 tucson festival of books, mark rudd, author of my life with sds and the weatherman, martha todd dudman and joyce maynard talk about the 1960s. >> good morning. and welcome to


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