The cover has it down. A torn flag, fraying badly. It’s also easy to see the chomping jaw, right? Just need the teeth. I imagine a dinosaur head, the blue field of stars as the eye. And it’s all set against the puffy clouds, as if everything’s okay.
That’s about the state of discourse in the United States today, every shrill shout amped to max. To eleven. And often mean. Or mean-spirited. Our dialogue—and that’s a polite way of putting it—is for entertainment, not enlightenment. With the splintered media, it’s a snap to sit in your own echo chamber and “listen” to the news. But you’re only listening to one side, reinforcing your views.
Stephen Singular: “The first American Civil War lasted about four years before the North won its victory in 1865 and began the path toward ending slavery. This second one has gone on for about forty years now, with no end in sight. The new millennium, which many had felt would usher in a time of healing and unity, has seen this war spread and intensity; some called it a fight for the soul of a nation.”
In gripping fashion, “The Wichita Divide” puts the murder of Dr. George Tiller into this much larger and much more worrisome context. The murder itself was outrageous enough—the cold-blooded shot to the head that killed Dr. Tiller in the sanctuary of his church by a man, Scott Roeder, whose fanatical anti-abortion zeal was so over-the-top that he actually believed he was justified in taking the life of another human being.
Singular simultaneously digs into the years leading up to murder but he also steps back and looks at how the murder isn’t an isolated incident, but very much one outrageous act in a a larger trend of confrontations that are ripping the fabric of our society. Like many others who take outrageous steps in an attempt to prove their points and draw attention to themselves, Roeder was a loser (and clearly a coward) who needed better mental health treatment.
The themes running through “The Wichita Divide” are powerful.
The increasingly powerful media bullies (not really news media at all).
The connection between what happened in Wichita and the “new civil war” across America.
The tangled political and romantic world at the ground level that played a key role in allowing hate to fester—or even encouraging it for a political agenda. (For those of us who didn’t follow the Wichita anti-abortion demonstrations on a regular basis, the sex scandal surrounding attorney general Paul Morrison’s is one of those sections in the book that make you realize how personal agendas play such an enormous role in how events play out. The law is the law, sure, but what agenda do “we” want to promote?
And finally, family—and family values. There are families at the heart of all these individuals, including the family of workers around the clinic and Tiller’s church, too. Roeder’s attempt to head a family is the ultimate irony—he showed no ability to raise the one life he was really responsible for bringing into the world. By contrast, Tiller treated strangers (patients) like family. This clinic was no production line; it was as much counseling center as medical service. The opening sections that walk us through these two deeply contrasting lives—and upbringings—are fascinating.
In Singular’s hands, all the major characters are vividly drawn. The years of protest and activity over Dr. Tiller’s clinic are peeled back and explored. Of course we’ll never know, but reading “The Wichita Divide” makes you wonder if Roeder would have felt bold enough to pull the trigger if there hadn’t been more of an effort to aggressively pursue the protesters who threatened the clinic. The protesters were generally so emboldened that Tiller needed a bulletproof vest and a specially outfitted car in order to feel secure.
Whether you are “pro-choice” or opposed to abortions, Singular’s big-picture look at this issue has more to do with finding the common threads of terrorism right in our own main streets, town centers and back yards.
Ultimately, this book is about power. I’d encourage readers to note the role that the men play in this book.
Singular notes from Tiller’s funeral service: “The succinct floral arrangement beside Tiller’s casket resonated beyond any of the songs or speeches. The phrase ‘Trust Women’ was deceptively simple and went to the heart of the war over abortion—the two words implying that it wasn’t for government, religion, men, or other social institutions to decide what was right for the individual female when confronting one of life’s most wrenching moments. Women were ultimately responsible for dealing with the consequences, good and bad, of their choices, and real freedom, real equality, and real responsibility included the right to make a wrong or harmful decision.”
For a compelling read about today’s battle over values, look no further than “The Wichita Divide.” It’s about Wichita, yes, and all the rest of us, too. (Kudos to Pete Garceau and Jason Ramirez for the cover; that’s the whole thing in a powerful image.)