shrike (shrik), n. [<AS. (via deal.) scric, bird of shrill cry < same base as shriek with reference to the cryle, any of several shrill-voiced birds with hooked beaks, gray, black, and white plumage, and long tails: most types feed on insects, some on small birds, frongs, etc: also called butcher bird.
I have been surprised at the accessibility of the words so far. They have all been words that I know, that easily conjure up discussion of concepts and issues. But for this week’s selection is a word I did not know and has a definition of something I was unaware existed.
So, the shrike. The shrike is a kind of bird. I love birds. I have come to appreciate birds even more since I moved to Tucson. Tucson is full of all kinds of birds. There are hummingbirds, woodpeckers, quail, cactus wren, crows, pigeons, and many more. Although the great grey shrike and the loggerhead shrike do live in the United States, they tend to stay in northern states. So, to my knowledge, I have not seen a shrike here in Arizona.
Shrike are also known as “butcher birds,” named for the way they feed. They tend to spend most of their day resting on or near objects with sharp and pointy edges: barbed wire, branches with sharp ends, chicken wire. Once they have their prey, they impale the creature while they chew off bite-sized chunks. So ostensibly, they are eating the, for example, lizard, while it is still alive and writhing in pain. Peaceniks they are not.
Kaweahoaks.com calls shrikes “trim, businesslike birds.” I’m not really sure why. Is it because with their black, white and grey plumage, they could look like they were wearing a business suit or tuxedo? Or is it because they mean “business,” they are “taking care of business,” (insert other cheesy saying here) when they hunt and eat their food?
Shrikes are typically monogamous and, since they are territorial, they tend to defend their area in pairs. When the male is courting the female shrike, he does a dance that resembles the way he eats, by mocking how he impales creatures and offering her a piece of the invisible food. Fake hunting? Offering food that doesn’t exist as a form of courtship? Well, there are still shrike around so I guess it works for them.
A quick Internet search revealed that the shrike is also the name of a semi-automatic machine gun, i.e. the Shrike 5.56—a patented “drop-on” belt-feed upper receiver assembly that fits all MIL-SPEC AR15/M16/M4 type lower receivers. I do not know what any of that means. The picture of the gun makes me think it is a pretty serious weapon. In an attempt to learn more about the weapon, I did further searches and then, I got worried. Were my google or facebook ads suddenly going to offer me details about local gun shows or on how to join the NRA? Would someone doing a search on my computer find in my history the word “machine guns” and suddenly become concerned? That’s so unlike her.
But more disturbing than this was the pure amount of information about machine gunnery on the Internet. I don’t like guns at all and don’t think that machine guns should be available to civilians. I would expect detailed information about handguns, weapons that many people choose to have in their home for protection (or sometimes, for if they need to kill someone). But machine guns? People talking about specifications and release and action are using terminology to cover up one idea—violence. No matter what you terms you used, machine guns are manufactured to kill. And they are not rifles, meant to be shot at deer or ducks. Machine guns are meant to kill human beings.
Typically, these guns would be employed at war. And through the military, I would imagine you are taught the intricacies of the weapons you will use. I can understand that military personnel might do some searches to learn if there is more information out there about the guns they will use. Other than that, all of this information on the web is for gun enthusiasts. I think gun enthusiasts fall into categories. Number 1: Hunters, who obviously use guns. Number 2: Gun collectors, people who are curious about the history of warfare. They have may have an old bayonet, a rifle from the Civil War. They keep them unloaded in display cases next to the case with their wife’s Faberge eggs. Number 3: People who just like guns. I’m thinking number 1 and 2 would not be interested in semi-automatic weapons. They ruin their bounty, filling them with bits of shell. They aren’t old or interesting. Gun enthusiasts in group number 3 are the ones that concern me.
Why do we, as humans, like anything that is dangerous? Because it makes us feel powerful and alive. Because we like to believe that we are the only ones that will defy mortality. This is also true about guns. I would be willing to bet that people in group 3 like guns for this reason. Owning a gun makes them feel powerful. Maybe they feel impotent in their work life, their relationship, or their relationship to the world around them, but they have something very powerful that belongs to them. But there is a difference between being powerful and being brave. Guns give one person the capacity to end another person’s life. This makes the person holding the gun powerful. However, owning or carrying a gun doesn’t make a person brave even if it makes them feel that way. Ending another person’s life does not make you brave. On the contrary, most times it signals that the person pulling the trigger is operating out of fear.
Someone fears she is powerless so she fires her gun. Someone is afraid to deal with where his anger is really coming from because that would be too painful or make him too vulnerable so he fires his gun. Someone fears that if he doesn’t shoot first, he will be shot at so he fires his gun. A nation’s leader is afraid that if we don’t act first, we will be attacked so he orders the nation’s soldiers to fire their guns. A nation—told to be afraid of everything—wants to believe it is the most powerful nation in the world so its families will be safe and demands that its leaders send out the troops to fire their guns.
Fear is a normal human emotion, as is anger. It is not the emotions themselves that are problems but the way that we respond to them that makes a difference in our lives. Having protested against wars in my lifetime, I am often criticized as being “unpatriotic” or of “not supporting the troops.” I do support the troops and that is why I don’t believe anyone should be made to kill another human being. Soldiers are props in our wars. They do not know the person they are shooting, what their name is or what their family is like. Human beings—despite what we are told—are not wired for violence. When we hurt and kill other people, we suffer. There is something “off” in us from that experience.
I have talked to veterans from all different wars who are suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They have continuous nightmares based on what they had to do, something that is not in their makeup. I have talked to people convicted of violent crimes, who deeply regret what they did and who talk about what happened when anger mixed with a weapon—their hands, a gun, a knife. They didn’t think it was in them to do what they did.
We are good at the things that feel good to us—loving our significant other, raising our beloved children, taking care of family and friends in times of sadness and joy. These things feel good to us because they are at the core of who we are. We all have the capacity to do things that we can be proud of and harmful things, things that have the potential to hurt others. But ultimately, we have to work to be brave, despite this being a hard world, from the material we have in us and not because of what we hold in our hands.
Appropriately, the Shrike 5.56 is manufactured by a company called ARES Incorporated. Ares is a figure from Greek Mythology. He is the son of Zeus and Hera, who, as any Edith Hamilton reader will remember, had quite the tempestuous relationship. Hera did not want to marry Zeus. For one, he was her brother. Beyond that reason, she didn’t see him as a good partner. He had swallowed his first wife and had a history of philandering. She refused him for 300 years until he came one day to her window in the shape of a disheveled cuckoo bird. She immediately had compassion for the bird, and at that moment he turned back into himself and convinced her to marry him.
Greeks used their gods to understand and explain the behavior they saw in themselves and to reiterate what was to be applauded and punished. Is it a mystery, then, that born out of this unwilling and untruthful union came Ares? Ares is referred to as the god of warfare, of bloodlust, or as Wikipedia states, “slaughter personified.” He is also considered a coward.
One version of the Shrike 5.56, made by a company named for the God of slaughter, can fire off up to hundred rounds per minute. As Ares says, the weapon “is designed for hard use” and “provides the modern operator with the adaptive firepower necessary to prevail on today’s battlefield.” I sort of feel bad for the shrike. Sure, he doesn’t employ the most fair or peace-loving techniques to capture and eat his prey. But he uses his bounty for sustenance. A bird’s got to eat. It doesn’t seem fair for his name to be given to a gun that is capable of mass slaughter.