As of this writing we don’t know if the now-deceased mass murderer at the Navy Yard was working alone. We don’t know the motive. And we don’t know what security flaws if any allowed the carnage to unfold. As certain as we were to expect the speculative and inaccurate TV coverage as events unfolded, we can be assured we’ll know a remarkable amount in a short period of time.

First responders at the Navy Yard on Monday (Matt McClain/ Washington Post)

But what we know now is that a dozen brave souls in service of their country lost their lives, highlighting close to home how indebted we are to the military. President Obama properly acknowledged as such, before proceeding with a hyper-partisan speech blaming Republicans for the lack of economic progress. But Obama also said that the murders were a “cowardly” act. Not so. They were evil. The killing spree was, to be blunt, brazen and audacious. But in the end, just plain evil.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has been in the news lately because of the gift flap. But on Monday the former Army officer hit just the right note:

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by today’s tragic shooting. Innocent lives have been lost. Families are in mourning. It is absolutely heartbreaking. All of Virginia’s law enforcement resources remain ready to assist authorities as the investigation moves forward. America is a nation of good and peaceful people.
Horrendous, evil acts of violence will not shake our national unity and character.  In the aftermath of this tragic day, I urge all Virginians to always remember to thank the brave law enforcement, first responders and
military personnel in their communities for their dedicated and sacrificial service on our behalf. [Emphasis added.]

Yes, evil. Liberals tend to shy away from such terms, maybe afraid they’ll sound like those dreaded values voters. Or maybe it’s their therapeutic mindset that attributes most bad behavior to “sickness,” personal or societal. They mocked President George W. Bush when he labeled terrorists as “evil-doers.” The chattering class was horrified when President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union the “evil empire.”

Even in his Syria speech on Sept. 10, Obama didn’t use the word “evil.” He said Bashar al-Assad’s regime was “repressive” and that use of gas against civilians violated international law and our “common humanity.” He said the images were “sickening.” But evil? It’s not in his vernacular.

Defining evil in the world means we are obligated to do something serious about it, not ignore it or do something “unbelievably small.” In the domestic context acknowledging evil means there is not a legislative fix to right all wrongs. Confronting evil reminds us we have enormous obligations to our fellow human beings but that we are not in perfect control of our destiny. Maybe those frightful realities explain why the word is so infrequently used.