Let’s Explore the Roots of Our Violent Culture
Violence: a swift or intense force. Rough or injurious physical force, action or treatment. An unwarranted exertion of force or power as against rights or laws. (Random House Dictionary).
We are living in a culture of violence in the United States of America. While we don’t need the dictionary definitions given above to realize this, such directed words help us to understand ourselves nonetheless.
A mental walk through the national behaviors and beliefs in this our day in April of 2003 will bring our violence home. To begin with, we are closing, we hope, one of the most savage wars of our history, one we cosmetically term “Operation: Iraqi Freedom,” and one which we delude ourselves into believing is being waged with inconsequential collateral damage (read “the killing of civilians”), through the use of smart bombs (read “selective killers”) which destroy real estate and not people (read “delusional”). In our preemptive invasion to “save Iraq” we admit to killing, at latest count, over 10,000 Iraqis. Was the murderous tyrant, Saddam, quantitatively worse?
At home we kill increasing numbers of our citizens in our mindless pursuit of capital punishment. This puts us in the moral and intellectual shallows of few remaining other violent societies. Most of the world’s peoples have declared such officially authorized killing unreasonable and inhumane.
And now to justify our immoral, unjust and illegal invasion of Iraq with our “shock and awe” strategy (read: “massive destruction approaching Hiroshima levels,” as one enthusiastic commentator put it) we have adopted without national debate a policy of pre-emptive use of warring force. Read: “It is OK to strike someone you don’t like or don’t trust, even in the absence of threat or evidence, just in case they mean to strike you, or to keep them from getting as strong and dominant as you.” Pre-emptive war, like so much unthinking violence, is based on instinct. So now we have a national war policy of elaborated hunch.
Given our new policy of pre-emptive war we will not be surprised, will we, when our children, despite all parental admonitions to the contrary, learn from federal administrative example to forget lessons of conflict resolution and lash out first and fast, with fist and foot, and demonizing tongue?
There is more, of course, to our violent culture. We have made violence a staple of youthful entertainment. Videos, movies, games of every insane description teach mind and motor skills of killing, murder, and mayhem of soul-numbing proportions. And Madison Avenue and the money-maddened manufacturers of such soul- and spirit-killing rot justify every sadistic taped inch of it in a warped understanding of the right to free speech.
Such cretinous thinking forgets or ignores the nation’s even more fundamental rights to life and health.
Our nation doesn’t yet understand (nor do I) the resolution of the conflicting rights to life and free speech. We don’t fully understand the roots and branches of our violent culture. Michael Moore has made this lack clear with brilliant humility in his film “Bowling for Columbine.” No do we understand the cure for the violent monster within us.
But we had better learn because we are dying by our own hurtful hands and unskilled thinking.
Fred Ruof, a retired nonprofit executive and Roman Catholic priest, resides in Baltimore.
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This story was published on May 13, 2003.