Commentary: United States is violent nationThe recent slaughter of 28 people, 20 of them children, in a Connecticut elementary school is only the latest of many mass murders, including some 61 shootings which have occurred in 30 different states since 1982.
By: David Harris, The Republican Eagle
The recent slaughter of 28 people, 20 of them children, in a Connecticut elementary school is only the latest of many mass murders, including some 61 shootings which have occurred in 30 different states since 1982. Eleven of the 20 worst recorded civilian shootings around the world took place in the United States and the others were all single events in different countries except for two in Finland (Star Tribune editorial, Dec. 16).
Anti-gun advocates, including many in law enforcement, have been quick to blame easy access to automatic and semi-automatic weapons. They point out that shootings are much rarer in states with strong gun-control laws and are especially common in the southern states which have a strong tradition of gun ownership and hunting.
The powerful NRA lobby has been just as quick to deny this with the slogan, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It points out that both Israel and Switzerland have much higher ratios of gun ownership to population even though mass shooting of civilians is rare in these countries. (Overlooking, of course, the multiple mass shootings of Palestinian Arabs by the Israeli military.)
In modern times the United States seems cursed by a high frequency of many disturbing types of violence: rape and sexual abuse of women, racist and religious based violence, highly popular violent sports (football, hockey, boxing, and, most recently, extreme fighting), equally popular violence on television and video games, traffic accidents precipitated by alcohol and drug abuse and “road rage,” anti-gay violence, the highest incidence of incarceration in the world and frequent outbreaks of violence among prisoners, etc.
What then is unique which makes us No. 1 not only in gun violence but in violence of all sorts?
Why are we such a nation of violence?
Our history and our traditions offer the clues to modern America. We have become a culture of violence. We mistakenly accept violence as the only way to security, and we endorse and legalize violence both at home and abroad.
We are the leading inventors and producers of weapons of mass destruction. We spend more on military support than the next 20 leading nations.
We legalize killing of convicted murderers at home.
We use our “best” lawyers along with our military actors, both overt and covert, in an attempt to legalize killing of those whom we feel threatened by. In our vain quest for security we rationalize actions which take innocent lives around the globe.
All these many forms of violence, and the greed and exploitation which characterize our corporate psychology are rooted in fear; and it is fear that is promoted at every level which defines what the Veterans for Peace organization has termed “Addiction to Violence.”
You may assume that by its prevalence that fear must be innate and inevitable. But one has only to look at the fearlessness with which a baby first stands and falls and rises over and over again and becomes a successful toddler to realize that fear is only something learned through unresolved failure, which gives us hope that it can be overcome by learning something more rewarding. And that something else, something other than merely responding to violence with more violence, is nonviolence.
Many courageous teachers and practitioners of nonviolence have shown the way throughout history, and I won’t presume to elaborate on it in this short essay. But it is enough for this moment to state the possibility that by working to develop a culture of nonviolence we can have hope, hope for a world at peace, where justice means fairness and opportunity for all.
David Harris is a retired surgeon, former Red Wing School Board member and a member of Veterans for Peace Chapter 115.