Our History of Violence
Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.
On December 14 a mentally disturbed young man killed twenty children and six adults in a school in Newtown, Conn.
That night, Bill O’Reilly of Fox News asked: “Why do things like this happen so much in the United States?” The answer to this key question must include, in addition to the prevalence of weapons in our society, our history of military violence, which now features the use of drones to kill targeted terrorists but which almost always includes the slaughter of some civilians. Throughout Latin America, we have a consistent history of supporting military dictatorships and training their troops who have perpetrated massacres of children far more massive than that of Newtown.
Those of us who defend the right to life of all persons must be all-inclusive in our struggle.
In comparison with video games and movies, our military violence may have a more powerful impact on us since it is not reality show; it is reality. The killings are done by our government, in our name, and are considered legitimate.
Our use of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II and our readiness to use them again, our torturing of prisoners during the George W. Bush administration, and our “targeted assassinations” teach the American public that the human person is not inviolable and that life can be deliberately taken when “necessary.” The “taking out” of Bin Laden was widely (and literally) applauded; but if he could have been captured and put on trial, then his execution was a murder of choice.
Similarly, the death penalty – the cold-blooded, premeditated killing of a person – proclaims that our authorities and public do not really consider the right to life sacred.
We must also analyze our culture of violence: video games, movies and TV, music, and even our increasingly rough sports. Living in this culture predisposes us to hurt and even kill when we deem it “necessary.”
The easy availability of weapons of war in our society is only one of the factors contributing to our barbarous behavior. Of course, guns must be controlled, since they turn aggravated assault into murder or massacre.
Another fact of contemporary American life which plays a part in the upsurge of mass murders in recent years is the reduction in budgets of mental health departments. Those who advocate the gutting of government services have left us vulnerable to the crazed behavior of sick people who have fallen through the increasingly larger cracks in the system.
Dealing with our epidemic of mass murder is a multi-faceted challenge which can no longer be ignored.
The author is a Jesuit priest from Detroit who works in Nicaragua.