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Apr 16, 2007

 When Killing Becomes Holy, Everyone Wants to Pray


by Charles Carreon
April 16, 2007


I and people of my generation were taught that human society evolved out of barbarism, away from horrific usages like slavery, torture, and murder, because we have gradually adopted virtues like humane treatment of all human beings. This progress was said to have been slow and difficult. A thousand years ago, a Nordic poet proclaimed in the saga of Beowulf, “A good king does not kill his nobles in drunken rages.” Moses proclaimed as his Sixth Commandment — “Thou shalt not kill.” I learned that the norms of basic non-violence were the essential terms of the “social contract” that made life secure, freeing us from the tyranny of lives that would otherwise be “nasty, brutish, and short.”

That was, of course, before the neocons came up with a new definition of civilization. Their plan for civilization was much along the old plan of “civilizing” the “inferior races” to make the world safe for “our way of life.” Believing that coercion and threat had unfairly received a bad name, armed with concepts like “the Management Secrets of Attila the Hun” that they imbibed in Business School, people like Wolfowitz and Cheney promised a return to the old values that alone could assure the future of our society — never mind that our society would be turned into a police state and our politicians into dictators in the process of revamping government to meet the challenges of the New American Century. Human impulses had to be jettisoned, like excess baggage during a storm. The dangers of kindness were too great, we were told. Our impulse to be kind would be our undoing. We had to resort to the old methods — kidnapping, torture, and blackmail, or we would go down in defeat before an enemy to whom scruples were alien. The only way to save our way of life, we were told, was to turn our back on it.

Today the nation wrings its collective hands like Lady Macbeth, trying to wash off the stain of blood from its hands. The media, ever reassuring the nation's viewers that we are a nation of right-thinking people, indulges a well-entitled sense of perplexity about this unfathomable circumstance. Although school and workplace shootings have become a staple of American life, people persist in “wondering why these things happen.” There is plenty of evidence in plain sight, of course, but the media will not see it.

“Trickle down” dynamics affect more than economics. The drip, drip, drip of violent behavior is percolating down from the top. Living in a world governed by war profiteers, given the choice between poverty and military service, and taught to believe that problems are solved by gunfire, it is easy to understand how tormented young men so often explode in violence. This time the horror unfolded swiftly in a white enclave of higher education, whereas it occurs steadily and commonly in minority neighborhoods. The LAPD reports 92 homicides, 179 rapes, 3553 robberies, and 3215 aggravated assaults this year already, and no plan is in place to stop it, nor does the nation stop to consider these statistics with shock and regret.

While we are devising a plan to prevent future “Virginia Techs” from destroying the fabric of higher education, we might do well to consider a broader social initiative to bring peace to every street and neighborhood, all across this nation, and in other lands, where young Americans are doing a great deal of shooting under the presumption that it is necessary and honorable service. What if it were not? What if it were simply the needless infliction of grief?

Delay in stopping killing is always wrong, and if it seems blameworthy to some people that the college authorities failed to act for 2 hours after the first shooting today, how much more blameworthy that our nation has not yet reversed course in Iraq, years after it became apparent that we could do little but sponsor further carnage. Killing should always be stopped as swiftly as possible, at both the personal and political levels. As individuals, we should personally resolve not to engage in killing people. As members of a self-governing democracy, we should restrain our public officials from kidnapping, torturing, and killing people in other countries. One good deed will lay the foundation for another, and eventually, peace will be the result of our efforts.