May 21, 1999 06:29 AM
by M K Ramadoss
In the wake of recent school shootings, there is much talk about the
culture of violence. I found an interesting writeup by a journalist - Ellen
Goodman in today's newspaper. The article clearly zeros in the fundamental
problem that the public and politicians seems to ignore.
Speaking of violence, what about war?
It is impolite when everybody around the table seems to have settled into
such a comfortable discussion about violence.
Side by side we have folks complaining that Republicans are too meek on gun
control and Democrats are too weak in countering Hollywood. Now the
president has concluded " there are far too many vulnerable children who
are steeped in this culture of violence."
Something is missing from this discussion.... no one has mentioned the
Is it possible that we can understand a culture of violence without talking
about war? I do not mean war movies or war video games. I mean the real thing.
Over the past weeks, the news has been full of massacre at Littleton adn
the bombing of Kosovo -- reports that are simultaneously both stunning and
This is what sticks in my mind in the aftermath of Columbine High School.
Remember Eric Harris' essay in which he portrayed himself as a shotgun
shell? A worried teacher went to discuss the violence with Harris' father.
But, reported the NY Times, "after the teacher learned that Mr. Harris was
a retired Air Force officer and that his son hope to enlist in the
military, she concluded that the essay was consistent with his future
This teen-ager's hopes and dreams and fantasies and games were about war.
As a boy, he and his brother played some variation of "Rambo." On the
computer, he and his friends played "Doom" and "Duke Nukem." But it was OK
because his 'future career aspirations" were to be a warrior.
When Eric heard that we were on the verge of bombing Yugo he told a
classmate, "I hope we do go to war. I'll be the first one there." It was
only after his rejection by the Marines that Harris turned his high school
into a war zone.
Have we forgotten the background of the socially acceptable, socially
heroic culture of violence: war?
We have been reluctant to talk about violence as a boy culture. Mothers
will tell you that even sons forbidden to have toy guns will go around the
backyard "shooting" with twigs. How many parents train their sons to fight
their own battles in the face of bullies? How many of us accept as "boy
stuff" the video games that we are now told are virtual training sessions
for military de-sensitization?
Do we abandon our sons to the culture of violence out of a subconscious
agreement that boys may have to be warriors? How many of us raise boys
wondering if they will go to war?
At times it seems that everything is turned upside down. In Kosovo, we
have forgotten that war is hell. We expect "surgical strikes." We call our
military on the carpet if they hit a Chinese Embassy or a field of
refugees. And we are shocked -- shocked! -- when an American plane goes
down and a soldier is killed. War isn't supposed to be dangerous.
Indeed, in August we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Geneva
Conventions that wrote civilized "rules" for the horror that is war. And in
Washington, without any sense of irony, our leaders ask simultaneously for
more money for bombs and stronger policies for gun control or Hollywood
The Marines were proud that they kept Eric Harris out of the corps. The
system worked! But is not war the system, the career aspiration for a
young, disturbed war lover?
I am not speaking as a pacifist. I don't think we can stay on the sidelines
of every dispute. There are, as well, times for self-defense. War happens.
But let us not deceive ourselves. To have a discussion about violence
without talking about war is like talking about war without talking about
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