We are steeped in violence.
This past week was of course a searing reminder: Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon and the ensuing manhunt that ended on Friday with the death of one suspect and the capture of another, his brother, dominated the news. But there were other troubling, if less traumatic reminders, too. On Tuesday, a 577-page report by the Constitution Project concluded that the United States had engaged in torture after the Sept. 11 attacks. On Wednesday, a turning point in the heated national debate on gun control was reached when the United States Senate dropped consideration of some minimal restrictions on the sale and distribution of guns. Looming above all this is the painful memory of the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Now is as good a time as any to reflect on our responses to the many recent horrors that seem to have engulfed us, and to consider whether we can hope to move from an ethos of violence to one nonviolence. Facing ourselves squarely at this difficult moment might provide a better lesson for the future than allowing ourselves to once again give in to blind fury.
We might begin by asking the question, Who are we now?
Clearly, we are a violent country. Our murder rate is three to five timest hat of most other industrialized countries. The massacres that regularly take place here are predictable in their occurrence, if not in their time and place. Moreover, and more telling, our response to violence is typically more violence. We display our might — or what is left of it — abroad in order to address perceived injustices or a threat to our interests. We still have not rid ourselves of the death penalty, a fact that fills those in other countries with disbelief. Many of us, in response to the mindless gun violence around us, prescribe more guns as the solution, as the Republicans sought to do during the gun debate. And we torture people. It is as though, in thinking that the world responds only to violence, we reveal ourselves rather than the world.
Why is this? How has the United States become so saturated in slaughter?
There are, of course, many reasons, but three stand out …
By Todd May, The New York Times Opinionator