“I think the real danger in our society is that we have digested and held in our bellies so much violence that it becomes hard to be moral.” – Arundhati Roy
If you want to honor the dead from tomorrow’s wars, they’ll be at your neighborhood playground growing up in a country in a perpetual state of war.
In 2011, the Santa Rosa Police Department displayed a SWAT vehicle and semi-automatic weapons at a family event in a public park. Children as young as four were encouraged to pick up those weapons. An AK-47 is too heavy for a four-year-old, so officers helped them. Now, think of the children the US is grooming for tomorrow’s wars.
Moral injury is the psychic injury created by taking part in something that violates one’s soul, something contrary to one’s values. This country tries to influence those values so that one’s actions as a soldier won’t be in conflict.
Therefore, boys are brought up in a culture of war as play– to normalize it – toy soldiers or video games or a Top
Gun movie. Later, some of them go to war, only to return bringing physical or emotional violence and alienation
PTSD can be a physical reaction to something as simple as the backfiring of a car throwing one back to a street in Iraq or a MASH unit in the jungle. PTSD may be what caused Erick Gelhaus to see the toy gun in Andy Lopez’ hand and to shoot him within seconds, without being threatened, as deposition testimony has shown. We try to keep the war “over there,” but it finds its way home. Locally, 13-yeara-old Andy was killed for carrying a toy gun, a gun that looked something like the gun officers placed in the hands of children at our local park. It’s time to make the connections.
During my years at the Peace & Justice Center, I was making connections between issues, but nothing pulled them all together so clearly as the killing of Andy Lopez. Andy lived in a world that didn’t have his best interests at heart. In his short life, he dealt with poverty, racism, national borders used to exploit and demonize, a future offering lower wages and fewer opportunities for employment, a school-to-prison pipeline. While corporate criminals went free, he was told it is criminal to join a gang.
And the gun? Andy had the misfortune to be a child in a culture that glorifies guns, war and violence, and tempts children with aisles of war toys and screens filled with gore. And, when he picked up on all the messages sent his way, the county used that to justify killing him. And who killed him? A man who had returned from multiple tours of duty in a war zone. Two very different victims of war, but both victims, nonetheless. And politicians will tell you, with straight faces, that America loves its children despite conditioning them to be cannon fodder and/or killers. The poet David Whyte has said that to be young now, to understand, despite the rhetoric, how little you are valued and how little the world has to offer you, must be to be in a perpetual state of existential despair.
Back when soldier mutiny in Vietnam, and war resistance at home, were at their height, we thought we might be getting a handle on this. We thought people were waking up and rejecting war as the primary forum for international relations. What we didn’t know is that the military had changed its training of soldiers to make them more accepting of violence. This is detailed in Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. The US Defense Department knew and accepted that this would increase the violence on our streets and in our homes.
Additionally, the powers-that-be know how to play on fear. September 11 was exploited to justify an ever-tightening noose in this country. And, despite decades of U.S. violence around the world, people are being told (and believing) that other countries are led by maniacs and bullies, but ours fosters peace.
Violence is the key organizing principle, as MLK, Jr. recognized – the threat of it from others, the guarantee of it from the US. This makes what was once unacceptable, acceptable: The militarization of law enforcement, the erosion of civil liberties, the creation of the security state, perpetual war.
And getting back to the children? Where once the photo of a young Vietnamese girl running down the road, her back on fire, helped spur us to demand an end to that war, we are now so inundated with photographs of children’s bodies floating in the Mediterranean or lying in pools of their own blood in schools, that we sigh for a moment, feel helpless and then, on to the next one.
We claim that past systems of justice – cutting off a hand for stealing a loaf of bread, hanging for minor offenses – were barbaric. But we watch officers shoot unarmed people in the streets, some of whom have committed no crime or minor ones, and we don’t seem to understand that we are ourselves barbaric. We watch on our
cellphones, in the comfort of our living rooms, front row seat to the hanging.
So, where does this leave us? I’ve been told that I’m much too depressing. But I believe very strongly that you can’t solve a problem until you really understand it. This allows for two things. First, that you will find that almost everything you are being told is a lie. You don’t get to be president or senator or congressperson without having learned the art of deception. The ultimate power is the ability to get people to accept that what is good for the elite is good for them as well and inevitable. Most people who live in the United States believe that there is no real alternative to this system, including its violence.
And the second thing? Now, you’re free.
Once you realize that you’re being told lies to benefit someone else, you’re free to imagine everything else that is possible. Have we then solved the problem? No. Will we solve this problem before it’s too late? I don’t know, but it’s time for a detour from the prescribed path. We can take the road not taken and teach our children their value as human beings among other equally valuable living creations and not cogs in a machine. It’s time to let our imaginations work the magic of which we are capable but have forgotten we possess.