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Not in My Backyard: Facing the Violence of Those We Send to War

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Not to trivialize the brutal killings of the children and school personnel in Connecticut on December 14th. Not at all. I was shocked, saddened, worried. I am left needing to know about the psyche of the young man who used his mother's weapons to kill her and so many of her children, the children in her school.

Meanwhile, while many are vociferously making their points (and I would agree) about the urgency of passing stricter gun laws I'd like to add a focus on something else, which is our tendency to keep the possibility of everyone becoming violent far away. A neighbor in speaking of this, said "Yeah, it's like it 'could never happen in my backyard' until it does".

I mentioned to her my thought that we are obligated to make the stories of our veterans as vivid as the addictive (I confess I am newly one of the addicts) television series Homeland with Claire Danes, all the better to know the depth of what a person can do under certain circumstances. When we watch a show like "Homeland" we find ourselves not only mesmerized by the characters and the story line, but we find also our capacity to empathize and even identify with all sorts of human terror, fear, and aggression.

There are many, including Michael Moore who philosophize about the American proclivity towards violence, and I consider that a discussion we need to be continuing, not just when a tragedy happens but after and before. Instead of pointing to the devil, or the lack of enough praying, we need instead to focus -- however difficult it can seem -- on how people become as violent as they become and how we are all capable of terrible violence as well.

Arianna Huffington has called the war in Afghanistan the longest and most underreported. The question of why is to me answered rather easily at this point. I have been attending to our fear of becoming aware of our own violence, and I have reason to believe that if we were to make the stories of our troops, there or at home, as nakedly dramatic and intimate as they are, we would be swept into them as much as we are into any television series. They are no less interesting, and they may be even more haunting. Because the stories would be based on real people, we would have to confront one of the truths we seem to resist most: they are us, they are as violent, battered, hurt and scared as we could be under those circumstances.

Rather than just looking at the violence in our media or the American culture alone, we might do well to look at violence of a more indirect nature. If we have a war or wars we do not attend to with knowledge and curiosity and caring, as when we have pockets of severe poverty with morbid rates of homicide by guns as well as other weapons, we are still complicit -- we are part of the violence if we turn our heads. And of course, we are busy, we have lives, we have anxieties and we are kept immersed in the flurry of interpersonal comparisons so we don't have to look at some of the more basic issues and events. In addition we have loads of pop psychological slogans telling us to breathe and concentrate only on the good and the happy, keeping us in a trance that discourages our building coping mechanisms to face the more inconvenient truths outside and within us as well.

I think we need to have, not a bunch of rhetoric about violence and guns, but a set of carefully designed groups of citizens and talented people who care who can begin to investigate the causes of psychological, media and other forms, that leads to the violence that is intermittent and tragic for those who are killed, their loved ones, and all those who will be forever traumatized by being there. As we are a huge land of dispersed people, we have to find ways of being there in imaginative ways that lend to some sense of caring and community.

We won't solve issues of violence if we don't recognize the violence potential within ourselves rather than warning and preaching against it only. So even though I have not been a supporter of our wars in either Iraq or Afghanistan, I feel we will never understand a thing about the human toll until we meet the soldiers, and perhaps more of the civilians and others trapped in misery and despair. And until we come to admit and know that the capacity for violence is in us all, we will stay away from knowledge and continue the local and global sport of blaming.

I guess it's a way of saying also that we won't learn from the present or from history until we find ways of tolerating regret, grief, and learning that there is no such thing as absolute innocence as long as we are human. It's scary at first to admit the bad stuff, but the relief of finding people who can face welcome the inconvenient truths, can be a start, more so because we can begin to reduce and even eliminate the pressure of proving we are nearer to perfect than we are.

There is no offense meant in my using the violence of Connecticut as a jumping off point. My thoughts about the soldiers and civilians in our current wars, were there before. I feel terrible about the families in Connecticut, and I feel terrible also about the families of our soldiers and about them. I think it's time we connect the dots, and start to delve instead of demonize. The violence, after all, like everything in human ecology, is not unconnected.