Given the circumstantial evidence we've all heard or read about in the arrest
of the Persian Gulf War vet John Allen Muhammad and his "stepson" John Lee Malvo
in connection with the maniacal sniper killings, we apparently are faced with
yet another tragic case of chickens coming home to roost.
Although most combat veterans don't turn into sociopaths upon completion of
their tour of duty, I'd be a fool to think military training doesn't come with
terrible psychological consequences for the combat survivor and harmful social
consequences for the rest of us.
Ever since I was a kid, I've been extremely concerned about the violence in
the world around me. That, coupled with heavy doses of Jesus, Martin Luther King
Jr. and Gandhi studies, has made me try to penetrate the mysteries of peace of
security virtually all my life.
My study was aided by a book called "On Killing," written by retired Lt. Col.
Dave Grossman, a former Army Airborne Ranger infantry officer and West Point Academy
psychology and military science professor.
The book was a Pulitzer Prize nominee and is required reading at West Point,
the U.S. Air Force Academy and in peace studies programs in colleges and universities
across the country.
Grossman, a scholar, lecturer and author, is considered to be one of the world's
foremost authorities on the roots of violence and violent crime. He is also the
director of the Killology Research Group, whose mission is to highlight "the psychological
cost of learning to kill" (see www.killology.com).
The other day I came across a news account of a talk he gave in April 2001
in which he described the four "killing enabling methods" used by the military
that are mirrored in our mass media today -- brutalization, classical conditioning,
operant conditioning and role models.
He said brutalization and classical conditioning methods assaulting American
minds everywhere are most evident in action-adventure movies where a horrible
act is followed not by a quest for justice but for vengeance -- "the evildoer's
"The people who do just want justice are seen as wishy-washy. They're just
in the way," he said, exposing the foolishness of war hawks and their verbal attacks
against so-called peaceniks and appeasers.
"The result is we have become a nation full of people who are going to make
others feel their pain. Whenever you feed death and violence and destruction to
your children, you reap what you sow in about 15 years," he added.
This all swirls through my head when thinking about the sick heart-mind of
the sniper and another Persian Gulf War vet Timothy McVeigh, who referred to his
victims as "collateral damage."
When Colin Powell, a good and intelligent military leader by most accounts,
was asked about the death toll of Iraqis following the Gulf War, he responded:
"It's not a number I'm particularly interested in."
Of course, Powell isn't even in the same category as McVeigh or the sniper.
But to talk about these things in terms of "good guys" and "bad guys" is clearly
overly simplistic. We're dealing with something much deeper here.
Now, let's consider Sisters Jackie Hudson, Carol Gilbert and Ardeth Platte
-- nuns affiliated with a peace group called Plowshares. Last week, they were
arraigned in a federal courthouse in Denver, charged with obstruction of the national
defense of the United States and injury of property of the United States.
These are the same charges that Osama bin Laden and his cohorts were charged
with in connection to the embassy bombings in Kenya a few years ago.
Their crime? Recognizing that while wealth doesn't always trickle down as supply-side
economists suppose, values certainly do. So the sisters took a pair of bolt cutters,
cut through the fence of a missile silo in Well County, Colo., poured some of
their own blood on top of the silo as a dramatic reminder of what these weapons
are used for, and then prayed until they were arrested.
Facing a possible 30 years in prison for their non-violent direct action, they
refused an offer to be released on personal recognizance because the bond requires
them not to participate in any further demonstrations.
As a matter of conscience, they couldn't accept the offer. I spoke to former
priest Bill Sulzman, who knows these peaceful women well. "These are very religious
women," he told me.
A pretrial conference is set for Dec. 13. A support rally for them is being
held in front of the Georgetown, Colo., jail on Nov. 10.
It strikes me that there are only two kinds of religion in this world today
-- the religion of violence and the religion of non-violence. Which religion do
you adhere to?
Sean Gonsalves is a columnist with the Cape Cod Times. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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