A deranged soldier, armed with gun and knife, walks off the base into the nearby small town, and massacres 16 people, including 9 children.
No, it’s not the plot of the latest Schwarzenegger movie.
It’s real life in Afghanistan.
Or Oslo, Norway.
Or Homs, Syria.
Or the local high school or university in Anytown, USA.
What happened in Afghanistan this week is part of an ever-escalating pattern of violence visited on innocent civilians by armed men.
Whether the men are sponsored by a state (ie, they’re soldiers), are part of armed militias (think Taliban or Janjaweed or Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army) or individual “rogue” psychopaths is immaterial to the victims of the violence.
The larger point that must be reckoned with is that we cannot expect to live in a global society dripping with arms and saturated with constant virtual and real instances of violence, and come away unscathed.
Americans are always so shocked when the violence happens in our backyard, as in school shootings or Timothy McVeigh-style bombings or police brutality against unarmed Occupy protesters.
We’re shocked when our soldiers, “our boys,” commit atrocities while serving in the armed forces abroad.
But how can we expect our boys to be immune to the general atmosphere of violence that we all live and breathe—young boys and men in particular?
People like to argue about whether playing countless hours of shoot-em-up video games results in more violent youth.
All I can tell you is that the military now uses video game technology to teach warfare to young soldiers, and one of the goals is precisely to overcome the natural human aversion to killing, especially killing those who haven’t done you any harm.
In the class I teach periodically on gendered violence in military culture and war, we read excerpts from the work of Lt. Col. David Grossman, who maintains a website called “Killology.com.”
Grossman, a psychologist who has become one of the most sought-after military and police trainers in the U.S., if not the world, defines “killology” as “the study of the reactions of healthy people in killing circumstances (such as police and military in combat) and the factors that enable and restrain killing in these situations.”
Grossman began his career teaching soldiers and police officers “the psychological techniques needed to develop Mental Toughness, a Survival Mindset, and a Hardened Focus,” integrating “psychological skills with physical and tactical training… to achieve maximal performance excellence as a modern warrior.”
Interestingly, now he not only offers training in the psychological “hardening” necessary to become a socially sanctioned killer—ie, a soldier–but also has begun to write and speak out against media violence, which, he says, teaches children to kill.
I think he would agree that what happened at Abu Ghraib a few years back, or in Afghanistan this week, when ordinary American soldiers go haywire and start torturing and killing civilians, is not just a case of a few bad apples.
If we allow our kids to grow up playing “harmless” violent games that are ever more realistic, gripping their imaginations and giving them access to the bloodthirsty, adrenalin high of killing, we can’t expect them to be agents of peace, especially when, as soldiers, they are further trained for war and given real weapons and the authority to use them.
My heart bleeds for the victims of this latest massacre in Afghanistan. I can hardly imagine the pain of the survivors of the family of nine children and their mother annihilated all in one foul blow.
They aren’t the first, and they won’t be the last innocent bystanders to be caught in the crossfire of a senseless war.
I think of the many other places in the world where civilians have been caught in the crossfire of baleful enemies: Central and South America in the 1970s and 80s, when the US and USSR funded proxy wars that wreaked havoc with innocent local communities; current conflicts in Africa and the Middle East that are really about the control—by outsiders, the same old Great Powers–of ever-shrinking resources; the list goes on.
Like the Russians before them, the American military is preparing to throw up its hands and give Afghanistan back to the warlords.
It will be a disaster for the women and girls there, who had begun to hope that a more liberal mindset might prevail and help them shake off the bonds of radical Islamic gender-based oppression.
Perhaps it is up to the women of the world to rise up together to insist that our men and boys stop pouring so much time, energy and money into creating and using lethal weapons, and representations of violence.
We have seen what happens when we let boys be boys and play with their guns, real or virtual.
Can we afford to stand by and watch the endless replay of rapes, homicides, massacres, the endless parade of crippled bombing victims, the burned, the sightless, the psychologically damaged for life?
I am losing faith in the ability of the men in charge to solve this problem.
Back to Lysistrata!
If we want life, we women have to walk boldly forward and manifest our visions of peace, security and cooperation.
We need to create a procession of the world’s women, those who will stand up for peace and nonviolence—a procession so long, so wide and so loud that it cannot be ignored.