Columns 2017

Our world of horror

Growing up in the fifties, I spent a lot of time in a school hallway with my hands over my head or hiding under my desk. These were drills for the day when the godless communists would rain atom bombs down on America. According to the nuns, our hands or our desks would protect us from such an attack.

Sounds simplistic beyond belief now. How could even a little child believe that? Well, we did because back then, teachers were gods and if they said so, it must be true. And when those teachers were also nuns who had married Jesus – well, how much closer to the truth could you get?

The other advantage we had was that we didn’t have a daily dose of mayhem and destruction fed to us through our TVs. Atom bombs weren’t falling. Pictures of people running through the streets covered in blood weren’t seen. Childhood was allowed to exist in a bubble where all was safe and secure and holding your hands over your head protected you from nuclear fall out.

Kids today don’t have it so good. Pictures of bloody chaos are daily occurrences. And these pictures don’t just come from countries whose people don’t look like us. They come from countries very much like us. That makes it all the more scary and personal. While death and devastation anywhere is a tragedy, when you’re a child and you see those things happening in places you can’t imagine – places without paved streets and malls, places where people dress differently and look different – you can put a wall up between those pictures and your own reality. But when those bloody attacks happen in places that look all too familiar and to people who look and dress like you, it gets scary fast.

I have never been able to fathom the thinking that goes into random attacks of terror, whether it’s a knife wielding man in Portland or a knife wielding man in London. Both seem so angry at everything in their world. Both seem to feel that their world has somehow ignored or marginalized them. Both seem to feel that mayhem and death is the only answer. Whether you’re bombing a federal building or a concert, the same question has to be asked. Within what perverted logic do those acts lead to a resolution of anything?

What’s even scarier is that we now seem to have permission in America to use violence as the first choice of response. Voters in Montana were interviewed about their newly elected member of the House of Representatives body slamming a reporter. Far too many of them expressed satisfaction over the incident, claiming the reporter deserved it for asking questions.

Has all civility broken down in America? Is a free press something we will soon only see in the rearview mirror? And how can we condemn violence around the world while approving and celebrating it locally? Remember the cheers at Orangeman’s rallies when he urged the crowd to get violent with dissenters? Was that the point where tacit approval was given to allowing our worse impulses to win out over any attempt at civilized behavior? It feels as though we are careening towards a Mad Max future.

We are closing in on our second decade of a war with terrorists. I won’t call them Muslim terrorists anymore than I will call the Portland racist a Christian terrorist. Neither religion is represented by these violent extremes. They are being used to cover up murderous hate and rage and, I’m guessing, the very small hands of most terrorists. There are young people in the Mideast who do not know a time when American bombs weren’t falling on their country and crazed extremists weren’t wantonly murdering their families. I can’t imagine the PTSD those young people face in their future… if they have one.

I feel tremendous sadness for kids today who can’t avoid seeing the hate, mayhem, violence and death that are now daily occurrences on a scale we could not possibly have imagined in my childhood. Seems like we should be making this world a better place. Instead, we lurch from one horrendous act to another until we are so numb and overwhelmed we can’t do much more than lose ourselves in the Kardashians while hoping some miracle will clean up the mess.

The answer might be as simple as this. Each of us can do no more nor less than working to see that our part of the world is safe and secure for our children. Maybe we create peace one small section of the world at a time. Maybe that’s the best we can do. At least it’s a start.