A Violent America, or The Hunger Games


The Northeast has suffered a lot this fall. First there was Sandy, now the Newtown slaughter. Many died in Sandy, and many continue to suffer from the storm.
This past week, in Connecticut, 27 people died violent deaths. Twenty of these folks were small children. It’s inconceivable on the one hand, and yet children and innocent people are murdered every day. Over 10, 000 human beings are killed yearly in the U.S. with handguns.
There have been 61 incidents of mass murder since Columbine in 1999.
I agree with Michael Moore, that the violence is about more than weak gun laws or mental health issues–although clearly both are problematic and I’m all for instating rigid gun regulations, and improving our mental health system.
Like Moore, I think the problem has to do with our culture. We live in a land of glorified violence and meanness. Turn on the TV, go to a Hollywood film, play a few internet games, listen closely to our language, and watch how our children do or don’t play. And, let’s not forget our investment in wars and violence worldwide; we, the great American protectors, do a lot of killing on this planet. Notice how much we spend on our weapons–including thousands of nuclear missiles set on hair trigger alert, even though the cold war is over. We spend far more on the military than on education, the environment, and feeding and caring for the hungry and poor–all put together.
We are a violent nation.
Our culture of violence lives deeply in each and every one of us, and that is why our streets –even in “good” surburban neighborhoods–are empty of children playing. We are all afraid.
Because of this fear, children have had the play taken out of them and this contributes to the cycle of violence. We keep them inside, and/or busy with structured activities, because we’re afraid for them, and yet, ironically, our children watch hours and hours of violent images on their computers, smart phones, and TVs. We all know the statistics of how many deaths, rapes, and murders kids see each week on their screens.
Of course, there are the children of less privilege. Shootings are nothing new to the kids from poorer neighborhoods. They can’t go outside without getting shot, every day, every hour.
No wonder our kids bully each other mercilessly. And, no wonder the violence keeps escalating. It’s what popular culture represents as normal and acceptable. Fear and violence are fun(ny) and entertaining.
A few examples:
Check out the popular reality show Dance Moms. The entire drama centers around mothers and their shared dance teacher screaming at each other. They have near-physical fights over dance parts for the girls. The little girls sit quietly and watch their elders battle it out.
Harry Potter, everyone’s favorite kid movie, is jam-packed with violence and edge- of-your-seat fear.
What about that other recent favorite —The Hunger Games–where children brutally and elaborately murder each other and only one–the most cleverly violent of all, survives?
I’m not just blaming Hollywood or the media, though. I’m blaming all of us.
Maybe now, since Newtown and the murder of such young innocents, we’ll wake up and work for effective change–legally and ideologically. Obama and Congress, as well as all American citizens, must not ignore this issue anymore. There’s too much visible blood on everyone’s hands.
Senator Richard Blumenthal says this is a “transformative moment.”
President Obama says, “this violence must end” and, today, he pledges action.
As Van Jones points out regarding the climate crisis, change has to come from the top (politics and the legal system), the bottom (grassroots activism) and the inside (what I like to think of as the internal heart of our culture). The same goes for our crisis of violence. We need our politicians to protect us from the weapons with gun laws and the elimination of imperialistic war-mongering. We need activists to push for this change to happen. And, the citizens of this nation need a change of attitude:from violence, hostility and anger, to tolerance, peace and love. This might sound radical. It is.
In the 1960s, a movement rose up, a movement of peace that drew on the work of Gandhi. Peaceniks marched to end the Viet Nam war and advocated on behalf of widespread non-violence. At the end of the war, they fought to eliminate nuclear weapons. Peaceniks united with the Civil Rights movement to end racial violence as well. They practiced non-violent methods of protest–if the police attacked them, they went limp. Remember the famous photograph of the protester putting a flower in the nozzle of a weapon?
Their motto was: “Teach Peace.”

They promoted love, tolerance, and understanding. They said we must talk to each other, lay down our weapons, and learn effective and peaceful communication skills.
Parents stopped buying their children toy weapons. They wanted to eliminate the idea of violence as acceptable even in play.
These folks stopped the Viet Nam War. They helped to get rid of the Jim Crow and other racially discriminatory laws.
Isn’t it about time we listened to their wisdom?
It’s time to talk peace education in our schools, religious institutions and in our homes. It’s time to rebuild our towns, cities, and nation, and re-envision what a truly “peaceful and sustainable community” might look like.
A terrific new student-lead peace project is theTeach Peace Initiative. Get your kids, families, and schools involved in this one!
As David Roberts eloquently says in his piece at Grist about the Newtown massacre, we need to develop personal and cultural“empathy.” We must recognize that the children who were murdered in Newtown are “all of our children.”
Ultimately, only when we hold each child on this earth in our hearts will deep and effective peaceful change arise. In my mind, this also includes the ignored underprivileged children who are violated, raped, and killed every day across the globe.
If all children are all of our children, how can we think of building and selling weapons? How can we start and fight wars? How can we allow the poisoning and degradation of the biosphere?
So, as we bury and mourn the loss of these sweet innocents in Newtown, we must make our goal the widespread cultural development of compassion, empathy, love– and, finally, peace.

0 thoughts on “A Violent America, or The Hunger Games

  1. Excellent work here, Heidi! Shel and I just purchased a dvd, for gifting, of “A Dog Named Christmas: which we had seen on the hallmark channel…it’s like a Shakespeare play in that there are many layers…and the message(s) are so deep and meaningful. We were shocked, when we played it ourselves, to see that there are a bunch of extremely violent previews before the feature comes on!!! We are disgusted with that, but will send the dvd on anyway…with a note saying to try to skip the previews. Again…thank you for this effort you have made in this essay…I want to share it around. –bss

  2. Wonderful piece, Heidi! I agree with all of it and I’m so glad to learn about the Peace Initiative — that started right here in Maryland. The story of their founding (that I just read on their website) is poignant — the man who demonstrated at a conference that we all learn about the men who break the peace but not about the women who make the peace. Time to change that.

  3. Heidi, very thoughtful, and compassionate. I believe most of our fellow citizens would agree. We need to teach peace. But are we a violent nation? Or are there simply those among us who are violent and then because of their violence all of us are branded as such? Would not the same dynamic apply to those among us who commit humanitarian acts everyday? Are we more so a humanitarian nation as we help the helpless, protect the defenseless, feed the hungry, house the unsheltered, clothe those who are in rags? Or, because we have some people who are homeless, and because we have some people who suffer from neglect or abuse, are all of us thus identified as callous and indifferent?
    We cannot escape history. From the beginning we were armed and dangerous. The British were constantly struck by the fact that the American colonists all possessed fire arms. Our people, mostly farmers at the time, were also hunter-gatherers. Bringing home game was an act of feeding ourselves. Yet after our revolution we continued to enslave Africans and slaughter “Indians.” We took land away from native peoples as we betrayed our treaties with them. After re-construction the KKK rose up to terrorize and subjugate freed slaves. Organized crime dominated many urban communities.
    But of course you know all this. I recite it only as background to where we are today. Many years ago I befriended a physician who was a Quaker. I admired her commitment to non-violence. Yet I had to reconcile my own belief that non-violence would never have defeated fascism or stopped the Holocaust. A criminal about to rape my wife or kill my brother would not likely be stopped by friendly persuasion. Lethal force is a necessity in law enforcement.
    That said I am as horrified at the massacre in Connecticut as the next person and utterly disgusted with the primeval view that arming everyone should be our response. What I believe most strongly is that a big part of our solution is in political struggle: those who believe in common-sense fire-arm regulation versus those who believe any regulation whatsoever is intended to deprive people of the “right to bear arms” (and I do not interpret the Second Amendment to mean not only that everyone is entitled to armaments, but also to as many as they want– “well regulated” is unambiguous and we certainly have failed on that account).
    I believe that universal background checks must be applied nationwide. Presently many states will permit weapons purchases with no questions asked. Carrying concealed weapons is another problem. Too many states allow that. I don’t believe anyone except law enforcement should be allowed to carry concealed weapons. Assault weapons and automatic weapons should be banned. Period. The only people who should have access to them should be law enforcement and military personnel. Multi-bullet clips should be banned. Unlimited ammunition sales should be banned. And these simple concepts are just for starters.
    If you listen to the most strident defenders of gun rights– chief among them the NRA– they entirely buy in to the discussion on “mental illness” and “video game violence.” I believe these to be deliberate distractions on their part. They want the focus not to be on controlling access to weapons but on some sort of self-monitoring mechanism for social control. While I would not contend that this issue has no merit, I believe it misses the point. Every society will always have unstable people. And in our society with its firmly held convictions of freedom of speech, changing the culture will continue to be an age-old process taking generation after generation. We can work on it but it won’t take guns out of the wrong hands. What we need are strong governmental measures and we must resolve ourselves over the long run to battling the forces of the gun culture.
    The experience elsewhere in the world is instructive. In countries where strong gun regulations are in place, gun violence is reduced. We may certainly be perceived as a violent nation compared to the rest but I believe there is a stronger perception that we are also a nation of laws. Now is the time to demonstrate that best by stronger laws on gun ownership.

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