Thoughts on War and Peace
Putting Violence in Its Place
A few years ago, on Memorial Day, there it was - in between wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery and a lot of crying at memorials like the one dedicated to Vietnam vets, film footage from Texas showed people blasting away at old car wrecks with machine guns and automatic rifles.
On that same day one of the most conservative members of Congress was speaking out in favor of a ban on automatic weapons, while another person who was shooting those cars was quoted on the evening news: "Let's face it. Lots of people died during the wars so we could do this."
Now, we all know about the Second Amendment, the one that defends the right to bear arms and supports the fuctions of a militia. We also know about the NRA and lots of people close to us who own guns and shoot them and want to keep right on doing that. But still, there was something alarming in that Texan's comment. Many Americans have died in wars, but were their deaths really in defense of target shooting?
I suspect even that shooter meant something else, more like 'Don't take away my guns.' Still, there must be at least one or two freedoms we value more than the right to own an automatic weapor or a machine gun. Studying history, we become aware that people have fought to preserve the right to free speech and honest voting, the freedom of worship and just tax systems, the right to a free trial, as well as freedom from illegal search and seizure, not to mention warding off attacks by unfriendly nations. Americans have even gone to war to assist other countries in fighting for freedoms like ours, just as our own Revolution received some outside assistance from across the Atlantic.
Now, perhaps I missed it, but I don't ever remember reading or hearing about someone in America going to war to preserve the right to blast an old Pontiac. As for the clamoring among some that all citizens should arm themselves to combat crime and deter violence on campuses and in businesses, those persons need to be told that the days of the vigilante are over. There are no more gunfights at the OK Corral. The West has already been won - at a very high cost and with real harm done in the process to a lot of people, by the way.
Maybe we do need some guns around to keep our government and military honest, and people who want to hunt or target-shoot or collect old guns should be able to do so - along with practicing safe gun techniques to prevent undeserved injury. But there's a deeper issue behind most arguments about gun control and gun use.
George Carlin, the comedian who died recently, observed more than once that America seems enchanted with thoughts of violence and making war. He pointed out that we've declared war on poverty, war on drugs, war on crime, war on hunger, war on disease and wars for dozens of other causes. About the only slogan that's missing, he observed, is a war on peace.
That's humorous, and also insightful. Is there something in us as a nation that is too closely tied to making war? Are violence and force too much a part of our thinking, our videos and movies, our game-playing and political policies?
Don't misunderstand. I have no quarrel with defending our country, or one's family or society's laws - or even the fighting of a "just war," though that kind of endeavor is becoming harder and harder to define and nearly impossible to win in any real sense in a world still plagued with nuclear weapons and terrorism. I have no doubt that, should any nation threaten us, the people of these United States would fight to the last person to protect the freedoms we've come to love and call sacred.
But fighting as a first resort, or fighting in defense of questionable personal goals (like owning and using submachine guns or other war weapons) seems like overkill to me [pun intended]. There are lots of urgent causes we might someday have reason to die for, but violence for the sake of violence isn't one of them.