discomfort (2007-06)

Of Murder and Men

Growing weary of the killing

by Steve Dupree

I'm tired.

I'm tired of being frustrated. I'm tired of not being able to understand. I'm tired of feeling like a helpless part of the problem. I'm tired of the need to be sympathetic. I'm tired of the killing.

The latest numbers from the United Nations indicate that more than 34,000 Iraqis were violently killed last year. They were shot, burned, stabbed, tortured, blown up and I don't know what all. These were not all, or even mostly, insurgents or terrorists or military or police. No, the overwhelming majority of those killed were non-militant Iraqi citizens attempting to go about their daily lives, albeit in the war zone their communities have become. I read the stories in the news reports published on the Internet. I see the pictures of mothers weeping over the mutilated bodies of their children. Sadness has to be among the things I feel.

The U.S. military lost approximately 825 members to death in Iraq last year. God only knows how many were severely wounded physically and/or psychologically. I feel a brothers-in-arms sort of kinship with these Americans. I feel a physical pain with every image of a flag-draped coffin. I think of how terrified my mother was of having to bury one of her children, and I cannot begin to know what to say to those whose children have been offered up in military sacrifice.

Though it received scant coverage in the American media, our recent efforts in Somalia were rather grimly unsuccessful. Simple goat herders were gathered around large fires they built to ward off mosquitoes and were somehow mistaken for an al-Qaida encampment. The cost of the mistaken identity was borne almost exclusively by the goat herders and their families. They were killed. They were irrevocably killed. The damage done is far past the point of what an apology can fix. I know nearly nothing of goats and even less about the lifestyle of a goat herder. I know embarrassingly little of the culture of that part of the world. Still, I feel empathy with and sorrow for the families left behind.

Closer to home, we are dealing with what appears to be a completely senseless double murder of a young couple on a date. Not that it would justify it, but from what I have seen of the case, neither of the couple appear to have been especially affluent. The crimes committed seem to have been committed more because of simple, sick, ugly chance than any explainable reason. It is pretty well impossible to not feel the anger and bewilderment the families must feel at the meaningless loss of their loved ones.

I am so tired of this. It seems that our first response to any stimulus is violence, and frequently it is to go and kill something or somebody. We have apparently gone nowhere socially in hundreds or thousands of years. We aren't even noticeably more sophisticated in our tribalness. We value those of our tribe who are currently in our good graces. Everybody else can just go die.

I may not be the best one to be casting these particular stones. I've certainly been in a few fights over the years. I've owned and carried an assortment of weaponry that would likely strike fear in the heart of the average suburbanite. I spent 10 years in the military. I have advocated and or cheered violent action for what no longer seems sufficient motivation. But I like to think that I've learned and grown over the years. I can't claim to be completely past violence as "a" response to certain stimuli, but it isn't usually my first response and it is almost never my only response anymore.

I suppose that my level of frustration indicates a certain amount of naiveté. I mean, there were plenty of self-avowed followers of the "Prince of Peace," Christians as it were, who were among the loudest of those who would bang the drums of war.

In truth, I think it is important to have the choice of violence. I feel good about myself knowing I have some facility for the commission of mayhem but choose instead the peaceful option. To my way of thinking, that is the soul of virtue, to have options but to choose the higher purpose though it delays or denies material gratification.

Or maybe I'm just tired of the killing.