Can we talk about killing? As citizens of the United States, we live in a culture that sends people and weapons around the world to other cultures to kill people. We send people to kill people. Or we send weapons to people to kill people. It’s a simple thing. Easy to acknowledge and easy to verify. It’s also an easy thing to forget. After all, most of us are busy with the day-to-day. Our immediate worlds are pretty small and the world is pretty big. Hell, is it even there?
Certainly, the majority of the media doesn’t bother to remind us of the enormous amount of killing that flows from our culture. When they do, they tend to dance around the reality of all that very physical death, either with fancy words or sanitized images. Or they go out of their way to tell us that those people from other cultures who die were bad, and so they had it coming (they were terrorists, they worked for a dictator, they were religious fanatics) On a smaller scale, that’s also the tack they take for black, brown and poor citizens of our own culture that police officers kill. They did drugs, they were criminals, they didn’t obey fast enough, they resisted, they didn’t pay child support, they said mean things to their moms in 2012…violence justified by variations of “they were bad, so they had it coming. Click To Tweet
So, when you live in a culture that does this much killing (whatever the acknowledged or unacknowledged reasons happen to be), the least you can do is sit with it. Really sit with it. No dancing around. No fancy language. Face it head on. Allow yourself to fully imagine the experience of going about your day-to-day and suddenly being shot 10 times in the chest with a high-powered military rifle. Of having your body crushed by a falling building after a bomb attack. Or of watching your 6-year-old daughter die in the middle of the night spitting blood all over her pajamas. (’Cause most of the people who die in these situations aren’t soldiers or terrorists, they’re everyday citizens. That’s been true of every conflict since WWI)
Once you’ve really sat with it, then you have to decide whether or not you give a shit. And be honest with yourself about it. Because we all know how to make noises of outrage. But you have to get in front of the mirror and decide if you genuinely believe those people who die are human and, at their core, the same as you. Imperfect the same as you. Needing love the same as you. Small and vulnerable the same as you. Wanting to live the same as you. Filled with potential the same as you. Valuable in their little world the way you feel valuable in yours.
When I get to thinking about this stuff I remember one of the final scenes from a movie I don’t even like. It’s called A Time to Kill and it’s one of those classic backhanded Hollywood setups. All about racism in the South, but in timeworn fashion, the black characters are made to be the side players. The movie instead centers on the handsome white fella played by Matthew McConaughey, a lawyer who’s defending a black man — Samuel L. Jackson, the side player — who’s killed the white men who raped and murdered his young daughter. It’s a stupid movie, but it’s got this one scene that gets me every time. In this scene, the lawyer forces the jury to really sit with what happened to this little girl. Have you seen it?
That last line he delivers to the jury: “Imagine she was white”. After all his description of what this little girl endured before she died, he has to tell the jury to imagine she was white so they can see her as the same as them. They cannot see her essential humanity otherwise.
I think we need to ask ourselves to imagine something similar to decide how we feel about our culture sending people to kill people in other parts of the world. “Imagine they’re human. Imagine they’re your family. Imagine they’re you.”Unless we can do that first, I’m not even sure there’s a point talking about policy or geopolitics or empire or terrorists or the deep state or any of it. Not unless we all reckon with what this violence really means, what it really costs, and how we really feel about it.
This is my first ever post. I don’t think everything I write will be this heavy. But my aim is to write about politics and people and culture in as plain a language as I can muster. And to write it not as an enthusiast for one political party or another, but as an enthusiast for human beings — beautiful, awful, gorgeous, messed up human beings that we are — and our stunning, dangerous, strange, fragile planet. #MenaceOfViolence
“We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy