“O that there were some virtue in my tears . . .”—Shakespeare
One of the Dalai Lama’s first principles is something he calls “universal responsibility.” However quick we are to place His Holiness on a saintly pedestal, it is only because the threshold of our own responsibility sometimes seems so very low—especially at this moment of reflection upon the massacre of the innocents in Newtown.
From a tearful President on down through the powerful talk radio demagogues to ordinary citizens, we all bear a share of responsibility for the climate of violence that is the context for the tragedy in Newton. I’m as responsible as anyone because I haven’t yet written my representative concerning my strong feelings about gun control. Great Britain endured 58 firearm murders in 2011, while America had 8,775. Great Britain banned modern handguns altogether in 1997 and studies show a slow but steady decrease in crimes involving handguns in the UK ever since.
The weapons industry and the anti-control lobbyists led by the NRA certainly ought to step up to their share. They managed to chill the speech of both presidential candidates, even though the previous mass murder in Aurora, CO. took place at the height of the campaign.
Talk radio and television, with its sneering contempt for opposing views and simplistic polarization of issues upon which people of good will may differ, clouds the atmosphere of our culture with potential violence. Don’t say words alone can’t be violent, and incite to violence. It happens all the time. The obscenity is to get paid millions to pander to our most primitive fears and impulses.
It is a cliché to say that our entertainment runs on the adrenalin of violence. But there are unconscious assumptions operating that make that violence even more pernicious. The movie “Argo,” a well-crafted thriller made by a liberal-leaning director about getting seven Americans out of harm’s way in Iran, still managed to reduce all the Iranians in the film to crude swarthy stereotypes. “Zero Dark Thirty” rationalizes our government’s use of torture to find Osama bin Laden.
Our President lives and works at the center of a storm of hyper-violence. Mr. Obama has been the subject of more violent threats to his own life than any President in history. And surely the threats to Obama’s person would only increase if he took our international policies in a more dovish direction.
No worries there. It is the commander-in-chief’s daily duty to rain down a hell of violence that, while intended to eliminate terrorists, often kills innocent children as randomly as the angel of death that just descended upon a peaceful town in Connecticut.
Robert McNamara, Kennedy’s steely Secretary of Defense, choked up with tears of pride when he left office and was awarded the Medal of Freedom. Years later he was brought to the realization that the campaign he helped to lead against Vietnam was a mistake of criminal proportions. And so at last he shed more universal tears, tears that included his sadness about the waste of war and the deaths of too many innocent Vietnamese.
It is possible to imagine that, in private, Mr. Obama sheds some tears for the broken innocents of Afghanistan and Pakistan that are the “collateral damage” of his drones. For the time being, our political culture continues to operate in a state of radical dissociation. When our leaders shed tears equally for the deaths of children anywhere in the world, I shall, as Michelle Obama said when her husband was elected, for the first time be truly proud to be an American.