Printed in August 1994 in the Cortland Standard
To the Editor:
The recent editorial "Violence and Children" addressed the terrible problem of violence and young people. While you cite significant information about the scope of the problem and the tremendous violence children are exposed to through the media, you look too narrowly for the causes of this violence.
I have been working with people who have a history of violence for nearly a decade. Working with men in prison and with men who have been violent to their women partners has taught me a great deal. While I join you in deploring violence on tv and other media, I no longer think that they are central to the problems we face.
The military, an institition based on the use of violence, remains revered and honored in this country. While I have nothing against the individual men and women who choose to be part of the military, as an institution, the military fosters violence. We are told that we must be ready to "kill or be killed". So, why are we surprised to see urban youth put this theory into practice? If we hope to create a less violent society, we must look broadly at the sources of violence in our culture.
I see these in our educational institutions (how much of history we teach is the history of war?", in our economic institutions (where greed and manipulation are usually rewarded) and in our governmental policies which define some people as "less human" (ie. policies regarding Haitian refugees).
As a society, we put out a very mixed perspective about violence. At times we condemn it and express outrage about it. At other times we condone and support it. Many of the men I work with express the fear that if they aren't willing to be violent, others will take advantage of them. They will be seen as "less of a man." George Bush expressed this sentiment very clearly in his personal attacks on Saddam Hussein. And Bill Clinton works hard to be sure that he isn't perceived as a "wimp".
It is always easy to point fingers at others, but if we want true change we need to challenge the institutional violence in our society as well as look at our own roles in continuing this cycle.