The defining youthful event of my generation was the war in Vietnam. For those of us who objected to that war, the horror of guns and bombs and pointless death became a cause celebré, a rallying point that captured the vitality of being eighteen and combined it with political activism and various forms of resistance.
After forcing one President from office and the election of another who later resigned in disgrace, that terrible war finally ended, but we’re still paying a painful price for it: homeless traumatized vets and vets fighting off cancer from Agent Orange exposure, a ramped-up military budget sucking the life out of America’s revenues, and millions of Southeast Asians coping with psychological and emotional trauma, physical illness, and first-hand exposure to death.
Now, for the first time in several generations, America’s youth have once again awakened to the horror of guns and death. Tragically, the same sort of automatic weapon used with such lethal efficiency in Vietnam has returned to America’s shores and been turned against its own citizens. In what’s become a mass-killing contest, automatic weapons kill the innocent in ever rising numbers, while members of congress sit on their hands and intone the virtues of the Second Amendment. With origins in the slave-hunting militias of the southern states, the language of the Second Amendment was negotiated to allow those states to recapture and punish slaves who escaped or resisted. Now America’s children are resisting.
Once again, the resistance of America’s youth is being directed towards Washington, DC, where despite the mass-killings and domestic terrorists who use automated assault weapons, congress and the White House essentially do nothing, and by inaction fuel the killing ambitions of the gun-happy fringe of society. Attempting to understand the psychology of such killers is a waste of time; motive is the least of it. The Vietnam disaster proved that motive is no excuse except in the rarest of cases; the fact is when state policy enables psychopathology, death is the result.
Make no mistake about this; the Supreme Court, congress and the President–all three branches of government–are complicit in mass murder. Though they hide behind the edifice of the Constitution, that does not and cannot excuse their moral and actual complicity in America’s growing epidemic of gun violence. Just as Defense Secretary during the war in Vietnam Robert McNamara later conceded, the United States had committed war crimes in that war, so too are all three branches of government committing crimes against humanity by passively doing nothing to prohibit the easy availability of weapons of war to the homicidal.
In his book “A Terrible Love of War” psychologist James Hillman explored America’s gun fetish. Sigmund Freud, he points out, was inclined to elevate a “death wish” to psychological primacy. Carl Jung attempted to understand the dark side of human behavior through examining persistent archetypes like Ares, the Greek god of war. But as interesting as such explorations can be, the fact remains that if even one one-hundred-thousandth of our population–a mere 3,000 people–are unhinged enough to kill children with an AR-15, that’s too many. Such weapons are the choice not of the powerful but the fearful. They have no place in our modern society.
To the millions of American youth who are rising to the challenge of gun violence, I say, “thank you.”