Friday, June 09, 2006

When Will We Ever Learn?

by Cindy Sheehan
Common Dreams News Center
June 9, 2006

If public opinion would frown against violence, it would lose its power.
-Leo Tolstoy

Our American culture is permeated with violence. I don't think anyone would dispute that fact. A recent tragedy that occurred in a family who is close to my family in Vacaville, CA, is horribly bringing this fact literally home to many people in that community.

My friend, who was one of my first friends in Vacaville when our family moved there almost 15 years ago, gave her 11 year old daughter an overdose of prescription medication, killing her. I have known the mom since before she became pregnant with her daughter and celebrated with her when she finally had the baby. By all accounts, and the last time I saw her, the mom seemed healthy and whole. The daughter was a popular honor student at the same elementary school that my younger two attended years ago.

Why? We have all been asking ourselves why. There are wild speculations going around of course, but none of us know for sure. The mom also allegedly took an overdose of pills. Was it a murder-suicide; or a murder with a pretend suicide? I saw a picture of my friend at her arraignment in the local newspaper. She is lost. She is haunted. She was not there. She is without hope. Small wonder.

I know these feeling of being without hope. There were the long days and the endless nights that I was in a black pit of despair and hopelessness. The days when the only thing that stopped me from taking my entire bottle of sleeping pills was the fact that I would hurt my family even more. No matter how much agony I was in (a broken heart is not just a metaphor) I could not bring myself to commit that easy-ultimate act of selfishness. But, oh how I wanted to. How I longed for that permanent sleep that would free me from pain.

Even without the added stress of burying a child, when I think of the violence that can start early in the morning when we switch on the TV and attack us all day with one image and experience or another until we fall into restless sleep, stressed-out and exhausted from another day of hatred, it is easy to dismiss what is going on in our society as "normal." When we realize that violence is not normal, and not give the cop-out excuse that we as humans are somehow "hardwired" to be violent and non-violence is abnormal, then our society and culture will never change.

Violence begets violence and killing begets killing. All we have to do is notice how our leaders consistently use their votes or their signatures or their orders to beget and condone violence, and we shouldn't be shocked when our soldiers in the field commit acts of atrocity which I am sure go against their very fundamental core of humanity. Our soldiers are just copying their leaders and fulfilling their training which dehumanizes them and the "enemy." Violent is as violent does.

However, I believe that using violence is not like opening a Pandora's Box where the evil escapes and cannot be stuffed back in. Violence is a cycle that can be broken. Violence is like that proverbial can of worms: which slither and roil, but any 2 year old with basic motor skills can control the can of worms and put the lid back on.

I often have to ask myself why we, as Americans, so blindly follow our leaders down this path of violent destruction, and it has always been so. From the genocide and virtual extinction of our native population to dehumanizing black people so that they could be used as human chattel and still be oppressed, even today, to still be the only so-called "civilized nation" that executes people. Why do we allow our leaders to kill and oppress people in our names? Is it so we won't have to look at our own destructive behavior?

Are we as a nation so devoid of hope that we are ready to live our lives in "quiet desperation" watching BushCo destroy Iraq, destroy the USA and destroy the world for their own wicked ends? Do we see any difference in jumping in our huge, gas guzzling and polluting SUV's to go to a job we hate to be able to buy things we don't need in contrast with invading a country to control its oil reserves to give the people who run companies that profit off of death and destruction more money so they can buy their jets and build palaces that they don't need?

Are our visions of a future that is one endless war after another in competition for resources and for a dwindling planet so bleak that we are condoning the destructive behavior of the Bush Administration because we are competing with our neighbors to have the best and brightest new thingamajig that Madison Ave tells us that we need?

Before we can change the world, we have to look in our hearts and change ourselves. Before Casey was KIA in Iraq, I led this life of rampant consumerism that wreaked havoc on my soul and the environment. I had a mortgage (death pledge) and I couldn't leave the anchor of my home for long, because something might happen to it or my stuff! However, I did leave my home every work day before 7:00 in the morning, fought traffic and cussed out other drivers and extravagantly used my middle finger to ward off the evil eyes of my fellow commuters who were also trapped in their encumbered and heavily insured mini-prisons. Then I would arrive at my job, work all day in a solitary office, listen to the constant bad news, skip out of work at the appointed time then fight the same battle going home, in reverse, that I had so frustratingly fought on the way to work. This was no way to "live" and I had little to show for it except a healthy sailor's vocabulary and neck spasms. Things changed after Casey was killed. Priorities sharpened and came into better focus.

Since I have been traveling all over the world for peace, I have discovered how little a person can live on. I have a teeny-tiny aparment in Berkeley and I carry my belongings from airplane to airplane in one suitcase and an obscenely heavy shoulder bag (ask anyone that has had to shlep it for me) that contains the computer I am writing this from and other essentials for a life on the run. I don't have to worry about my stuff in my apartment, because I don't have that much stuff there and it is replaceable anyway. Despite the personal attacks against me and the exhausting travel and loneliness, I am a much happier, freer, and less-stressed person.

To lose hope is so devastating and destructive that we follow the path of least resistance which has led us and leads us to this place in history where our leaders are such destructive and devastating forces themselves. No one is asking anyone to be a nomadic, practically monk-like person for peace, however, we can all change a little something in our lives that can have an enormous impact in the world. How about coming to Camp Casey in the summer?

The Camp Casey experience has given so many of us back our hope. Veterans who fought in Vietnam and in Iraq said that coming to Camp Casey restored their hopes of living a near normal life. Families who, like mine, tragically have had a loved one killed in war found hope in the fact that so many Americans cared about our sons and daughters and were willing to sacrifice something to come out and show solidarity in our struggle to ask: "What Noble Cause/" Many Americans who haven't had personal experience with loss had their hope restored seeing that the naked Emperor was exposed and there are people working for peace. The Camp Casey movement led us all (over 15,000 visitors to date and thousands of supporters all over the world) to what Gandhi called "heart unity" with our fellow human beings who deserve enough, if not the comparative opulent lifestyle of most Americans.

It's time to join us to stop allowing our government to give those orders to kill innocent Iraqis in the name of fighting a global war of terror---which is just another name for corporate colonialism (honestly, instead of patriotic emblems on their uniforms, our troops should have corporate logos all over them, like NASCAR drivers. Tanks should have a big "Exxon" symbol painted right on their sides, this would make more sense!). It's time to look at our country's knack for arming and training dictators and terrorists such as Saddam and Osama and oppressing other countries for profit and demand that this violent behavior stop.

When and only when we frown; protest; yes, demand that our leaders quit committing acts of violence on our heart family members and change our own personal wasteful lifestyles violence will stop and then we will have something to live for: a hopeful future.

Like Martin Luther King, Jr said, we can't wait for our leaders to change their beatitudes. They won't. It's time we make them live up to ours.

© Copyrighted 1997-2006 www.commondreams.org

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