If this past week had been written up as a movie script, I would have rejected it as totally over-the-top, beyond belief.
Two young Chechen immigrants successfully wreak mayhem and turn a city upside down with their improvised explosive devices, in the very same week that the U.S. Senate Republicans successfully beat back a bill designed to stiffen background checks for gun purchases.
The beautiful, brave Gabrielle Giffords publishes an impassioned piece in The New York Times, condemning the cowardly Senators who put the interests of the National Rifle Association over and above the interests of the American people.
Meanwhile, down in Texas, an explosion in a chemical fertilizer factory flattened a whole neighborhood, killing at least 15 people and injuring more than 200. The cause of the blast is still unknown.
And the whole middle section of the country was inundated by heavy rains, storms and severe floods.
Fire, air, earth and water, all the elements seem to be drawn into an intensified dance these days, speeded up along with the 24-hour news cycle.
As the bizarre manhunt for the two Chechen bombers unfolded, and the whole country went into virtual “lockdown” in sympathy with the people of Boston and eastern Massachusetts, it felt like we were suddenly waking up to find ourselves in Baghdad. Things like that don’t happen here.
Until they do.
I don’t have TV in the house, so I got most of my information on the situation in Boston from print media and radio. But even the few pictures I saw were enough to convey the sense that the official response to these boys’ stupid act of random violence was hugely disproportionate.
Against a lone 19-year-old kid, thousands of law enforcement officers of every stripe were deployed, in full riot gear, toting rifles, traveling around the deserted streets in armored vehicles.
The kid was presumed to be “extremely dangerous.”
How dangerous could one kid be?
I understand that the concern was that he might have had a bomb or a suicide vest that he could detonate at the very end.
But that is not the way the story went. In the end, he came out with his hands up, just one stupid, confused kid who surrendered to the police without a peep.
His life is over.
Ours will go on.
In the wake of this latest act of violence within our own borders, we need to take a good hard look at the role of the U.S. as a fomenter of violence, both at home and abroad.
Not only is the U.S. the largest exporter of arms and weaponry in the world, but we are also the biggest developer of violent video games worldwide, the ones I am betting those Chechen boys loved to play.
Why should we expect that we can promote violence by all kinds of channels, and remain immune to it within our own borders?
What goes around comes around.
If we were serious about wanting peace and security, we would start by radically shifting our focus from creating implements of destruction—be they chemical fertilizers, assault weapons or games that encourage violence—to waging peace.
Waging peace—what would that look like?
One of the most urgent tasks is to change the way young men are socialized.
Let us not for a moment forget that every single act of mass violence that has taken place here in the U.S.—every single mass shooting, every single bombing—has been the work of young men.
Young men are do-ers. They have heroic dreams—and in Western culture, it’s the young men who can slay the dragon or vanquish the ogre who are considered heroic.
We can honor and nourish that warrior spirit in our young men in ways that celebrate heroes who use their strength and talents productively, to safeguard ordinary people.
I suspect that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is someone who would have made an excellent warrior for good. He was obviously smart, resourceful and could handle himself well under great pressure.
For reasons as yet unknown, he–like Newtown gunman Adam Lanza, Norway gunman Anders Breivik, Aurora, Colorado gunman James Holmes and so many other young men whose names stand for infamous mass murders—chose to walk on the dark side.
We need to be paying attention to the accelerating rate of these crimes. They are a sign of the dark times we are living through.
Those of us who believe in peace must recommit ourselves to raising our own internal lights higher, beacons for others to rally around. Those of us who have the great responsibility of raising the next generation of young men—parents, teachers, employers, mentors—must recognize the tremendous importance of our task.
In the past thirty years, there has been a great deal of attention paid to rethinking the way we socialize young women. This is definitely essential work. But we forget about our young men at our own peril.