Op-Ed:Ricardo: Gun Control, Violence, USA...A Hispanic Vet's View
The following is written with love and respect for the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and for those who cherish their memory amid unimaginable pain.
"That they shall not have died in vain" is a refrain one frequently hears as we seek to understand an act that afflicts the senses. To that end, much "sound and fury, signifying nothing" sweeps the land. "Something must be done..." intones the Chief Executive. "Sandy Hook is the tipping point" suggests a national pundit. And the Nation becomes enveloped yet again in a false debate: namely, gun control.
Violence against our school children; on a college campus, a crowded theater, or a military base is not about gun control, and the question is not about having a debate. The man is not a hero of mine, and the record shows he was a man of violence. Still, in the heat of the 1960s, H. Rap Brown famously intoned that "Violence is as American as Cherry Pie..." How did he respond to his own assertion? With violence. How did America respond? With violence.
If guns are a problem, more guns are not a solution.
I write to suggest that the issue America faces is not a culture of guns, but a culture of violence. Let's examine our history first, then let's consider our modern day life.
America was conceived in a violent revolution and born to life in its aftermath. The Nation survived a bloody Civil War, fought to preserve the Union. America survived the War of 1812, a war in which the nation's White House was burned to the ground. The country waged war against Mexico in 1848, against the Spanish in the Philippines in 1898 and in Cuba in the early 1900s. We waged war in the first World War and again in World War II. We waged war in Korea in the early 1950s and became ensnared in Vietnam for over a decade that cost over 58,000 American lives. America landed marines in Lebanon in 1959; we send marines to the Dominican Republic in 1965. The CIA helped topple governments in Guatemala and Chile. More recently, we have experienced the violence of Desert Storm, the protracted quagmires that define our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the silent killings by unmanned drones.
I do not judge the pros and cons, the arguments for and against, for any of these military adventures. I write simply to note that they happened. They are real. And I know of no other country in the past century who has been so ready to engage in military adventures abroad. The country has troops stationed in over 150 different countries worldwide. Why? "El que mucho abarca, poco aprieta" was a popular refrain as I was growing up. Essentially, it means your reach should not exceed your capabilities. But America remains undaunted. Most recently, our Chief Executive pledged this country's support for Myanmar. Really?
Why? Words have consequences, especially when uttered by someone many call the most powerful individual on the face of the earth.
I am in a real quandary as I wrestle with the question about America’s military adventures, and mis-adventures. I also question the violence in other walks of life. Take our film industry, for example, and its movies featuring explosions, car chases, crashes, bloodshed, and murderous mayhem. How does all that violence in theaters and TVs affect the national psyche? There is a connection, of course. In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the following report on Hollywood’s response to such a sad tragedy appeared:”....a quandary that has become all too common for Hollywood: How to react with compassion to horrific acts of violence while also protecting a business that often capitalizes on violent and crude entertainment." The report appeared in the Arts section of the New York Times; the report merited front page coverage.
Violence pervades, permeates, America. Film, television, music, sports, other forms of entertainment have become increasingly crude and violent. In the NFL there is much concern about the violence of the game, knowing it is the violent hit or collision that drives the ratings. We look at other popular sports with fanatic followings: NASCAR, Indy, F-1 races are by their nature train wrecks waiting to happen. And these events attract rabid fans by the hundreds of thousands. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), easily the most violent of sports, pitting man-against-man, with little holds barred, unknown a few years back, is now all the rage.
Let's face it, America. We live in a nation with a defining attribute: a culture of violence.
Alas, we are deeply in denial. We are shocked at the unspeakable tragedy that was Sandy Hook. That we're shocked provides a glimmer of hope. We may not have gone over the precipice just yet. As long as we maintain a sensibility that is genuinely shocked by senseless acts of violence, we stand a chance. Once we become inured to violence, once Ft. Hood, Travain Martin, Colombine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, et. al. no longer shock, then we have gone over to the darker side of our humanity.
To those of us still in denial, I offer our responses to Korea, Vietnam, Serbia, Mogadishu, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan. "The United States is not at war", a retired Army General told me years ago. "The U.S. Air Force is not at war; the U.S. Navy is not at war...only the U.S. Army is at war." Day to day, in the quality of the lives we lead, we are not directly affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Certainly, the country is not divided as it was during the Vietnam War. I served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. I witnessed first-hand a country divided by war. That is, until America eliminated the draft and the fighting, the dying, the suffering, the trauma was relegated not to mainstream America, but to a professional, volunteer Armed Force. So many wars later, we have become inured to the violence, devastation, lives lost, families torn apart, veterans suffering physical and psychological trauma.
Lest we begin a national conversation about our culture of violence, the country is headed down a road from which there is no coming back. History teaches us that no empire, no country, no confederacy is forever great. History teaches us the opposite, which testifies to the ebb and tide of great powers.
A debate about gun control is an exercise in futility. Our attention should be focused on answering why the demand for weapons and guns in this country is so great. We should be asking why our schools are unsafe, rather than seeking to provide guns to teachers and principals. We are becoming a fortress America. There is a simple construct espoused by many that "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." This simplistic phrase masks the true reality that many Americans refuse to face. People, with gun in their hands, kill people."
I suggest that it is time to shift the debate from gun control to trying to understand why America accepts, almost embraces, a culture of violence. The issue we face is not about gun control. The question goes much deeper into the American psyche in which we question why Americans feel such a great need to own dangerous and deadly weapons.
It is absurd to believe that Americans will be safer with an increased proliferation of guns. The question the country faces is not one about gun control, but rather, an examination as to why we are so tolerant and accepting of violence in our daily lives. Once we begin to have an understanding, years from now, we can begin to take the necessary steps to return to a more civilized society, one in which citizens do not live in constant fear. And tragedies such as Sandy Hook are no longer commonplace.
That conversation needs to begin now.
Tomas Ricardo is a Texas based Op-Ed writer for Hispanic.com. To contact Tomas send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org