Fr. Giles O.F.M.

We live in a society that glorifies violence. This is obvious to anyone who is honest enough to examine the facts. Just a casual glance at our different forms of entertainment will readily convince any doubting Thomas. The radio (I hesitate to say "music"), television, newspapers, world wide web, video games, magazines, etc. make role models out of the most violent members of society. If someone wishes to get his picture on TV all he has to do is what they did. There is no need to work hard and make something of himself anymore. One can get all kinds of notoriety and attention just by doing something violent.

When we hear of children who become murderers we often feel a chill run down our spine, and wonder how a child could do such things. This we know is not normal. Something is seriously wrong. So there ensues a search for the cause(s) of such things. It is sometimes just too easy and simplistic to point to the "entertainment" industry. There are many factors that turn a child to violence, and each case is different. Not all the children who seek out this "entertainment" become violent.

Violence has been around for a very long time, beginning with Lucifer and the other fallen angels, and proceeding to Cain the first fratricide. We could hardly blame the media for Abel's death or for Lucifer's rebellion. At the same time we cannot deny the effect that the different forms of "entertainment" have in dehumanizing us.

I have watched many battles on the television and on video tapes, and I have observed the reactions of those watching, and it becomes very frightening to see the attitudes of people change while watching such things.

The first thing we tend to do is to identify the "good guys" and the "bad guys". I began noticing this while teaching history to children. The first thing they want to know is who are the "good guys" and who are the "bad guys" then they set about justifying "history". Our "side" is always the "good" side, and those opposing us are always the "bad" side. If we won then we were right. Good always wins. The end justifies the means. How foolish of us to believe this, and what frustration this leads to when we find out that it is just not so. All too often the bad guys win (at least in this world).

After we have identified ourselves with the "good guys" then, we see all that they do as good. The destruction of the "bad guys" is a victory and is greatly cheered and glorified, no matter how it is done. How many cheer and rejoice when they see the cowboys kill the Indians on TV? Or the Americans kill the English in the revolution? Or the Union soldiers kill the Rebels in the Civil War? Or the Allies bomb and kill the Germans in the war?

Does anyone stop to ask himself if perhaps he has incorrectly identified the "good guys"? Maybe he has been misled as to who are the "good guys". Maybe there is much more to this story than the men in the field we see killing each other.

In the time of St. Francis there were many wars and battles being fought all the time between feudal lords. And obviously the people who worked the land for the feudal lord were forced to fight for their lord whether he was right or wrong. St. Francis helped to put a stop to all this fighting simply by getting the people to enter the Third Order. As members of the Third Order they were exempt from waging war and the Church backed them up in this. The different lords could no longer force them to fight and therefore had to find other means of settling their disputes.

It seems foolish to identify ourselves with the victors and justify all that the victors have done just because they are the victors. Most often our "heroes" are men who have been paid, duped or forced to fight. I have heard that in the military the main reason there are "heroes" is because of "hazardous duty" payments.

Watching such things in movies or on the news seems to trivialize life, especially the life of the "bad guys". It becomes entertainment to watch people (made in the image and likeness of God) being killed _ slaughtered _ like animals. Think about how sick this is: people sitting around drinking their favorite soda, and snacking on popcorn or something else and cheering while watching the most gruesome killings in as realistic a fashion as the industry can produce.

The other day I happened to see a movie which depicted the Civil War. During some of the most violent battles when my stomach and heart could almost take no more, I wondered, does anyone really know why we fought this war and who won? The movie doesn't really say, but it is clearly suggested that the Union soldiers are the "good guys" and the Rebels are the "bad guys" and we should rejoice when the Rebels die and sorrow when the Union soldiers die. Why did we fight that war? (It was not over slavery. We'll have to save this for some other time.) Who won? What really happened not only in the open, but even more importantly behind the scenes.

War and violence are evil and ugly, not funny or entertaining. Men were not created to kill each other. In a natural state men find it most difficult to kill another human. We cannot naturally kill. It is against our nature. We must be taught to kill, or inflict pain and suffering on others.

I have come across some interesting statistics which do not seem to be to readily available or known. Here are some quotes from an article appearing on the internet at www.christianityonline .com, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossmann, an expert on the psychology of killing, retired from the US Army.

"Patty Griffith demonstrates that the killing potential of the average Civil War regiment was anywhere from five hundred to a thousand men per minute. The actual killing rate was only one or two men per minute per regiment (The Battle Tactics of the American Civil War.) At the Battle of Gettysburg, of the 27,000 muskets picked up from the dead and dying after the battle, 90 percent were loaded. This is an anomaly, because it took 95 percent of their time to load muskets and only 5 percent to fire. But even more amazingly, of the thousands of loaded muskets, over half had multiple loads in the barrel _ one with 23 loads in the barrel.

In reality, the average man would load his musket and bring it to his shoulder, but he could not bring himself to kill. He would be brave, he would stand shoulder to shoulder, he would do what he was trained to do; but at the moment of truth, he could not bring himself to pull the trigger. And so he lowered the weapon and loaded it again. Of those who did fire, only a tiny percentage fired to hit. The vast majority fired over the enemy's head.

During World War II, U.S. Army Brig Gen. S. L. A. Marshall had a team of researchers study what soldiers did in battle. For the first time in history, they asked individual soldiers what they did in battle. They discovered that only 15 to 20 percent of the individual rifleman could bring themselves to fire at an exposed enemy soldier.

That is the reality of the battlefield. Only a small percentage of soldiers are able and willing to participate. Men are willing to die, they are willing to sacrifice themselves for their nation; but they are not willing to kill. It is a phenomenal insight into human nature; but when the military became aware of that, they systematically went about the process of trying to fix this "problem". … And fix it the military did. By the Korean War, around 55 percent of the soldiers were willing to fire to kill. And by Vietnam, the rate rose to over 90 percent."

The military has figured out how to train men to kill each other. Lt. Col. Dave Grossmann tells us clearly how this was done with: 1) brutalization, 2) classical conditioning, 3) operant conditioning, and 4) role modeling. And he further states that "… our culture today is doing the same thing to our children."

1) People are exposed to brutalization and desensitization when they see somebody shot, stabbed, raped, brutalized, degraded, or murdered on TV. We spend the first 90 minutes of a movie learning to relate to a character (becoming his friend) and then we spend the last 30 minutes watching helplessly as he is hunted down and brutally murdered. This happens to our children hundreds upon hundreds of times. This is repeated until we reach the point when we no longer care.

2) We are exposed to the classical conditioning (Pavlovian conditioning) by learning to associate this killing and violence with pleasure. We watch violence while drinking our favorite soda and eating our favorite snack, and being with our favorite friend(s). Thus we make the unnatural association of violence with pleasure.

3) Operant conditioning means that we practice a procedure over and over again until it becomes "second nature". It is a series of stimulus-response, stimulus-response. A benign example would be the use of flight simulators for pilots. They practice over and over again in a simulator, learning that when this happens I do this, so that they reach a point when it no longer requires thinking. This helps out so that when the real plane is going down and he is so scared he can't think straight, he will perform the correct responses. His body automatically responds with the correct response because it has done it hundreds of times before. The military and law enforcement community have made killing a conditioned response. Infantry training in World War II used bull's-eye targets, (remember they had about a 15% killing rate) now soldiers learn to fire at realistic, man-shaped silhouettes that pop into their field of view. That is the stimulus. The trainees have only a split second to engage the target. The conditioned response is to shoot the target, and then it drops. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response over and over again. When they are on the battle field there is no hesitation. We know that 75 to 80 percent of the shooting on the modern battlefield is the result of this kind of stimulus-response training. Now think about all our video games where we practice over and over again to point-and-shoot. "The video game industry now features more realistic video, sound and motion than ever, with the big three _ Sega, Nintendo and Sony _ fighting to be top dog. And the weapon these corporations are using to do battle with is, increasingly, realistic depictions of video violence. Graphic fighting and shooting games are the rule, rather than the exception. And if it sells, it stays." (Associated Press) Every child who turns on a video game intends to shoot to kill. He is learning the exact same conditioned reflex and motor skills taught to soldiers who are going into a battlefield. What will happen to this child if he gets a gun in his hand and becomes excited or scared? What will he do without even thinking about it? Chances are he will do exactly what he has unknowingly trained himself to do.

4) Lastly Lt. Col. Dave Grossmann says that the military uses role models to teach people to kill. Today the media is providing us with role models: who are lawless sociopaths in movies and TV shows, and media-inspired, copycat murders. No matter what someone has done if you put his picture on TV you have made a hero out of him, and others will try to imitate him. It has been proven with research in the 1970's that local TV reporting of teen suicides directly caused numerous copycat suicides of impressionable teenagers. We have another example in the recent murderous attacks by children upon their school mates. In Pearl Mississippi a 16 year old boy was accused of killing his mother and then going to school and shooting nine students, two of whom died, including his ex-girlfriend. Two months later a 14 year old boy in Paducah, Kentucky was arrested for killing three students and wounding five others. Then it happened again in Jonesboro Arkansas, Stamps Arkansas, Springfield Oregon, etc. It seems very clear that they learned from each other and the preceding ones become the role model for the ones that follow. And this is made possible by our media.

What is the solution? How can we decrease violence and murder? It would help if we could do away with the media, but even that (if it were possible) would not completely solve the problem. (The media can be used for good if we know how and are willing to use it for such.) Remember, Cain killed Abel long before TV or video games.

Those who are Godless are the ones most at risk from the violence in media. And for our own safety we should try to reduce the violence the Godless are exposed to. We should seek to put an end to the glorification of violence and murder. We must try to reteach ourselves to be compassionate and kind. We must learn to cry rather than cheer and clap when we see human life degraded, abused, and destroyed. We cannot expect others (even our own children) to turn away from violence as entertainment unless we ourselves are willing to do so.

Or what if we just got rid of guns? That seems obvious, then we would just fight with knives, sticks, rocks or even our own hands.

The bottom line is that we must not look so much outside of ourselves as inside. It is what comes out of our hearts that will destroy us. Destroy the envy, jealousy, hatred, lust, and violence in our hearts first and then we will not have to worry about it in the world around us. And to save the next generation we must work to make sure that these things never enter their hearts from the begining

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