Violence, made in USA

I just learned that there exists something called “active shooting drills” in American schools. I will not try to analyze reasons for this, nor mouth usual phrases like “how terrible and awful!”. If I were an American parent, maybe I would.

As a European non-parent (and peacenik) I reflect on the close relation between USA and violence.

In 1989 I traveled to New York to enact a repeat of a “happening” I had performed in Stockholm, Sweden a couple of times: my Dependence Day Celebration (5th of July). (Basically, it said: Man is a dependent creature, let’s admit it without shame, maybe even celebrate it.)

I am not ashamed to say I wanted attention in NYC. I sure didn’t want to sit in a corner and mumble to myself. I brought my chain (chained myself to a tree), my posters and my speech and headed for Central Park. After an hour or so the police ordered me to leave.

In sunny Stockholm (by Kungsträdgården) nobody cared, and not a few people enjoyed my quiet protest. In New York, begone in ten minutes!

Okay, maybe Central Park wasn’t the best place for my protest. A New York friend commented afterward: You know, to get attention here you almost have to kill somebody. I wasn’t prepared to do THAT, but I see the logic in her comment.

Stalk a film star, kill a rock star. Or at least kill yourself. That way a bit of posthumous attention (better than nothing) will come your way.

In the 1988 movie Dead Pool with Clint Eastwood there is a character named Gus Wheeler. He wants/ needs attention badly. First, he claims responsibility for murders he didn’t commit, and when the press turns up he douses himself in gasoline and threatens to immolate himself. He wants to be on camera. He is no murderer, just a lonely man who wants to be seen. On TV.

“I’m really gonna set myself on fire. And it’s gonna be on the news… and then finally everybody will know about me. About me! Gus Wheeler!”

If all else fails…

And how did the Unabomber get our attention? With his manifesto? Well, eventually, but only after he sent some bombs to scientists.

Violence is what gets our attention. Of course, that is a really somber conclusion that puts our hopes of peace in the shadow.

I may be biased but USA seems to be in the center of the storm of violence. Sure, we Europeans knew and know how to kill, maim and torture, but not on the grand scale of Oncle Sam.

As I see it, very important war and violence seeds are coming from mass media (for whom “good news is no news”). Social media are not that different; the same longing for something wild, violent and tragic hangs in the air of Twitter. Internet (originally an America military invention) generally is no self-evident tool for peace.

Of course, there are individuals in USA who are intelligent, insightful and pacific. But the general trend seems to move towards greater tension, more and more polarization.

USA really lives up (or down) to the saying “If you want peace, prepare for war”. However, the word peace as used in that sentence is practically synonymous with war.

Whether you want peace or war — prepare for war. Sancta simplicitas!


It now strikes me that one motive for violence could be exactly this longing for attention, or large-scale attention: fame.

I believe that if an individual does feel loved or at least liked (not just on Facebook), he will not be desperate about getting on the News. His microcosm will supply him with love vitamins and trace substances. A total lack of this supply, and seeing attention-seeking people all around you (and in the news), you might be tempted to admit crimes you didn’t do, maybe even put fire to yourself.

This probably does not explain why countries (= politicians) make war, but could perhaps throw light on private violence, like school shootings. Not a theory, just thinking aloud.

Expressed poetically– The soldier in you

Herbert Whone was a fine man, musician and writer. I corresponded with him, mainly about his book The hidden face of music back in the 80-s, I think. In my own quest to find “the hidden face of music” I even visited him in Harrogate and have fond memories of our talks and him giving me a private tour of Fountains Abbey.

I still remember the details about the monks and the prohibition against ONE (the cup had TWO ears, the monks walked in TWO rows, etc.) and his description of dinner at the Abbey. One would imagine that food would be served and eaten in silence. However, in so called silence many wayward thoughts enter our mind. To hinder that, the brother with the best voice sat high up on a ledge and read from some holy book during meal.

And once a month, the other brothers prayed for him, so that we would not, Narcissus-like, fall in love with his own voice. Such prayers have relevance even today. Did I say “even”? I meant much more relevance today.

Anyway, the other day I stumbled upon a site dedicated to Herbert, who now resides in another dimension. (And here is a vita of the man. ) The site presents some of his paintings, photographs and poems. (He was not only a musician and writer.)

Among the poems I found, expressed in a poem, something I’ve been preaching in prose: that being better than what we criticize, seeing the war-seed in ourselves, is an essential step to real peace. It felt good to be in harmony with Herbert in this way, too.

As with all worthwhile poetry, read this aloud. I mean, a musician wrote it.
Yes, coming clean and seeing the “soldier” and the war-seeds in ourselves is an important step for all peaceniks. 

Herbert Whone