“There’s so much talk of violence and mayhem as the solution to our ills. The candidates seem so eager to flex their muscles and engage the nation in conflict: Let’s continue the war in Iraq. Let’s show them what we’re made of in Iran. Let’s round up those immigrants and ship ’em back where they came from.
“It’s like watching adolescent boys playing the ultimate video game, with no regard for the consequences. Rudy, the crime-fighter and terror maven, says he’s tougher than Mitt, who actually had illegals working on his property. Mitt begs to differ and says he’d like to double the size of the Guantánamo prison.”
Titled Rambo and the G.O.P., Herbert’s piece reminded me of a column I wrote (see below) on a related topic published in my community newspaper about two years ago:
So how many people do I have to kill to win this game?
A shadow now hovers over a joy I’ve often experienced on weekday mornings. I like to sit at my kitchen table and watch the neighborhood kids tumble down the hillside just beyond my window. The minute the school bus pulls in, they brush themselves off and scramble for its open door.
The shadow first appeared a couple of weeks ago following an online chat with my friend, David. We were just a couple of parents that afternoon sharing our concerns about a perceived up-tick in violence in our culture in recent years. My own two children are mature adults, but David and his wife still have a teenage son at home.
When my kids were young, parents worried about whether or not toy guns were appropriate playthings. We also complained to TV networks about the negative stereotypes and violence in children’s cartoons.
“Lately,” I said, “I’ve been shocked by the video games I’ve glimpsed on television.”
David replied, “It seems the primary goal in some of these games — so popular with today’s teens — is to kill as many people as you can as quickly as possible. It’s as if killing is okay as long as it’s not real people.
“One day someone’s going to think: ‘We’re not killing real people. We're just pushing a button, and some vaguely people-like beings on the other side of the globe disappear.”’
I’m reminded of the frequent recurrence of the word “kill” in the daily news, usually heard in reference to alleged terrorists or insurgents, as in: “We’ll hunt them down and kill them.”
It’s also been unnerving to hear U.S. officials debate on prime time TV what degree of pain we should allow our interrogators to inflict on enemy combatants — short of torture.
Not long after my e-mail exchange with David, something as horrific as the images from Abu Ghraib appeared on my television screen: the surveillance video from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
The teenagers filmed in the act of brutally beating a homeless man have since been taken into custody. The two young males have also been charged with murdering another homeless man and are suspected of beating a third.
The National Coalition for the Homeless reported 105 similar attacks in 2004, including 25 deaths. The majority of attackers were young men between the ages of 16 and 25.
Then from Chaska, Minn. came word of Nancy Everson’s murder. Her son Grant, 20, and three male friends — two 20-year-olds and a 17-year-old — allegedly plotted to kill both of Grant’s parents for his inheritance.
Now in custody, the 20-year-olds are charged with murder and attempted murder. The 17-year-old is charged with aiding an offender.
I’ve no idea whether any of the young men in the above news accounts ever played “Grand Theft Auto” or “Mortal Kombat.” But curiosity prompted me the other day to Google video games and violence.
A Brigham Young University NewsNet article confirmed that games depicting shooting, violence and drug usage have been among the best-selling. The article noted: “One example of a game with high levels of graphic violence and gore is ‘Carmageddon,’ a game released several years ago in which players run down pedestrians and crash into other cars. If all levels are completed, one researcher estimated, the player would have killed nearly 33,000 people.”
A news release from the American Psychological Association (APA) cited research indicating “exposure to violence in video games increases aggressive thoughts, aggressive behavior, and angry feelings among youth.”
The APA’s resolution recommends all violence be reduced in video games and interactive media marketed to children and youth.
I’m one parent who wouldn’t await further word.
As it is, the shadow still lingers over the nearby hillside well after my neighborhood kids have boarded the school bus.
Placing my coffee cup in the dishwasher, I wonder how long it will be before these youngsters are lured from the innocent play of childhood by darker thrills — those that come from the power to deal out death on an animated screen.
Footnote:Since I wrote the preceding column, violence in our culture has increased even more and as Bob Herbert points out, it might be a good idea in today's world to shield the children from Republican debates.