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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Other Views

A nation numb to violence

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

When a freedom of information challenge won out over the Bush administration’s fixation for secrecy, the most telling symbols of war’s waste was revealed for Americans to grasp.

Flag-draped coffins headed home from Iraq were lined up in perfect military order aboard a U.S. Air Force transport.

They represented only a fragment of the total coffins flown to homeland cemeteries. In Iraq, 700 GIs killed; Afghanistan, not quite 200. More to come.

Even U.S. battlefield deaths, however, compare insignificantly to far deadlier violence at home that Americans shrug off or accept as a cost of a violent society—a society with the distinction as the most violent among industrialized nations.

Murder, rape, child abuse, spousal abuse, assault, kidnapping, highway deaths are chilling statistics treated as less gripping than GI deaths in America’s expedition to "change the world," as President Bush explains.

A sampling illustrates the magnitude of violence at home.

More than 15,000 die in automobile accidents each year, more than a third involving alcohol. Traffic victims total some 16 times more than the GI deaths in the war on terror.

More than 12,000 are murdered with firearms each year—13 times more than the Iraq-Afghanistan toll of GIs, four times more that the 3,000 killed on 9/11.

If American youths are mowed down in Iraq, it’s worse on U.S. streets.

In 1998, the most recent year for complete statistics, gunshot was the second leading cause of death and injury among 10- to 24-year-olds—10 children and teenagers under 19 years old died every day because of firearms.

The Justice Department reports that a generation ago violence by boys outstripped girls 10-to-1. However, that has narrowed to 4-to-1.

The Center for the Study of Prevention of Violence in Boulder, Colo., reports that between 1992 and 1996, the number of female juveniles arrested for violent crimes (murder, robbery and aggravated assault) increased 25 percent, with no percentage increase in arrests of male juveniles.

It’s no consolation that behavioral scientists can recite a list of probable causes for this brutality, just as they have ready explanations for why more CEOs are corrupt and why more Americans engage in deceit and deception in personal and business lives.

Not everyone accepts or engages in callous incivility. But general complacency toward violence at home surely mutes protest against war casualties.

Americans have an addiction for violence. Movie violence reaps fortunes for studios and actors. TV hit shows are built on violence. Prisons can’t be built fast enough to house violent sociopaths.

Now the nation’s new policy of preemptive war-making on another nation is an ethos found in gangland code justifying violence to settle real or imagined grievances.

So, there’s the schoolyard bully spoiling for a fight to protect his turf and the President of the United States who claims his turf is threatened, and cockily throws down his own challenge and tells the world’s terrorists, "Bring ‘em on."

The difference is the schoolyard bully does his own fighting and bleeding.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.