The big question presented by the incidence of violence perpetrated by humanity upon itself is: What is the proper response?
This morning, we woke up to another incident of individual violence against neighboring humans. Eighteen people are dead in Lewiston, Maine, because a man with a weapon of war took it into places of camaraderie and commenced slaughter.
Lewiston is not an isolated incident in the United States. Other individuals here and there are even now killing someone else for one reason or another. We will have to let Lewiston stand in for them all.
Internationally, we have the recent invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign nation, by another sovereign nation, Russia, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands if not millions. More immediately, a disaffected group in Gaza has launched an attack on Israel in such a way as to demand that violence be done upon it in return.
Again, these are not entirely isolated. There are others being harassed, hunted and killed in other lands, places we hear about only occasionally. Google Myanmar. East Timor.
How, we ask, can we respond without becoming them? History gives us an answer. We can’t. We answer violence with violence. There seems no other way.
I have had violence done upon me a few times in my life. Only once have I feared serious damage. In no case did I suffer long-term physical effects, nor did I ask anyone else, including the police, to exact vengeance for me. I think I did the right thing for me at the time, but I don’t know if I did the right thing for my community. Of equal importance, I don’t know if I did the right thing for my assailants. Would they have been given the help they needed, or would my “vengeance” have placed them in greater jeopardy? There are reports that the suspected gunman in Lewiston has recently spent time in a “mental health program.” So much for that idea.
As of now, this minute, today, I have no answers to the question of how best to respond to violence. It often seems to me that the violence that is being perpetrated at any one moment is, itself, a response to an earlier violence, which itself is a response to …
Someone recently asked a Palestinian how all of this started with the Jews, and his response was, “We should never have let Moses in.” I just reread the story of Cain and Abel, concluding that God himself must not have been fond of broccoli. I’m referencing these stories because most of us are familiar with them. Other cultures have their stories of brother against brother and tribe against tribe, many of which are still playing out today. Again, Google Somalia. Afghanistan.
So, no answers.
However, there is still a chance that the perpetrator of the Lewiston massacres will be brought in alive – not for his sake, but for the sake of his pursuers, none of whom will be forced to kill. Israel is on the knife edge of what may turn out to be a huge mistake, because it simply cannot let the murders of its children seem to go unavenged. Israelis are killing Palestinian children from the air pretty much as I type. PTSD waits in the wings.
There is always hope that a way may open that we have not seen before. I can’t see it myself. I can only hope that it is there.