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We Have Become Death

By Camillo Mac Bica

"We knew the world would not be the same. Few people laughed, few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that, one way or another."  - Robert Oppenheimer First broadcast as part of the television documentary The Decision to Drop the Bomb (1965)

December 18, 2012 "Information Clearing House" - “Evil visited this community today,” is how Governor Molloy described the awful events that occurred at a Newtown Connecticut Elementary school. Whenever a “terrorist” attacks and innocents are slaughtered, we begin referencing religious concepts and asking the inevitable questions. Why do they hate us? Why would someone commit such an atrocity? Why was a flawed, obviously insane individual allowed access to weapons? The 24 hour cable “news” networks voyeuristically “report” firsthand accounts and talking head “experts” speculate regarding motive and intent. But yet we ignore the obvious, and refuse to look at who we are, better, what we’ve become, as a nation, a people, that makes such awful events not an aberration, but an all too common occurrence of slaughter and mayhem.

We live in a culture where violent video games replaced Mr. Rogers as entertainment for our children; where the youngest and most impressionable among us “cyber kill” virtual human beings for amusement, to occupy their time, and to prepare them to become weapons in perpetual war that goes unquestioned; where violence has replaced diplomacy; where torture is condoned; where truth telling ("whistle blowing") is a crime warranting imprisonment and solitary confinement; where murder is celebrated as a positive achievement of leadership and as evidence for a candidate’s qualification for four more years as president; where drones summarily execute human beings without trial, accusation, and with little outrage many of whom are innocents dehumanized as “collateral damage”; where the adoration of the weapons and technology of killing and destruction ("Memorial Day Air Shows”) serve to honor the wasted in war and to ritualize the changing of seasons.

We are a culture of hate, greed, and violence, killing our own as we kill others. We have lost our moral compass and have become the pariah of the human community. So Governor Molloy, I fear that evil is not merely an unwelcome visitor but lives among us and if I may quote the Bhagavad Gita, we “have become death the destroyer of worlds.”

My purpose in this commentary is not to exploit the deaths of victims and the suffering of families for political purposes. Rather it is an attempt first to bring attention to the murder, suffering, and pain of ALL innocents much of which is a direct consequence of American foreign policy (imperialism); second, it is an attempt to move beyond the useless rhetoric of American Exceptionalism in order to critically and fairly examine who we are, what we've become, and what we stand for as a people and as a nation; and finally, it is a plea for sanity, compassion, and morality so that we will no longer have to suffer and grieve the senseless and unnecessary deaths of innocents ANYWHERE in the world. To bring attention and awareness to the suffering of ALL innocents is not to be insensitive to or diminish the suffering of some. Children are children, each as important and as valuable as the other and murderers are murderers, each as despicable and reprehensible as the other. So let us grieve the children and then ACT to increase awareness of our failings in order to ensure that such insanity never occurs again.

Camillo Mac Bica is a Professor of Philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and the Coordinator of Veterans For Peace Long Island.

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