“The Mindless Menace of Violence”

The story about what happened in Dallas last night is still developing. We all still have lots of questions about exactly what happened. It’s important to keep that in mind as the finger-pointing begins.

But here’s something we already know. These kinds of events are happening so fast in succession that they start to build on one another. As I watch the news, it feels like the whole world is in chaos. And yet, as I sit here and look out my window, everyone I see is going peacefully about their day’s business. Keep that in mind. Most Americans aren’t toting around guns and firing them off at the slightest provocation.

And yet, we are certainly living in violent times. It’s not the first time things have felt like this in America. As you await the development of the news coming out of Dallas, I suggest that you listen to an excerpt of the speech Robert Kennedy gave the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The similarity between the events of those days and what we are experiencing right now is captured by how his words are exactly what we need to hear today.

Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily – whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence – whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded…

When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other – only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force…

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.
But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

I have nothing to add. Kennedy got it exactly right that day back in 1968. It is no less true today than it was back then.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.