A (Not So Hidden) Assumption

By Winslow Myers

Another mass shooting in the U.S.; Russia attacking whomever it thinks most

threatens Assad; the carnage across vast swaths of the Middle East, where a

Hobbesian chaos reigns so complete that one can no longer tell the players apart

enough to decide upon rational strategic policy—these disparate events are united

by one primal cultural assumption: that humans murdering other humans

represents an effective way to resolve conflicts.

Someday we will understand how the grotesque distortion of reality within the

mind of an insane person spraying bullets randomly among his innocent fellow-

citizens is not all that different from Assad dropping barrel bombs on his fellow

citizens. Or Putin dropping bombs on whomever his planes are targeting today—or

Obama firing extra-judicial missiles from drones.

Killing solves nothing. But the not-so-hidden pervasive assumption is that killing

solves many things—based upon might makes right.

This is such a given in the media that “objective” reporting of the “facts” doesn’t

even need to set violence in the context of values—except when the murderousness

results in unavoidable tragic consequences like a mass exodus of refugees.

Journalism proudly seeks the objective, the “real.” The “real” is a cold accounting of

death and dismemberment without any possible blurring of the “facts” by human

values like pity, compassion, and shame.

Whether motivated by fear, revenge, offense as best defense, or any of the major

rationalizations for the insanity of war or the insanity of “private” murderousness,

humans live, move and have their being within a vast sea of justification of killing.

It extends into the highest reaches of our technological prowess, and thus we have

designed and deployed extraordinary instruments of death like the Trident

submarine, 600 feet of pure potential destruction, a kind of holocaust in a can

administered with an elite and proud professionalism that we would be happy to

see emulated elsewhere in our institutions and activities. We justify the necessity of

this deterrent bulwark, just as the others who possess these infernal machines, the

Russians, the French, the British, the North Koreans, feel equally justified in keeping

at the ready their own apparatus of mass murder.

This is our human paradigm on a small planet. But paradigms can shift. We once

thought that drilling holes in peoples’ skulls was the most effective way to heal

chronic headaches, or that werewolves were as “real” as present journalistic

“objectivity,” or that the sun revolved around the earth, or that cholera germs were

airborne and not waterborne.

We humans evolved from mammals who slowly learned compassion and care for

their young over millions of years. Within the ecological systems into which these

creatures fit, there is constant conflict, but also a level of cooperation in favor of the

survival and health of the system as a whole. From this life support system we still

have much to learn. And the capacity to learn is native within us, for we evolved

It is difficult to gauge how much power for positive change is contained in the mere

phrase that killing solves nothing. Surely the vast majority of people believe it to be

true. An impractical thought experiment can be performed: imagine that every news

story about war and murder simply began with the phrase “Killing solves nothing.”

To have a wide-ranging dialogue about whether killing solves anything is to open

the door to as yet unimagined or at least unchosen possibilities—and perhaps,

someday, to close the door for good on humans killing each other.

Nuclear weapons are a perfect place to start, because it is so crystal clear that their

use in conflict resolves nothing, and would inevitably make things a great deal

worse, worse even to the extent of our very extinction. It is past time for an

international conference, attended by those in the military and in high civilian

positions in the nuclear nations who are the decision-makers, to address the

perfectly feasible abolition of these obsolete weapons. Success in this regard, so

much easier than the level of cooperation required to mitigate global climate

instability, could become a model of non-violent conflict resolution replicable in

regional and local domains, including addressing the NRA-driven gun-culture in the

U.S. with common-sense laws. Killing solves nothing.

Winslow Myers, the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” writes on global

issues and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.

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