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.