Of Values and Violence

The theater only reflects our alarmingly accelerating thirst for blood

In this misperception, unfortunately, those who would tempt the world into unreflecting violence have a natural leader: the current U.S. government. The war in Iraq is not the cause of the violence in plays. Nor is the war even the cause of conflicts in the Islamic world about how to absorb the complications raised by the collision of Western and Eastern mores, though its existence has magnified and exacerbated them. But the idea of a government that believes only in armed might and its own self-righteousness, and hypocritically preaches democracy abroad while doing its best to suppress democracy at home, must surely serve as the rottenest of rotten examples. I keep on my computer, and reread every so often, the speech that Senator Robert C. Byrd made on March 19, 2003, when Congress had decided definitively—on the basis of what many even then knew was false information— to invade Iraq. "Today I weep for democracy," the Senate's senior member said. "When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might?" A radical doctrinaire approach . . . it sounds uncomfortably like people throwing chairs at a novelist in Hyderabad. But it is what we have been living with. And if we don't compel ourselves—and if the theater doesn't compel us—to look at reality more deeply, more widely, and with a more compassionate understanding of what we cause when we commit violence, we are surely heading for a world where the daily crucifixions will not just be a matter of mime, and there will be no day off on Sunday.

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