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Transfer support to those trying to eliminate violence, hot or cold


In the field of conflict resolution, two types of violence have been identified: hot and cold. Hot violence is the death and chaos of Sept. 11 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Hot violence is the Columbine High School massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing. The unspeakable horror is up close and visible, witnesses’ emotions are felt, outrage is immediate, the media are quick to the scene.

Cold violence has little of those elements. It is beyond view, so routine as to stir few emotions, and so ordinary as to attract the media only rarely. Cold violence is the daily death toll of an estimated 40,000 people who died yesterday, who are dying today, and will die tomorrow, from preventable hunger-related diseases. For years, Oxfam International has documented this reality. But it is a distant and unseen reality, not an American reality, not the destroyed World Trade Center reality. Cold violence is the dying of Iraqis caused by U.S.-imposed economic sanctions. UNICEF has reported that as many as 250 Iraqis have succumbed every day.

We learn to compartmentalize. Two days after the Colorado school killings in April 1999, President Bill Clinton displayed the art form. He went to a public high school in Alexandria, Va., to speak to a student peer mediation club: “We must do more than reach out to our children and teach them to express their anger and resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons.”

After the talk, heartfelt and eloquent, he returned to the White House to order up the most intense bombing of Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia, since U.S. and NATO pilots were turned loose a month before. In speeches, Clinton would keep calling for alternatives to school violence -- the hot kind -- while continuing to justify the cold kind: military violence on Yugoslav civilians in their homes, offices and neighborhoods. His weapons that killed thousands were good; the weapons of schoolhouse gunmen were evil.

The president’s thinking was revealed in All Too Human by George Stephanapoulos. When told in October 1993 that American soldiers had been killed by street fighters in Somalia, Clinton said: “We’re not inflicting pain on these f------. When people kill us, they should be killed in greater numbers. I believe in killing people who try to hurt you, and I can’t believe we’re being pushed around by these two-bit p-----.”

All of this fits the pattern of double-standard ethics. Hot violence tends to be illegal and unofficial. Cold violence is legal and official. In Violence: Perspectives of Murder and Aggression, sociologists Diane Archer and Rosemary Gartner write: “Wars and other forms of official violence are unique in that they wear the mantle of governmental legitimacy. When aircraft bomb a village, when the CIA hires assassins to kill foreign leaders, when a policeman shoots a looter, when a prison firing squad executes a convicted murderer, the killings that occur are the direct result of governmental orders. These orders originate in a hierarchical organization. They are issued by appointed or elected officials and carried out collectively by uniformed deputies who perform the actual killing. Officials killing, therefore, differ from illegal violence in that they result from governmental orders, are usually performed by several agencies acting collectively and are justified as instruments of some higher purpose.”

Similar trenchancy is found in The Respectable Murderers, the classic text on nonviolence by Msgr. Paul Hanely Furfey, the Catholic University sociologist: “The sporadic crimes that soil the front pages, the daily robberies, assaults, rapes, murders are the work of individuals and small gangs. But the great evils, the persecutions, the unjust wars of conquest, the mass slaughters of the innocent, the exploitation of whole social classes -- these crimes are committed by the organized community under the leadership of respectable citizens.”

The solution? Withdraw support -- political, financial and emotional -- from all double-standard practitioners of violence, hot or cold, illegal or legal, and transfer the support to those working to eliminate violence no matter where it is found or who is madly justifying it.

Colman McCarthy, former Washington Post columnist, directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington.

National Catholic Reporter, October 5, 2001