All the time, we meet badly abused and ill-treated children, and children who are victims of random violence, slaughtered in war and scenes of murder without mercy and respect for their lives.
guest column: Fr Oskar Wermter Sj
TV is full of murders, killings, abuse of human beings. I do not want to see films on crimes against non-combatants or slaughter of civilians during wars. I just do not see how crime and murder are entertaining. I do enjoy comedies and amusing entertainment, but the shedding of blood, so common in this world and so much reflected in our media, I do not find entertaining. I would like to protect children from such cruelty and brutality. I wish they were not exposed to scenes of shedding blood which might make them think that killing and murder of people is a “normal” thing anybody can engage in.
I do not accept what certain educationist and pedagogues maintain that blood and violence do not hurt children who watch such films and video material continuously. I have a strong suspicion that constant exposure to such images and motion pictures leave a very deep impression in children’s minds. We should try and avoid filling their imagination with such pictures of sheer horror that fill their hearts with fear and might eventually make them immune to senseless torture, brutality, and shedding of blood, and frustrate all parents’ attempts to teach their young ones basic morality and respect for life and human dignity. When I was at school, physical punishment by beating had already been banned. But such habits die hard. They leave nevertheless a deep painful impression, a scar that does not heal. The few times when I got a kick or was hit by a fellow student, quite viciously, I have never forgotten. The incidents remain in my mind quite vividly.
Criminal investigations show that abuse of children, cruel acts of punishment for instance, happen mostly within families. If small children observe such incidents, it hurts them, even if they remain physically without any wound or scar.
A young boy who has often seen how his mother was beaten badly by his father may easily become a wife-beater himself in adulthood. He may acquire a physical male superiority complex, unable to relate to women with gentleness and courtesy. Domestic violence is not easily overcome. It may become a bad and cruel habit. The step from violence between spouses, brothers and sisters, uncles and nephews to outright bloody violence that kills is very short. There are men’s clubs which try to educate their members to change their behaviour towards wives, sisters, female colleagues. I wish them every success. Their educational efforts are of national importance.
Violence, with a fatal outcome, is nowadays very common. Killing persons randomly as in drive-by shootings, or in classroom massacres are spreading worldwide. The easy availability of weapons, even automatic machine guns as on the American continent, increase the risk of accidental killings in public places.
Constitutions in many countries declare that human life is precious and untouchable. But in reality, this principle is not respected, and our sisters and mothers, even brothers and fathers, suffer. Who does not know families that are without breadwinners because mothers and wives lost their spouses, their sons, their brothers because of absurd killing sprees in their neighbourhood? Or because of senseless wars and bloody conflicts?
How much firepower do we give to our police? Is the military free to act against civilians, citizens of their own country? Are their duties not restricted to defending the country against foreign invaders and violent, armed enemies?
This seems clear to lawyers, but not to politicians who use the army for their own political aims and objectives, use robbers and criminals for their own private blood feuds and revenge. Does the State have the right to call up its citizens for military service (conscription, draft) in peace as well as in wartime?
Can the State demand that citizens sacrifice their lives for the country? I ask this question because it sums up the history of my own family and explains why we lost our father who was a man of peace. What was this sacrifice for? Why is the blood of so many shed in war and armed conflict?
Soon after Independence, a colleague of mine was working with war widows, that is, women who had been forced to witness the execution of their husbands as “sell-outs”. The aim was to free them from the trauma of such a horrific experience. There are countless Zimbabweans who still carry all our wars and violent conflicts in their hearts, and cannot free themselves from these images of inhuman cruelty deeply rooted in their hearts. We have volunteers who come to the aid of such war victims and free them from these traumatic experiences.
Why is there war? Why are men forced to join the army and leave their lives on battle fields? In the past this was rarely asked, it was taken for granted. Parents were proud of their soldier sons who became heroes in wars of liberation or in military conflicts between nations. But in view of the huge number of fatalities in recent world wars, we must begin to question the justification of such holocausts of our fellow citizens. For what reason?
We need to ask a very fundamental question of political ethics. What is the State for? Does the State serve the people, or do the people essentially serve the State? Can the State just use up citizens for whatever need the State may have? Are we meant to be “cannon fodder” and allow ourselves to be eaten up by military machineries in genocides, annihilated by nuclear weapons, and burnt up for no reason at all? Were we not created for life, indeed for love and sharing the Creators gifts?
Is not the State meant to serve our, the citizens’, needs, first and foremost? And is this not the vocation and calling of all of us? Are we “warriors” in the service of the State or are we “civil servants” for fellow citizens before all else? Being slaughtered for the State and its power interests seems pointless, and we should not be forced to make such a senseless sacrifice.
But there is after all room for sacrifice! Even self-sacrifice! But for whom and what for and how? There are many, including close friends, loved ones, spouses, who give of themselves without limit. They use their own energy, talents and gifts to the point of spending themselves completely. In the process they do not kill either themselves or others, but they allow themselves to be used for the good of the community or society, for the family or the church, for instance, a mother who has given her life for husband and children and never stopped in her love and concern for her loved ones. There are indeed countless people who live lives of service for the family or community. A doctor or nurse, a life-saving scientist or a man with a life-changing message who never forgets that he owes his brothers and sisters his witness to the truth! This is needed for the good of the nation more than anything else. This also is a “dying for” the community and spending oneself, but without a bloody sacrifice. It is a “dying for the beloved”, for the partner in marriage, the children and all who need us to give them our lives, our energy, intelligence and love.
A true leader gives his love to those whom he leads. He spends himself for their sakes. “The greatest among you must behave as if he were the youngest, the leader as if he were the one who serves” (Luke 22:26). That is also a way of “giving one’s life”, not on the battlefield, but in the kitchen, in the classroom, in the operating theatre, at a sewing machine, at a writing desk, in a classroom, at a computer or in a conference room. Can we find such loving and self-giving leaders, who are not just seeking power and wealth for themselves, but prosperity and a flourishing life for others, for example, for those who trustfully voted for their leaders who give what they have and what they are, with dedication and commitment? These would be leaders who give their lives for making peace built on freedom, and not for gaining power by violent action.
Father Oskar Wermter is a social commentator