I grew up as both a precarious and anxious child. Thus, the tenor of my childhood world was molded by world events. Every night I watched the CBS Evening News with my father, first Walter Cronkite and later Dan Rather. It was a time and place that taught me much about world events and introduced me to unfamiliar vocabulary, both monumental aspects of my education in cultural literacy.
My anxiety was quelled somewhat by the stalwart stature of my father. My dad, an “everyman,” was well-read and articulate with an admirable vocabulary, but he also knew how to pour concrete, wire a house, build almost anything, and was a master of algebra equations. Because he seemed to me so smart and invincible, I felt a great level of protection. Then, it seemed, the adults had all of the answers.
However, it did seem a time to be fearful. In the early 1980s, around the time I started school, world unrest appeared rampant. I learned each night about the Salvadoran Civil War, along with bloodshed in Nicaragua. In Poland, martial law was declared in the midst of a Communist regime, ultimately challenged by the Solidarity movement. Especially as we moved farther into the 1980s, the red-flagged Union of Soviet Socialist Republics made me feel so fearful that at any moment someone might initiate nuclear “wargames” by pushing a button and ultimately destroying the world, including my parents and my prized childhood possessions.
Perhaps I am still molded by that formative anxiety. I have since learned that although the world may be rampant with unrest and potential threats, I don’t have to fear them on a daily basis as I did as a child. However, this week brought back some of that fear.
Of late, an event happened that was unlike anything since the War of 1812, when the British burned down the Capitol. This most recent act was so deliberate that I shouldn’t even craft its occurrence in that previous statement in such a passive voice. It was intended and inexcusable, and anyone that condones the actions of those involved, for whatever reason, agrees to be complicit in its lack of acceptability.
A group of insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol and created havoc, terrorizing those who were present, including the legislative branch of our government, and vandalizing federal property. On social media, I read some unsuccessful attempts to defend such actions, citing the fact that such folks were “fed up,” reminding me of a stance reminiscent of the perspective of mentally ill character Howard Beale from the 1976 movie Network, who was “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” Thus, these rioters “did what they had to do,” their defenders suggested.
Nevertheless, there is no excuse to resort to violence as a means in order to attain that which is right. To do so smacks of being uneducated, brutish, and inarticulate, no matter whether one feels devoid of other means to which one may resort. Doing so is the antithesis of effecting positive change.
I would like to think, as I remain somewhat of an idealist, that all U.S. citizens would all strive for peace. If so, we might borrow from an idea in a speech titled “A Christmas Sermon on Peace” that makes reference to the Vietnam War, delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., titled and published in The Trumpet of Conscience on Christmas Eve 1967. King said, “One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.” I fully agree.
I also thought about my father. Beyond my perception of him as a sort of Renaissance man, my father taught and encouraged me to be civil to others. He was a deacon and Sunday School teacher, too, and, after all, a traditionalist Southerner who grew up in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Thus, many of my values, especially those regarding civility, were shaped by my father.
I also recall my father’s enjoyment of politics from my childhood. Even though Dad didn’t always agree with some of the political stances of some of the elected officials in the executive and legislative branches of federal government, he exhibited civility. Likewise, my memories of the behavior of those televised politicians are filled with propriety, with decorum. No one I knew within my personal or well-known realm in my younger days would have ever encouraged or condoned anyone making a trip to Washington, D.C., storming up to the U.S. Capitol, removing barricades, breaking windows, and carrying weapons on federally protected property.
It leads me to wonder what has changed in public behavior. It prompts me to recall the sort of violence I witnessed on the evening news when I was a child viewing a disorganized coup d’etat in some seemingly remote banana republic – except this country, I thought, was a civilized democracy.
As I pondered the most recent insurrectionists, for a moment, I tried to consider their perspective, wondered about their education, their lives, and I even thought to feel sorry for them – but only for a brief moment. I thought better. While they may have been implicitly invited to a “wild” protest in a tweet back in December, ultimately what they did was inexcusable, criminal, seditious, and, frankly un-American, and it deserves the greatest punishment possible for all, including those who incited it or were complicit.