Wendall Berry: The Commerce of Violence

Source: The Progressive Magazine

On the day of the bombing in Boston, The New York Times printed an op-ed piece by a human being who has been imprisoned at Guantánamo for more than eleven years, uncharged and, of course, untried. The occurrence of these two events on the same day was a coincidence, but that does not mean that they are unrelated.

What connects them is our devaluation, and when convenient our disvaluation, of human life as well as the earthly life of which human life is a dependent part. This cheapening of life, and the violence that inevitably accompanies it, is surely the dominant theme of our time. The ease and quickness with which we resort to violence would be astounding if it were not conventional.

In the Appalachia coalfields, we mine coal by destroying a mountain, its forest, its waterways, and its human community without counting the destruction as a cost. Our military technicians, our representatives, sit in armchairs and kill our enemies, and our enemies’ children, by remote control. In the Guantánamo prison, guards force their fasting prisoners to live; they do so as routinely as in other circumstances they would kill them.

And the Boston bombing? Like most people, I was not there, and I don’t know anybody who was, but I was grieved and frightened by the news. This fearful grief has grown familiar to me since I first felt it at the start of World War II, but at each of its returns it is worse. Each new resort to violence enlarges the argument against our species, and the task of hope becomes harder.

I am absolutely in sympathy with those who suffered the bombing in Boston and with their loved ones. They have been singled out by a violence that was general in its intent, not aimed particularly at anybody. The oddity, the mystery, of a particular hurt from a general violence—the necessity to ask, “Why me? Why my loved ones?”—must compound the suffering.

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