Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
Christianity Today, August 10, 1998
we training our children to kill? I am from Jonesboro, Arkansas.
I travel the world training medical, law enforcement, and
U.S. military personnel about the realities of warfare.
I try to make those who carry deadly force keenly aware
of the magnitude of killing. Too many law enforcement and
military personnel act like "cowboys," never stopping to
think about who they are and what they are called to do.
I hope I am able to give them a reality check.
So here I am, a world traveler and an expert in the field
of "killology," and the largest school massacre in American
history happens in my hometown of Jonesboro, Arkansas. That
was the March 24, 1999, schoolyard shooting deaths of four
girls and a teacher. Ten others were injured, and two boys,
ages 11 and 13, are in jail, charged with murder.
My son goes to one of the middle schools in town, so my
aunt in Florida called us that day and asked, "Was that
Joe's school?" And we said, "We haven't heard about it."
My aunt in Florida knew about the shootings before we did!
turned on the television and discovered the shootings took
place down the road from us but, thank goodness, not at
Joe's school. I'm sure almost all parents in Jonesboro that
night hugged their children and said, "Thank God it wasn't
you," as they tucked them into bed. But there was also a
lot of guilt because some parents in Jonesboro couldn't
I spent the first three days after the tragedy at Westside
Middle School, where the shootings took place, working with
the counselors, teachers, students, and parents. None of
us had ever done anything like this before. I train people
how to react to trauma in the military; but how do you do
it with kids after a massacre in their school?
I was the lead trainer for the counselors and clergy the
night after the shootings, and the following day we debriefed
the teachers in groups. Then the counselors and clergy,
working with the teachers, debriefed the students, allowing
them to work through everything that had happened. Only
people who share a trauma can give each other the understanding,
acceptance, and forgiveness needed to understand what happened,
and then they can begin the long process of trying to understand
why it happened.
understand the why behind Jonesboro and Springfield and
Pearl and Paducah, and all the other outbreaks of this "virus
of violence," we need to understand first the magnitude
of the problem. The per capita murder rate doubled in this
country between 1957 when the FBI started keeping track
of the data--and 1992. A fuller picture of the problem,
however, is indicated by the rate people are attempting
to kill one another--the aggravated assault rate. That rate
in America has gone from around 60 per 100,000 in 1957 to
over 440 per 100,000 by the middle of this decade. As bad
as this is, it would be much worse were it not for two major
First is the increase in the imprisonment rate of violent
offenders. The prison population in America nearly quadrupled
between 1975 and 1992. According to criminologist John J.
DiIulio, "dozens of credible empirical analyses . . . leave
no doubt that the increased use of prisons averted millions
of serious crimes." If it were not for our tremendous imprisonment
rate (the highest of any industrialized nation), the aggravated
assault rate and the murder rate would undoubtedly be even
don't naturally kill; they learn it from violence in the
home and most pervasively, from violence as entertainment
in television, movies, and interactive video games.
The second factor keeping the murder rate from being any
worse is medical technology. According to the US Army Medical
Service Corps, a wound that would have killed nine out of
ten soldiers in World War II, nine out of ten could have
survived in Vietnam. Thus, by a very conservative estimate,
if we had 1940-level medical technology today, the murder
rate would be ten times higher than it is. The magnitude
of the problem has been held down by the development of
sophisticated lifesaving skills and techniques, such as
helicopter medivacs, 911 operators, paramedics, CPR, trauma
centers, and medicines.
the crime rate is still at a phenomenally high level, and
this is true worldwide. In Canada, according to their Center
for Justice, per capita assaults increased almost fivefold
between 1964 and 1993, attempted murder increased nearly
sevenfold, and murders doubled. Similar trends can be seen
in other countries in the per capita violent crime rates
reported to Interpol between 1977 and 1993. In Australia
and New Zealand, the assault rate increased approximately
fourfold, and the murder rate nearly doubled in both nations.
The assault rate tripled in Sweden, and approximately doubled
in Belgium, Denmark, England-Wales, France, Hungary, Netherlands,
and Scotland, while all these nations had an associated
(but smaller) increase in murder.
virus of violence is occurring worldwide. The explanation
for it has to be some new factor that is occurring in all
of these countries. There are many factors involved, and
none should be discounted: for example, the prevalence of
guns in our society. But violence is rising in many nations
with draconian gun laws. And though we should never downplay
child abuse, poverty, or racism, there is only one new variable
present in each of these countries, bearing the exact same
fruit: media violence presented as entertainment for children.
retiring from the military, I spent almost a quarter of
a century as an army infantry officer and a psychologist,
learning and studying how to enable people to kill. Believe
me, we are very good at it. But it does not come naturally;
you have to be taught to kill. And just as the army is conditioning
people to kill, we are indiscriminately doing the same thing
to our children, but without the safeguards.
the Jonesboro killings, the head of the American Academy
of Pediatrics Task Force on Juvenile Violence came to town
and said that children don't naturally kill. It is a learned
skill. And they learn it from abuse and violence in the
home and, most pervasively, from violence as entertainment
in television, the movies, and interactive video games.
Killing requires training because there is a built-in aversion
to killing one's own kind. I can best illustrate this from
drawing on my own work in studying killing in the military.
We all know that you can't have an argument or a discussion
with a frightened or angry human being. Vasoconstriction,
the narrowing of the blood vessels, has literally closed
down the forebrain--that great gob of gray matter that makes
you a human being and distinguishes you from a dog. When
those neurons close down, the midbrain takes over and your
thought processes and reflexes are indistinguishable from
your dog's. If you've worked with animals, you have some
understanding in the realm of midbrain responses.
Within the midbrain there is a powerful, God-given resistance
to killing your own kind. Every species, with a few exceptions,
has a hardwired resistance to killing its own kind in territorial
and mating battles. When animals with antlers and horns
fight one another, they head butt in a harmless fashion.
But when they fight any other species, they go to the side
to gut and gore. Piranhas will turn their fangs on anything,
but they fight one another with flicks of the tail. Rattlesnakes
will bite anything, but they wrestle one another. Almost
every species has this hardwired resistance to killing its
we human beings are overwhelmed with anger and fear, we
slam head-on into that midbrain resistance that generally
prevents us from killing. Only sociopaths--who by definition
don't have that resistance--lack this innate violence immune
human history, when humans fight each other, there is a
lot of posturing. Adversaries make loud noises and puff
themselves up, trying to daunt the enemy. There is a lot
of fleeing and submission. Ancient battles were nothing
more than great shoving matches. It was not until one side
turned and ran that most of the killing happened, and most
of that was stabbing people in the back. All of the ancient
military historians report that the vast majority of killing
happened in pursuit when one side was fleeing.
more modern times, the average firing rate was incredibly
low in Civil War battles. Paddy Griffith demonstrates that
the killing potential of the average Civil War regiment
was anywhere from five hundred to a thousand men per minute.
The actual killing rate was only one or two men per minute
per regiment (The Battle Tactics of the American Civil War).
At the Battle of Gettysburg, of the 27,000 muskets picked
up from the dead and dying after the battle, 90 percent
were loaded. This is an anomaly, because it took 95 percent
of their time to load muskets and only 5 percent to fire.
But even more amazingly, of the thousands of loaded muskets,
over half had multiple loads in the barrel--one with 23
loads in the barrel. In reality, the average man would load
his musket and bring it to his shoulder, but he could not
bring himself to kill. He would be brave, he would stand
shoulder to shoulder, he would do what he was trained to
do; but at the moment of truth, he could not bring himself
to pull the trigger. So, he lowered the weapon and loaded
it again. Of those who did fire, only a tiny percentage
fired to hit. The vast majority fired over the enemy's head.
World War II, US Army Brig. Gen. S. L. A. Marshall had a
team of researchers study what soldiers did in battle. For
the first time in history, they asked individual soldiers
what they did in battle. They discovered that only 15 to
20 percent of the individual riflemen could bring themselves
to fire at an exposed enemy soldier.
That is the reality of the battlefield. Only a small percentage
of soldiers are able and willing to participate. Men are
willing to die, they are willing to sacrifice themselves
for their nation; but they are not willing to kill. It is
a phenomenal insight into human nature; but when the military
became aware of that, they systematically went about the
process of trying to fix this "problem." From the military
perspective, a 15 percent firing rate among riflemen is
like a 15 percent literacy rate among librarians. And fix
it the military did. By the Korean War, around 55 percent
of the soldiers were willing to fire to kill. And by Vietnam,
the rate rose to over 90 percent.
Methods in this Madness: Desensitization
the military increases the killing rate of soldiers in combat
is instructive, because our culture today is doing the same
thing to our children. The training methods militaries use
are brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning,
and role modeling. I will explain these in the military
context and show how these same factors are contributing
to the phenomenal increase of violence in our culture.
Brutalization and desensitization are what happen at boot
camp. From the moment you step off the bus you are physically
and verbally abused: countless pushups, endless hours at
attention or running with heavy loads, while carefully trained
professionals take turns screaming at you. Your head is
shaved, you are herded together naked and dressed alike,
losing all individuality. This brutalization is designed
to break down your existing mores and norms and to accept
a new set of values that embrace destruction, violence,
and death as a way of life. In the end, you are desensitized
to violence and accept it as a normal and essential survival
skill in your brutal new world.
Something very similar to this desensitization toward violence
is happening to our children through violence in the media--but
instead of 18-year-olds, it begins at the age of 18 months
when a child is first able to discern what is happening
on television. At that age, a child can watch something
happening on television and mimic that action. But it isn't
until children are six or seven years old that the part
of the brain kicks in that lets them understand where information
comes from. Even though young children have some understanding
of what it means to pretend, they are developmentally unable
to distinguish clearly between fantasy and reality.
young children see somebody shot, stabbed, raped, brutalized,
degraded, or murdered on TV, to them it is as though it
were actually happening. To have a child of three, four,
or five watch a "splatter" movie, learning to relate to
a character for the first 90 minutes and then in the last
30 minutes watch helplessly as that new friend is hunted
and brutally murdered is the moral and psychological equivalent
of introducing your child to a friend, letting her play
with that friend, and then butchering that friend in front
of your child's eyes. And this happens to our children hundreds
upon hundreds of times.
Sure, they are told: "Hey, it's all for fun. Look, this
isn't real, it's just TV." And they nod their little heads
and say, "okay." But they can't tell the difference.
Can you remember a point in your life or in your children's
lives when dreams, reality, and television were all jumbled
together? That's what it is like to be at that level of
psychological development. That's what the media is doing
Journal of the American Medical Association published the
definitive epidemiological study on the impact of TV violence.
The research demonstrated what happened in numerous nations
after television made its appearance as compared to nations
and regions without TV. The two nations or regions being
compared are demographically and ethnically identical; only
one variable is different: the presence of television. In
every nation, region, or city with television, there is
an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and
within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate.
Why 15 years? That is how long it takes for the brutalization
of a three-to five-year-old to reach the "prime crime age."
That is how long it takes for you to reap what you have
sown when you brutalize and desensitize a three-year-old.
Today the data linking violence in the media to violence
in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco.
Hundreds of sound scientific studies demonstrate the social
impact of brutalization by the media. The Journal of the
American Medical Association concluded that "the introduction
of television in the 1950's caused a subsequent doubling
of the homicide rate, i.e., long-term childhood exposure
to television is a causal factor behind approximately one
half of the homicides committed in the United States, or
approximately 10,000 homicides annually." The article went
on to say that ". . . if, hypothetically, television technology
had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer
homicides each year in the United States, 70,000 fewer rapes,
and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults" (June 10, 1992).
conditioning is like the famous case of Pavlov's dogs you
learned about in Psychology 101: The dogs learned to associate
the ringing of the bell with food, and, once conditioned,
the dogs could not hear the bell without salivating.
Japanese were masters at using classical conditioning with
their soldiers. Early in World War II, Chinese prisoners
were placed in a ditch on their knees with their hands bound
behind them. And one by one, a select few Japanese soldiers
would go into the ditch and bayonet "their" prisoner to
death. This is a horrific way to kill another human being.
Up on the bank, countless other young soldiers would cheer
them on in their violence. Comparatively few soldiers actually
killed in these situations, but by making the others watch
and cheer, the Japanese were able to use these kinds of
atrocities to classically condition a very large audience
to associate pleasure with human death and suffering. Immediately
afterwards, the soldiers who had been spectators were treated
to sake, the best meal they had had in months, and to so-called
comfort girls. The result? They learned to associate committing
violent acts with pleasure.
The Japanese found these kinds of techniques to be extraordinarily
effective at quickly enabling very large numbers of soldiers
to commit atrocities in the years to come. Operant conditioning
(which we will look at shortly) teaches you to kill, but
classical conditioning is a subtle but powerful mechanism
that teaches you to like it.
This technique is so morally reprehensible that there are
very few examples of it in modern US military training;
but there are some clear-cut examples of it being done by
the media to our children. What is happening to our children
is the reverse of the aversion therapy portrayed in the
movie A Clockwork Orange. In A Clockwork Orange, a brutal
sociopath, a mass murderer, is strapped to a chair and forced
to watch violent movies while he is injected with a drug
that nauseates him. So he sits and gags and retches as he
watches the movies. After hundreds of repetitions of this,
he associates violence with nausea, and it limits his ability
to be violent.
time a child plays an interactive video game, he is learning
the exact same conditioned reflex skills as a soldier or
police officer in training.
are doing the exact opposite: Our children watch vivid pictures
of human suffering and death, learning to associate it with
their favorite soft drink and candy bar, or their girlfriend's
After the Jonesboro shootings, one of the high-school teachers
told me how her students reacted when she told them about
the shootings at the middle school. "They laughed," she
told me with dismay. A similar reaction happens all the
time in movie theaters when there is bloody violence. The
young people laugh and cheer and keep right on eating popcorn
and drinking pop. We have raised a generation of barbarians
who have learned to associate violence with pleasure, like
the Romans cheering and snacking as the Christians were
slaughtered in the Coliseum.
The result is a phenomenon that functions much like AIDS,
which I call AVIDS--Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency
Syndrome. AIDS has never killed anybody. It destroys your
immune system, and then other diseases that shouldn't kill
you become fatal. Television violence by itself does not
kill you. It destroys your violence immune system and conditions
you to derive pleasure from violence. And once you are at
close range with another human being, and it's time for
you to pull that trigger, Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency
Syndrome can destroy your midbrain resistance.
third method the military uses is operant conditioning,
a very powerful procedure of stimulus-response, stimulus-response.
A benign example is the use of flight simulators to train
pilots. An airline pilot in training sits in front of a
flight simulator for endless hours; when a particular warning
light goes on, he is taught to react in a certain way. When
another warning light goes on, a different reaction is required.
Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response.
One day the pilot is actually flying a jumbo jet; the plane
is going down, and 300 people are screaming behind him.
He is wetting his seat cushion, and he is scared out of
his wits; but he does the right thing. Why? Because he has
been conditioned to respond reflexively to this particular
When people are frightened or angry, they will do what they
have been conditioned to do. In fire drills, children learn
to file out of the school in orderly fashion. One day there
is a real fire, and they are frightened out of their wits;
but they do exactly what they have been conditioned to do,
and it saves their lives.
The military and law enforcement community have made killing
a conditioned response. This has substantially raised the
firing rate on the modern battlefield. Whereas infantry
training in World War II used bull's-eye targets, now soldiers
learn to fire at realistic, man-shaped silhouettes that
pop into their field of view. That is the stimulus. The
trainees have only a split second to engage the target.
The conditioned response is to shoot the target, and then
it drops. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response--soldiers
or police officers experience hundreds of repetitions. Later,
when soldiers are on the battlefield or a police officer
is walking a beat and somebody pops up with a gun, they
will shoot reflexively and shoot to kill. We know that 75
to 80 percent of the shooting on the modern battlefield
is the result of this kind of stimulus-response training.
Now, if you're a little troubled by that, how much more
should we be troubled by the fact that every time a child
plays an interactive point-and-shoot video game, he is learning
the exact same conditioned reflex and motor skills.
I was an expert witness in a murder case in South Carolina
offering mitigation for a kid who was facing the death penalty.
I tried to explain to the jury that interactive video games
had conditioned him to shoot a gun to kill. He had spent
hundreds of dollars on video games learning to point and
shoot, point and shoot. One day he and his buddy decided
it would be fun to rob the local convenience store. They
walked in, and he pointed a snub-nosed .38 pistol at the
clerk's head. The clerk turned to look at him, and the defendant
shot reflexively from about six feet. The bullet hit the
clerk right between the eyes--which is a pretty remarkable
shot with that weapon at that range--and killed this father
of two. Afterward, we asked the boy what happened and why
he did it. It clearly was not part of the plan to kill the
guy--it was being videotaped from six different directions.
He said, "I don't know. It was a mistake. It wasn't supposed
In the military and law-enforcement worlds, the right option
is often not to shoot. But you never, never put your quarter
in that video machine with the intention of not shooting.
There is always some stimulus that sets you off. And when
he was excited, and his heart rate went up, and vasoconstriction
closed his forebrain down, this young man did exactly what
he was conditioned to do: he reflexively pulled the trigger,
shooting accurately just like all those times he played
process is extraordinarily powerful and frightening. The
result is ever more homemade pseudo-sociopaths who kill
reflexively and show no remorse. Our children are learning
to kill and learning to like it; and then we have the audacity
to say, "Oh my goodness, what's wrong?"
One of the boys allegedly involved in the Jonesboro shootings
(and they are just boys) had a fair amount of experience
shooting real guns. The other one was a nonshooter and,
to the best of our knowledge, had almost no experience shooting.
Between them, those two boys fired 27 shots from a range
of over 100 yards, and they hit 15 people. That's pretty
remarkable shooting. We run into these situations often--kids
who have never picked up a gun in their lives pick up a
real gun and are incredibly accurate. Why?
models In the military, you are immediately confronted with
a role model: your drill sergeant. He personifies violence
and aggression. Along with military heroes, these violent
role models have always been used to influence young, impressionable
Today the media are providing our children with role models.
This can be seen not just in the lawless sociopaths in movies
and TV shows, but it can also be seen in the media-inspired,
copycat aspects of the Jonesboro murders. This is the part
of these juvenile crimes that the TV networks would much
rather not talk about.
Research in the 1970s demonstrated the existence of "cluster
suicides" in which the local TV reporting of teen suicides
directly caused numerous copycat suicides of impressionable
teenagers. Somewhere in every population there are potentially
suicidal kids who will say to themselves, "Well, I'll show
all those people who have been mean to me. I know how to
get my picture on TV, too." Because of this research, television
stations today generally do not cover suicides. But when
the pictures of teenage killers appear on TV, the effect
is the same: Somewhere there is a potentially violent little
boy who says to himself, "Well, I'll show all those people
who have been mean to me. I know how to get my picture on
we get copycat, cluster murders that work their way across
America like a virus spread by the six o'clock news. No
matter what someone has done, if you put his picture on
TV, you have made him a celebrity, and someone, somewhere,
will emulate him.
The lineage of the Jonesboro shootings began at Pearl, Mississippi,
fewer than six months before. In Pearl, a 16-year-old boy
was accused of killing his mother and then going to his
school and shooting nine students, two of whom died, including
his ex-girlfriend. Two months later, this virus spread to
Paducah, Kentucky, where a 14-year-old boy was arrested
for killing three students and wounding five others.
A very important step in the spread of this copycat crime
virus occurred in Stamps, Arkansas, 15 days after Pearl
and just a little over 90 days before Jonesboro. In Stamps,
a 14-year-old boy, who was angry at his schoolmates, hid
in the woods and fired at children as they came out of school.
Sound familiar? Only two children were injured in this crime,
so most of the world didn't hear about it; but it got great
regional coverage on TV, and two little boys in Jonesboro,
Arkansas, probably did hear about it.
then there was Springfield, Oregon, and so many others.
Is this a reasonable price to pay for the TV networks' "right"
to turn juvenile defendants into celebrities and role models
by playing up their pictures on TV?
Our society needs to be informed about these crimes, but
when the images of the young killers are broadcast on television,
they become role models. The average preschooler in America
watches 27 hours of television a week. The average child
gets more one-on-one communication from TV than from all
her parents and teachers combined. The ultimate achievement
for our children is to get their picture on TV. The solution
is simple, and it comes straight out of the suicidology
literature: The media have every right and responsibility
to tell the story, but they have no right to glorify the
killers by presenting their images on TV.
Check: Sixty percent of men on TV are involved in violence;
11 percent are killers. Unlike actual rates, in the media
the majority of homicide victims are women. (Gerbner 1994)
In a Canadian town in which TV was first introduced in 1973,
a 160 percent increase in aggression, hitting, shoving,
and biting was documented in first- and second-grade students
after exposure, with no change in behavior in children in
two control communities. (Centerwall 1992) Fifteen years
after the introduction of TV, homicides, rapes and assaults
doubled in the United States. (American Medical Association)
Twenty percent of suburban high schoolers endorse shooting
someone "who has stolen something from you." (Toch and Silver
1993) In the United States, approximately two million teenagers
carry knives, guns, clubs or razors. As many as 135,000
take them to school. (America by the Numbers) Americans
spend over $100 million on toy guns every year. What Counts:
The Complete Harper's Index © 1991)
is the road home from the dark and lonely place to which
we have traveled? One route infringes on civil liberties.
The city of New York has made remarkable progress in recent
years in bringing down crime rates, but they may have done
so at the expense of some civil liberties. People who are
fearful say that is a price they are willing to pay.
Another route would be to "just turn it off"; if you don't
like what is on television, use the "off" button. Yet, if
all the parents of the 15 shooting victims in Jonesboro
had protected their children from TV violence, it wouldn't
have done a bit of good. Because somewhere there were two
little boys whose parents didn't "just turn it off."
On the night of the Jonesboro shootings, clergy and counselors
were working in small groups in the hospital waiting room,
comforting the groups of relatives and friends of the victims.
Then they noticed one woman sitting alone silently.
counselor went over to the woman and discovered that she
was the mother of one of the girls who had been killed.
She had no friends, no husband, no family with her as she
sat in the hospital, stunned by her loss. "I just came to
find out how to get my little girl's body back," she said.
But the body had been taken to Little Rock, 100 miles away,
for an autopsy. Her very next concern was, "I just don't
know how I'm going to pay for the funeral. I don't know
how I can afford it." That little girl was truly all she
had in all the world. Come to Jonesboro, friend, and tell
this mother she should "just turn it off."
Nonviolent Video Games
following list of nonviolent video games has been developed
by The Games Project (1999). These games are ranked high
for their social and play value and technical merit.
The Incredible Machine
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need to make progress in the fight against child abuse,
racism, and poverty, and in rebuilding our families. No
one is denying that the breakdown of the family is a factor.
But nations without our divorce rates are also having increases
in violence. Besides, research demonstrates that one major
source of harm associated with single-parent families occurs
when the TV becomes both the nanny and the second parent.
Work is needed in all these areas, but there is a new front--taking
on the producers and purveyors of media violence. Simply
put, we ought to work toward legislation that outlaws violent
video games for children. There is no constitutional right
for a child to play an interactive video game that teaches
him weapons-handling skills or that simulates destruction
of God's creatures.
day may also be coming when we are able to seat juries in
America who are willing to sock it to the networks in the
only place they really understand--their wallets. After
the Jonesboro shootings, Time magazine said: "As for media
violence, the debate there is fast approaching the same
point that discussions about the health impact of tobacco
reached some time ago--it's over. Few researchers bother
any longer to dispute that bloodshed on TV and in the movies
has an effect on kids who witness it" (April 6, 1998).
of all, the American people need to learn the lesson of
Jonesboro: Violence is not a game; it's not fun, it's not
something that we do for entertainment. Violence kills.
parent in America desperately needs to be warned of the
impact of TV and other violent media on children, just as
we would warn them of some widespread carcinogen. The problem
is that the TV networks, which use the public airwaves we
have licensed to them, are our key means of public education
in America. And they are stonewalling.
the days after the Jonesboro shootings, I was interviewed
on Canadian national TV, the British Broadcasting Company,
and many US and international radio shows and newspapers.
But the American television networks simply would not touch
this aspect of the story. Never in my experience as a historian
and a psychologist have I seen any institution in America
so clearly responsible for so very many deaths, and so clearly
abusing their publicly licensed authority and power to cover
up their guilt.
after time, idealistic young network producers contacted
me from one of the networks, fascinated by the irony that
an expert in the field of violence and aggression was living
in Jonesboro and was at the school almost from the beginning.
But unlike all the other media, these network news stories
always died a sudden, silent death when the network's powers-that-be
said, "Yeah, we need this story like we need a hole in the
times since the shooting I have been asked, "Why weren't
you on TV talking about the stuff in your book?" And every
time my answer had to be, "The TV networks are burying this
story. They know they are guilty, and they want to delay
the retribution as long as they can."
an author and expert on killing, I believe I have spoken
on the subject at every Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions Club
in a 50-mile radius of Jonesboro. So when the plague of
satellite dishes descended upon us like huge locusts, many
people here were aware of the scientific data linking TV
violence and violent crime.
networks will stick their lenses anywhere and courageously
expose anything. Like flies on open wounds, they find nothing
too private or shameful for their probing lenses--except
themselves, and their share of guilt in the terrible, tragic
crime that happened here
CBS executive told me his plan. He knows all about the link
between media and violence. His own in-house people have
advised him to protect his child from the poison his industry
is bringing to America's children. He is not going to expose
his child to TV until she's old enough to learn how to read.
And then he will select very carefully what she sees. He
and his wife plan to send her to a daycare center that has
no television, and he plans to show her only age-appropriate
should be the bare minimum with children: Show them only
age-appropriate videos, and think hard about what is age
appropriate. The most benign product you are going to get
from the networks are 22-minute sitcoms or cartoons providing
instant solutions for all of life's problems, interlaced
with commercials telling you what a slug you are if you
don't ingest the right sugary substances and don't wear
the right shoes.
worst product your child is going to get from the networks
is represented by one TV commentator who told me, "Well,
we only have one really violent show on our network, and
that is NYPD Blue. I'll admit that that is bad, but it is
only one night a week."
wondered at the time how she would feel if someone said,
"Well, I only beat my wife in front of the kids one night
a week." The effect is the same.
not supposed to know who I am!" said NYPD Blue star Kim
Delaney, in response to young children who recognized her
from her role on that show. According to USA Weekend, she
was shocked that underage viewers watch her show, which
is rated TV-14 for gruesome crimes, raw language, and explicit
sex scenes. But they do watch, don't they?
about media and violence does make a difference. I was on
a radio call-in show in San Antonio, Texas. A woman called
and said, "I would never have had the courage to do this
two years ago. But let me tell you what happened. You tell
me if I was right.
13-year-old boy spent the night with a neighbor boy. After
that night, he started having nightmares. I got him to admit
what the nightmares were about. While he was at the neighbor's
house, they watched splatter movies all night: people cutting
people up with chainsaws and stuff like that.
parent in America desperately needs to be warned of the
impact of TV and other violent media on children. But the
TV networks--our key means of public education in America--are
called the neighbors and told them, 'Listen: you are sick
people. I wouldn't feel any different about you if you had
given my son pornography or alcohol. And I'm not going to
have anything further to do with you or your son--and neither
is anybody else in this neighborhood, if I have anything
to do with it--until you stop what you're doing.' "
powerful. That's censure, not censorship. We ought to have
the moral courage to censure people who think that violence
is legitimate entertainment.
of the most effective ways for Christians to be salt and
light is by simply confronting the culture of violence as
entertainment. A friend of mine, a retired army officer
who teaches at a nearby middle school, uses the movie Gettysburg
to teach his students about the Civil War. A scene in that
movie very dramatically depicts the tragedy of Pickett's
Charge. As the Confederate troops charge into the Union
lines, the cannons fire into their masses at point-blank
range, and there is nothing but a red mist that comes up
from the smoke and flames. He told me that when he first
showed this heart-wrenching, tragic scene to his students,
began to confront this behavior ahead of time by saying:
"In the past, students have laughed at this scene, and I
want to tell you that this is completely unacceptable behavior.
This movie depicts a tragedy in American history, a tragedy
that happened to our ancestors, and I will not tolerate
any laughing." From then on, when he played that scene to
his students, over the years, he says there was no laughter.
Instead, many of them wept.
the media teach is unnatural, and if confronted in love
and assurance, the house they have built on the sand will
crumble. But our house is built on the rock. If we don't
actively present our values, then the media will most assuredly
inflict theirs on our children, and the children, like those
in that class watching Gettysburg, simply won't know any
are many other things that the Christian community can do
to help change our culture. Youth activities can provide
alternatives to television, and churches can lead the way
in providing alternative locations for latchkey children.
Fellowship groups can provide guidance and support to young
parents as they strive to raise their children without the
destructive influences of the media. Mentoring programs
can pair mature, educated adults with young parents, helping
them through the preschool ages without using the TV as
a babysitter. And most of all, the churches can provide
the clarion call of decency and love and peace as an alternative
to death and destruction--not just for the sake of the church,
but for the transformation of our culture.