The Guardian August 30, 2000

Who presses the trigger?

by Lilliam Riera
Granma International staff writer Whoever kills the largest number of people is the winner. These are the rules of Doom, one of the most popular and most violent computer games in the United States. It has been affirmed that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were acting under the influence of that game when they used high-powered weapons to murder 12 of their fellow pupils and a teacher in the Columbine High School massacre of April 1999.
But they're also the rules of a chilling reality. Is the tragedy in Colorado a legacy of Doom or of the violence transmitted by Internet or Hollywood? An article published in the May 1999 issue of Newsweek suggested that the violent entertainment industry survives because its output is aimed at us. Its brutal images and its appeal to the darker side of human nature exist because they're popular and profitable. In effect, the marginality of US youth predisposes a culture of violence. Far from promoting creativity and a spirit of solidarity in children and adolescents, death games encourage aggression as a means of solving problems. Children aged from eight to 14 comprise 75 per cent of the market for these games, and according to the Internet edition of Time magazine (May 10, 1999), nine out of 10 families in the United States have rented or bought video games. It's a shocking fact that the companies producing these monstrosities manipulate and "play" with this data in their businesses. During 1988, sales in the electronic games industry totalled more than US$5.5 billion. One eloquent example is Grand Theft Auto, based on killing the highest number of police agents and stealing the most cars. There are more complex and sophisticated games available only on the Internet, such as Dungeons and Dragons and A-10 Cuba. In the latter game, the player pilots a warplane virtual reality style - - where the mission is to fly over Cuba and bomb the island. This is how international terrorism finds a niche in these "entertainment" games. In the Time article, David Grossman, a former West Point professor of Psychology, affirms that games like Doom and Quake are responsible for the deterioration of human beings' natural inhibitions against killing. He goes on to state that they even prepare children for murdering and enjoying the experience. Another publication, The Guardian (British) newspaper, in an article placed on The Age website in April this year, reveals that Doom is licensed for the use of the US armed forces as a training exercise in the "art" of killing. It is effectively being used as such. Learning to kill from the cradle Television, so much liked by children, the majority of whom tend to imitate what they see, has converted violence into the easiest,) most effective and attractive solution to most conflicts. Whereas only 16 per cent of high-rating programs in the 1950s reflected crime and aggression, in the 1990s close to 80 per cent of programs featured some form of theft or killing. Thus, in the United States, violence is suffered and learnt practically from the cradle. During a visit to Havana at the beginning of this year, Janice Arnow, a Washington DC Education Department advisor, stated that the majority of the US population denies that the problem exists, because that would mean recognising that the responsibility lies with those adults who have created it. Arnow, who has written several books linking violence with societal values, commented that after the Colorado massacre, she expected a serious statement on the issue from President Clinton, but had to make do with the promise of a commission to study the problem. She had to wait a whole year before the President himself acknowledged that the United States is the most violent civilised country in the world, when the statistics confirm it: more than 30,000 people die annually from firearms-related incidents, 4,200 of them minors. Mothers have started to address the problem. In May they headed demonstrations in various states in an attempt to avoid their children becoming the victims or aggressors of firearms deaths. Wendy Kaplan, a social worker who coordinated the Virginia protest, commented to the EFE news agency that a point had been reached similar to that in the war against Vietnam, when mothers decided that they would no longer continue sending their sons there. Janice Arnow pointed out that firearms production in the United States, where some 192 million weapons are held by the population, is subject to fewer regulations than the manufacture of teddy bears. Thus it is hardly surprising that, in the search for profits and the tenor of everyday life, among other toys, companies are producing perfect replica weapons. Some of these are so "real" that they are hard to distinguish from the real thing. These toys fascinate little children, as with them they are better materially equipped to imitate the social violence which envelops them and makes them active participants within it. Racism It is worthwhile recalling the words of Lennox Hinds, professor of Law at Rutgers State University. During an international roundtable discussion in Havana on June 19, he noted that the emergence of the United States as a nation was marked by racism and violence toward the indigenous population; two facets that are now more evident than ever. This is very important because, at times, when violence is discussed, its socio-cultural structure and components are forgotten, Arnow noted. She recalled that Nike-label running shoes, considered the ultimate in fashion, are produced by children in Mexican sweatshops. The hardest hit by exploitation are African Americans and immigrants' children. The latter work up to 18 hours per day during harvest times in plantations in the west of the country, while bosses and officials turn a blind eye. A recent report from the US Department of Labor, quoted by Prensa Latina, reveals that half of 12-year-olds and three quarters of 15- year-olds are already suffering the rigors of labour exploitation. Janice Arnow, who also heads the Institute for Intercultural Understanding in Louisville, Kentucky, believes that the population needs to be educated on what is happening. She has initiated an innovative "No More Violence" program, in which information plays a fundamental role. A simple, but well thought-out three-hour bus ride allows a group of adults to "discover" apparently inoffensive locations where children learn to kill. The tour begins at a neo-natal hospital and terminates in the emergency room of another hospital where many minors have died as a consequence of violence. It includes stops at a bookshop, a toy store and video games store, a movie theatre, a television station and a school. In each place, the participants receive an information pack and suggestions for solving an increasingly difficult problem, explained Arnow. Bullying is rife In US day care centres and schools, for example, where respect is supposedly promoted among pupils, another early form of aggression is visible: bullying. According to reports sent to Granma International by Arnow, one in every 10 children is regularly physically or verbally attacked by tough guys, while at least seven per cent of all eighth grade students have stayed away from school for a least one month for fear of bullying. That material teaches parents how to recognise aggression against their children by bullies (probably victims of family violence themselves). Poor educational performance, unexplained cuts and scratches, a reluctance to attend class and suicide attempts are all warning signs. Meanwhile, comic strips saturate young children with violence and promote racist attitudes and violence. Arnow noted that girl's fashion or romance magazines only give importance to externals, to superficial beauty; while those devoted to boys highlight physical strength. During the `80s, only 10 per cent of the 5,000 children's books published annually in the United States were of a multi-cultural nature. The remaining 90 per cent made no reference to African Americans and other minorities. Some sectors of society have begun to emerge from their lethargy and are placing the blame for this situation on the system. On September 1 a new law comes into force in Marion, Indiana, which stipulates that, in public places, video games containing graphic violence or a heavy sexual content will have to carry a warning label and be located at a distance from non-violent game machines. Additionally, young people aged under 18 are to be prohibited from playing them unless accompanied by parents or guardians. Most significantly, on signing the law on July 17, Mayor Bart Peterson acknowledged that its importance lies in the fact that it is a first effort to attack the culture of violence that he perceives surrounding contemporary US youth virtually from birth. The words of one of the hundreds of thousands of mothers demonstrating outside the White House on May 14 are more than eloquent. It isn't weapons that are killing children, but the collapse of the US system of values, she affirmed. In the final instance, it is that system that presses the trigger.
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Granma International

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