Hitting your children is legal in all 50 states

Most Americans can agree that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson crossed the line when he beat his 4-year-old son with a tree branch. The beating resulted in numerous injuries, including cuts and bruises to the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs, hands and scrotum.

Peterson was indicted in September on a felony charge of injury to a child after the incident in May in Houston. He made a plea deal with Texas prosecutors in which he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault and was sentenced to a form of probation.

When it comes to parents striking their children, the line for what constitutes illegal behavior differs throughout the country. It is legal to hit a child in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, but precisely what is allowed differs widely.

In Texas, corporal punishment becomes child abuse when it “results in substantial harm to a child.” As a practical matter, that means a physical injury that leaves a mark, like bleeding and bruising, as Peterson apparently inflicted on his child.

The law in Texas is clearer than some others states about when a spanking becomes child abuse. Louisiana makes no mention of spanking but allows “reasonable discipline” that doesn't “seriously endanger” health. Delaware state law forbids a parent from hitting a child with a closed fist. But in Oklahoma, no such explicit prohibition exists. There the law permits a parent to hit a child with a switch provided that the parent uses only “ordinary force.” In Maine, corporal punishment is lawful if it results “in no more than transient discomfort or minor temporary marks.”

Much depends on the discretion of prosecutors. Both Arizona and Alabama allow the use of “reasonable and appropriate physical force,” but what is “reasonable and appropriate” in each state depends on case law and the interpretation of judges.

“It’s a very complex subject,” Director of the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law Howard Davidson told TIME. “I personally favor parents knowing what the law says in terms of what they can and can’t do,” he said, “and just saying ‘reasonable’ doesn’t provide a lot of guidance.”

Some, like Deb Sandek, program director with the Center for Effective Discipline, argue — not without evidence — that corporal punishment of any kind causes psychological trauma in children and should be banned entirely. “There are effective discipline strategies that teach children right from wrong,” she said. “Why not go in a more proactive strategy and help children learn to problem solve and handle conflict without aggression?”

Around the world 39 countries have banned corporal punishment of children. But any such national ban in the United States would go against the grain of public opinion today. Four out of five Americans believe spanking children is sometimes appropriate, according to a 2013 poll by Harris Interactive.

That attitude views our own children more as property that we can do with as we wish, rather than as persons. Violence toward them that would be criminal assault if inflicted on someone else’s child or even on an adult is condoned.

– edited from an article by Denver Nicks in TIME, Sept. 18, 2014
PeaceMeal, March/April 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Int’l Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women
commemorates triple murder of Dominican women

Mirabal_sisters.jpg (5285 bytes)November 25 was designated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999 to commemorate three of the Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic who were brutally murdered on this date in 1960 for opposing military dictator Rafael Trujillo.

Four sisters — Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa and Dedé Mirabal — started an anti-Trujillo group called the Movement of the Fourteenth of June, named after the date of a massacre by some of Trujillo’s men that Patria witnessed. They called themselves “Las Mariposas” (“The Butterflies”) and openly protested Trujillo and his regime.

To retaliate, two of his henchmen clubbed Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa to death in a sugar cane field and faked a car accident to cover up the fact that they were murdered. They were returning from visiting their husbands, who were imprisoned in another town for working to overthrow Trujillo’s ruthless, fascist government.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Violence, which culminates on Human Rights Day, December 10. Assistant Secretary-General of the U.N. Lakshmi Puri said the days are meant to “symbolically link violence against women with human rights and to emphasize that such violence is the worst form of violation of women’s human rights.” She added, “Violence against women in politics is also a very particular form of violence, to intimidate them so they don’t engage in politics.”

According to U.N. estimates, 35 percent of women in the world have experienced physical or sexual violence, 700 million women alive today were married as children, and more than 133 million girls and women have experienced female genital mutilation. The U.N. estimates that in 2012 over half of murdered women were killed by partners or family members, and that 120 million girls worldwide have been forced to have sex at some point in their lives.

“It’s a very difficult issue to tackle without a mindset change,” Puri said, adding that the 16 Days of Activism are intended to challenge the gender inequality that is entrenched in most societies. Puri said they are trying to challenge the idea “that it’s a right of a man to be violent and that it’s the fate of the woman to be subjected to violence.”

“These things,’ she said, “have to change.”

– edited from an article by Charlotte Alter on TIME.com, November 25, 2014
PeaceMeal Nov/December 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Vengeance only perpetuates violence

Thomas Gumbleton

Perhaps you saw the news conference, and President Obama spoke about James Foley. President Obama was passionate, first of all, with his grieving with that family for the hostage who had been beheaded. And he spoke out with vehemence about what an outrage, what a brutality, what a terrible thing that is — people being killed like this — and he pledged that we would respond.

But do we ever stop to think? The president, who’s our leader, and all of us must think about this: Can we just respond to violence with violence? In fact, isn’t that what is already happening?

Listen to this article describing what happened on an afternoon in October 2012 in Pakistan: “Sixty-eight-year-old Mamana Bibi, while gathering vegetables in the family fields in northwest Pakistan, was blown into pieces by at least two Hellfire missiles from a U.S. drone aircraft.

“Bibi's granddaughter, 8-year-old Nabeela, ventured to where her grandmother had been picking vegetables earlier in the day. She says, ‘I saw her shoes, found her body torn apart. It had been thrown quite a long distance away by the blast. It was in pieces. We collected as many different parts from the field and wrapped them in a cloth.’”

Yes, and that’s been going on for years now, where our missiles, fired from drones, are tearing people apart. It’s just as brutal as the beheading of James Foley — innocent people. It may be different because the one who commands that drone is sitting before a computer screen thousands of miles away, but gives the command to fire the missile and innocent people are killed just as brutally as James Foley was killed.

How can we continue to let that go on, and how can we say that we’re going to respond to this terrible violence now of last week simply by bringing more violence into the situation? How can we do that if we’re really going to listen to Jesus, who rejected violence, who said the only way we can overcome violence is to transform hatred and vengeance and violence by the fascinating power of love? It’s the only way it can be done.

Just recently, Pope Francis spoke at a homily: “How many conflicts, how many wars have marked our history? Even today, we raise our hand against our brothers and sisters. We have perfected our weapons, but our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal. We continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.”

A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, retired Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of violence and militarism. This is an excerpt from a longer article in the National Catholic Reporter, August 28, 2014.

– Peacemeal Sept/October 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Gun violence at U.S. schools continues to grow sharply

On June 10, a teen gunman armed with a rifle killed a student at a high school in Troutdale, Oregon, injured a teacher and then apparently shot himself in a bathroom. It was the 31st firearms attack at a U.S. school this year, marking a sharp acceleration in the rash of violence that has occurred on campuses across the nation. The incidents range from the 20 people shot near UC Santa Barbara in May to gunfire that did not result in any injuries.

The frequency of attacks has picked up since the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first-graders and six adults were gunned down. In the 18 months since that tragedy, 41 deaths have occurred in 62 documented incidents at U.S. schools. In the 18 months before that attack, there were 17 deaths in 17 incidents. Underlying the high-profile shootings are thousands of incidents involving American youths that never make national headlines, or even get noticed locally.

Each year, for example, about 2,000 teens and young children commit suicide with guns at home, according to Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “School shootings are part of a much bigger problem,” he said. “There are 86 people who die from bullets on an average day.”

School shootings mirror past upsurges in other venues. During the 1980s and 1990s, for example, there were at least 10 shooting incidents that occurred at U.S. post offices, leading to the term “going postal.” In 1991, a fired postal worker in suburban Detroit killed three people and wounded six in a post office before taking his own life. Recently, few post office shootings have occurred.

Garen Wintemute, director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program, hesitates to brand such serial events as copycat crimes, but he said shootings tend to feed off themselves. “The more we are all aware of them, the easier it is for one of us to do the next one,” he said. Still, Wintemute said that guns remain widely available to individuals who are clearly at risk of committing such violence and that authorities have few tools to intervene.

Gross said the political power of the gun lobby has barred reasonable approaches to limiting gun possession by individuals who are likely to commit mass murder.

Wintemute pointed to the successful campaign to improve highway safety as proof that death rates can be reduced. In the 1950s, motor vehicle death rates were twice as high as firearm death rates, but improvements in auto safety have resulted in parity today. But the reduction in deaths were difficult to achieve.

Further improvements are bitterly fought by automakers, the trucking industry and others, said Joan Claybrook, a longtime safety advocate who spent a career crusading for auto safety. She said the recent deaths of 10 people, including five high school students, aboard a bus on a Northern California highway outraged her as much as a school shooting because “The bus accident was more preventable.”

It is difficult to fight a well-funded opponent, whether it is the gun lobby or the multibillion-dollar motor vehicle industry, Claybrook said. “The National Rifle Association and their allies scare the hell out of politicians.”

– edited from an article by Ralph Vartabedian in the Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2014
PeaceMeal, July/August 2014

LA Times letter

With more states allowing citizens to openly carry weapons into stores, libraries and churches; with the National Rifle Assn. convincing others that the best antidote to gun violence is more guns; and with people entertaining themselves watching movies and TV shows full of gratuitous violence, do we really need to ask, “What precipitated this event?” Just look in the mirror.

Matt Giorgi

Brea, California, June 10, 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Third of world’s women suffer domestic violence

LONDON — About a third of women worldwide have been physically or sexually assaulted by a former or current partner, according to the first major review of violence against women. In a series of papers released on June 20 by the World Health Organization and others, experts estimated nearly 40 percent of women killed worldwide were slain by an intimate partner and that being assaulted by a partner was the most common kind of violence experienced by women. “Violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions,” WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said in a statement.

WHO defined physical violence as being slapped, pushed, punched, choked or being attacked with a weapon. Sexual violence was defined as being physically forced to have sex, having sex because you were afraid of what your partner might do, and being compelled to do something sexual that was humiliating or degrading. The report also examined rates of sexual violence against women by someone other than a partner and found about 7 percent of women worldwide had previously been a victim.

According to the United Nations, more than 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime. The rate of domestic violence against women was highest in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where 37 percent of women experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner at some point in their lifetime. The rate was 30 percent in Latin and South America and 23 percent in North America. In Europe and Asia, it was 25 percent.

In a related paper published online in the British journal Lancet, researchers found more than 38 percent of slain women are killed by a former or current partner, six times higher than the rate of men killed by their partners. Heidi Stoeckl, one of the authors at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the figures were likely to be an underestimate. She and colleagues found that, globally, a woman’s highest risk of murder was from a current or ex-partner.

She also noted that women and men are often slain by their partners for different reasons. “When a woman kills her male partner, it’s usually out of self-defense because she has been abused,” she said. “But when a woman is killed, it’s often after she has left the relationship and the man is killing her out of jealousy or rage.”

In countries like India, Stoeckl said things like honor killings, where women are sometimes murdered over dowry disputes or to protect the family reputation over perceived offenses like infidelity, add to the problem.

Some experts said screening for domestic violence should be added to all levels of health care, such as obstetric clinics. “It’s unlikely that someone would walk into an emergency room and disclose they’ve been assaulted,” said Sheila Sprague of McMaster University in Canada, who has researched domestic violence in women at orthopedic clinics.

Stoeckl said more protective measures should be in place for women from their partners, particularly when he or she has a history of violence and owns a gun, and criminal justice authorities should intervene at an earlier stage. “When a woman is killed by a partner,” she said, “she has often already had contact with the police.”

– edited from The Associated Press, June 20, 2013
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Violent deaths more common in U.S. than any other wealthy nation

The United States suffers far more violent deaths than any other wealthy nation, due in part to the widespread possession of firearms and the practice of storing them at home in a place that is often unlocked, according to a report released January 9 by two of the nation’s leading health research institutions. The United States has about six violent deaths per 100,000 residents, according to the report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine. None of the 16 other countries included in the review came anywhere close to that ratio. Finland ranked next to the U.S. with slightly more than two violent deaths per 100,000 residents.

The U.S. has long lagged in life expectancy compared with other economically developed nations. In this study, researchers culled existing studies to examine why. Most statistics in the report are from the late 1990s through 2008. The report found that U.S. health disadvantages aren’t limited to the poor and uninsured. Even white, college-educated and wealthier Americans tend to be in worse health than their peers in other developed countries.

In attempting to explain why Americans are so unhealthy, the researchers looked at three categories: the nation’s health care system, harmful behaviors and social and economic conditions. Researchers noted that the U.S. has a large uninsured population compared to other countries with comparable economies, and more limited access to primary care. And although the income of Americans is higher on average than that of other wealthy countries, the United States also has a higher level of poverty, especially among children.

Researchers said American culture probably plays an important role in the life expectancy rates falling short of other wealthy countries. “We have a culture in our country that, among many Americans, cherishes personal autonomy and wants to limit intrusion of government and other entities on our personal lives and also wants to encourage free enterprise and the success of business and industry. Some of those forces may act against the ability to achieve optimal health outcomes,” said Dr. Steven H. Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, who served as chairman for the study panel.

For many years, Americans have been dying at younger ages than people in almost all other wealthy countries. In addition to the impact of gun violence, Americans consume the most calories among peer countries and get involved in more accidents that involve alcohol. The U.S. also suffers higher rates of drug-related deaths, infant mortality and AIDS.

The result is that the life expectancy for men in the United States ranked the lowest among the 17 countries reviewed, at 75.6 years, while the life expectancy for U.S. women ranked second lowest at 80.7 years. The countries reviewed included Canada, Japan, Australia and much of Western Europe.

The researchers estimated that homicide and suicide together account for about a quarter of the years of life lost for U.S. men compared to the other countries studied. Homicide, they noted, is the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults aged 15-24. The large majority of those homicides involve firearms.

Their report said there is little evidence that violent acts occur more frequently in the United States than elsewhere. It’s the lethality of those attacks that stands out. “One behavior that probably explains the excess lethality of violence and unintentional injuries in the United States is the widespread possession of firearms and the common practice of storing them, often unlocked, at home. The statistics are dramatic.”

For example, the United States has the highest rate of firearm ownership among peer countries and is home to about one-third to one-half of the world’s civilian-owned firearms, the report noted. “The fact that our risk of death from homicide is seven times higher and from shootings 20 times higher is pretty dramatic, Dr. Woolf said.

The National Rifle Association did not immediately return calls seeking comment about the report, but in the past gun-rights advocates have fought any suggestion that firearms ownership has public health implications.

– edited from The Associated Press, January 9, 2013
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Video games inspire nightmare atrocities in real life

History is littered with murderers inspired by art: Charles Manson believed the lyrics to the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” were a prophecy that ignited his directing a 1969 killing spree by his followers. John Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman, was obsessed with the book “Catcher in the Rye.” For Anders Behring Breivik in Norway, it was video games.

Breivik revealed to an Oslo court on April 19 that the popular military game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” and the online role-playing game “World of Warcraft” — two of the world’s most popular video games — helped condition him for his bombing and shooting rampage that left 77 people dead last summer at a youth camp on Utoya Island.

Video games have come under scrutiny before, as when Columbine High School shooter Eric Harris avidly trained with the first-person shooter game “Doom” before joining with Dylan Klebold in 1999 in the worst high school massacre in U.S. history. They killed 12 students and one teacher, and wounded 23 others, before taking their own lives.

Perhaps more disturbing because of the young age of the shooters was the Westside Middle School massacre near Jonesboro, Arkansas, in 1998. Four female students and a teacher were killed in the worst middle school massacre in U.S. history. Nine other students and one teacher were injured. The perpetrators of the shooting were two students, 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden, who shot ambush style from nearby woods dressed in camouflage clothes. The two youths were among the youngest people ever charged with murder in the United States.

Here are five examples of entertainment media that have sparked real-life atrocities over the past 40 years:

*   “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” - Breivik testified that he prepared for his attacks with this popular first-person shooter game created by Activision Inc. developer Infinity Ward. He said he used the shoot-‘em-up war simulator to practice “target acquisition” with the game’s virtual holographic rifle sight, a type of laser used to aim at foes.

*   “The Sopranos” - After being arrested for the murder of their mother, Jason Bautista and his half brother told police in 2003 that the idea to chop off her head and hands to hide the crime was lifted from an episode of the HBO mobster drama in which Tony Soprano kills an associate and has his head and hands removed before the body is dumped.

*   “The Secret Agent” - Federal authorities said in 1996 that “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski was inspired by the 1907 novel by Joseph Conrad that features a mad professor who abandons academia in disgust to live in isolation and build a bomb. They believed he used variations on Conrad’s name as an alias when checking into hotels in Sacramento.

*    “Natural Born Killers” - The 1994 movie starring Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis as star-crossed killers has been linked to more than a dozen slayings, including the 1995 robbery-murder spree of Benjamin Darras and Sarah Edmondson that led to one of the victims filing a lawsuit that blamed the filmmakers for the crime spree. The suit was dismissed in 2001.

*   “Magnum Force” - Dale Selby Pierre and William Andrews testified in court that they came up with the idea to quickly and efficiently kill hostages by making them ingest drain cleaner during their 1974 robbery-rape-murder dubbed the “hi-fi murders” from this 1973 thriller starring Clint Eastwood. In the film, a prostitute is forced to drink drain cleaner.

Video game companies have long argued that their games are forms of entertainment that are no different than movies or television. And fans of all those genres have taken their obsessions to a terrifying level by mimicking what they’ve learned to commit nightmare atrocities.

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Grossman, a psychologist and expert in the field of “killology,” spent his military career studying how to condition recruits to overcome the natural, God-given aversion to killing other human beings. The military have made killing a conditioned response. Soldiers learn to shoot reflexively at realistic, man-shaped silhouettes that pop into their field of view, and they shoot to kill. Every time a child plays an interactive point-and-shoot video game, Grossman says, he is learning the exact same conditioned reflex and motor skills. The process is extraordinarily powerful and frightening. Our children are learning to kill indiscriminately and learning to like it.

– edited from The Associated Press, April 20, 2012, and Christianity Today
PeaceMeal, May/June 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


27.5 million uprooted by violence

The number of people around the world uprooted by conflict or violence and displaced within their own country has increased to 27.5 million, the highest figure in the last decade, according to a new report released March 23. The report by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center said close to three million people in 20 countries were newly displaced by conflict or violence in 2010. The number has been rising steadily in the last 10 years and large-scale displacements are continuing this year.

According to the report, more than half the worlds’ internally displaced persons (IDPs) last year were in five countries—Colombia with between 3.5 million and 5.2 million, Sudan with between 4.5 million and 5.2 million, Iraq with about 2.8 million, Congo with about 1.7 million, and Somalia with about 1.5 million. Pakistan was close behind with 980,000, and in Ivory Coast more than 500,000 have been internally displaced and more continue to flee.

In the Middle East, the report said, the number of IDPs has more than tripled in the last decade, reaching close to 4 million at the end of 2010—mainly as a result of the war in Iraq and of unresolved displacement situations in Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. In Asia, the number of IDPs rose by 70 percent in the last five years, due mainly to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

While the number of IDPs has increased from around 17 million in 1997 to 27.5 million last year, the report said the added number of refugees—those who fled to another country—has fluctuated between 13 million and 16 million during the same period.

 Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. special representative for children in armed conflict, said 12.2 million of the displaced in 2010 were children. In at least 11 countries, she said, children were being recruited by armed groups, with internally displaced youngsters especially at risk. And in at least 18 countries, displaced children faced the risk of physical violence and attack while going to school, she said, singling out Afghanistan.

Elisabeth Rasmusson, the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which established the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center in 1998 at the U.N.’s request, said significant progress has been made in the last 10 years in understanding and responding to IDPs whose protection and humanitarian needs are supposed to be met by their governments. But, she said, in many cases there is only help from relief organizations or no help at all.

Increasingly, Rasmusson said, new displacement is also triggered by violence related to drugs and gangs, such as in Colombia and Mexico. “It’s worth noting that in Mexico,” she said, “the number of displacements in 2010 is higher than the number of newly displaced in Afghanistan for the same period.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said the report illuminates the magnitude of the challenge posed by internal displacement. “It’s a horribly bureaucratic term,” she said, “which describes a situation which can be grim, terrifying, demeaning and tragic.”

– edited from The Associated Press, March 23, 2011
PeaceMeal, March/April 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Children targeted for violent entertainment
FTC reports on marketing of violence by entertainment industry

Although each segment of the entertainment industry has some form of rating system, the industry is routinely violating its own self-regulation system. According to FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky, "Companies in the entertainment industry routinely undercut their own rating restrictions by target marketing violent films, records, and video games to young audiences."

The report makes the following key findings about the marketing of violent entertainment material by the industry:

• Movies — 80 percent of the movies rated R for violence the Commission selected for its study were targeted to children under 17. Marketing plans for 64 percent contained express statements that children under 17 be targeted by promoting the films in high schools or publications for under-17 readers.

• Music — All of the music recordings with explicit content labels the Commission selected for its review were targeted to children under 17.

• Games — 70 percent of the electronic games with a Mature rating for violence the Commission selected for its study targeted children under 17. Marketing plans for 51 percent expressly included children under 17.

The report also includes results of an FTC survey showing that children under 17 are frequently able to buy tickets to R-rated movies without parental accompaniment and purchase music recordings and electronic games with parental advisory labels or age restrictions.

In a subsequent hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, Mel Harris, president of Sony, parent company of Columbia Pictures, acknowledged that children ages 9 to 11 were interviewed as part of the test marketing of a violent R-rated movie.

The FTC report makes no legislative recommendations to Congress in response to these findings. Instead, the FTC recommends additional action by the industry to improve their self-regulatory efforts. Self-regulation is especially critical in this area because of First Amendment protections that prohibit government regulation of these products' content. However, as the report notes: "Self-regulatory programs can work only if the concerned industry associations monitor compliance and ensure that violations have consequences."

In response to the FTC report, two of the nation's major retailers, Kmart and Wal-Mart, announced that they will refuse sale of violent, mature-rated games to anyone under 17 — a practice that is already in place at Toys R Us. The barcode scanner at checkout stands will prompt cashiers to ask for identification from youths.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who said he believes "intense involvement" with violent video games can cause a young person to become violent, applauded the move but said he would prefer that retailers stop selling such games, Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck & Co. have already done so.

"Common sense should tell us that positively reinforcing sadistic behavior, as these games do, cannot be good for our children," said Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. "We cannot expect that the hours spent in school will mold and instruct a child's mind but that hours spent playing violent games will not."

- PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2000


Trained to kill

A military expert on the psychology of killing explains how today's video games, television, and movies condition kids to pull the trigger--using the same desensitization and conditioning techniques employed by the armed forces.

Link to complete article in Christianity Today, August 10, 1998.


The rod and the big stick [spanking]

"Spare the rod and spoil the child." - Ralph Venning, 1649

"Speak softly and carry a big stick." - Theodore Roosevelt, 1901

In my home as a child, there was a smooth rod about ˝-inch thick. It was the tool of punishment for misbehavior.

When children grow up and misbehave, we have other "big sticks" for punishment. Military force was the one we used in Kosovo.

The atrocities in the former Yugoslavia provoked marked ambivalence around the world. What was a proper response to the brutal ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Serbian military forces under Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic? Was NATO's bombing the answer? Not only military strategists and politicians, but even peace activists and religious leaders were divided on the question.

The NATO bombing strategy was predicated on the wishful thinking that Slobodan Milosevic would sign the Rambouillet agreement after a few days. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright first announced, "I don't see this as a long-term operation," only to say ten days later that "We never expected this to be over quickly." Two-and-a-half months of nonstop bombing — in violation of international law — were required to achieve the desired objective.

It was like saying that one good swat would make a misbehaving child straighten up and, when it didn't, proceeding to beat the child to death.

Our air strikes went astray a dozen times with bombs plowing into buses, convoys of refugees, passenger trains, private homes, the Chinese Embassy, two hospitals, and a retirement home. The so-called "collateral damage" included more than 1,000 noncombatants killed — men, women, and children — and hundreds of others maimed. NATO cluster bombs — antipersonnel weapons that explode above the ground and spread a hail of razor-sharp needles and/or shrapnel — killed 79 refugees in the village of Prizren.

It was not just "collateral damage" we saw, but the deliberate targeting of civilian property, including residential neighborhoods, auto factories, broadcasting stations, and water and electric power plants. By defining civilian assets as militarily useful, NATO rationalized a methodical destruction of the civilian infrastructure.

The bombing campaign that was originally justified by its humanitarian goals itself became a crime against humanity. Our administration's blame-Milosevic-for- everything rhetoric was rejected by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who asserted that both Serbia and NATO should be subject to investigation for war crimes. Two wrongs don't make a right; and Robinson forcefully denounced "collateral damage" as an Orwellian euphemism.

We have made war both a science and a game. We teach it to students in college and to children playing video games. And our world reflects the violence we teach.

If we want a more peaceful world, we have to teach peacemaking skills, including effective parenting skills. As parents, we have to learn that controlling behavior through punishment does nothing to teach children the only real discipline there is, namely, self-discipline.

In my home as a parent, I used a hand applied to the seat of the problem as a method of punishment, but only with my first two children and not with my last two. In between, I learned something about alternative methods of effective parenting; and I learned how much damage corporal punishment does inside where we can't see it. I would never spank a child again.

In our adult relationships, do we similarly respond to conflicts with anger and other violence? Or do we know and practice the skills of nonviolent conflict resolution, like "talking it out"? — something even kindergarteners can learn. Do we have the inner strength to turn the other cheek when attacked? - something that a commitment to nonviolence requires.

The 850,000 Kosovo refugees displaced since the NATO bombing began on March 24, 1999, traded one hell for another. Tens of thousands now make their home in squalid refugee camps where babies are born in the mud. Those who didn't make it to the camps are in even direr straits. Groups of refugees hiding in Kosovo's high mountain passes have so little food they are eating leaves. Some took shelter in a filthy chicken coop until poisonous centipedes began biting the children.

The attention paid to humanitarian aid to the refugees was totally inadequate — trivial compared to the billions spent to bomb Yugoslavia. And now as repatriation is about to begin, the refugees will be returning to homes and stores looted, scarred, and charred, roads and bridges destroyed, and fields fallow. They will face serious shortages of food, clean water, and electricity — not to mention the deadly hazards of buried landmines.

We seem to have the conflict in Kosovo under control — at least for the present. But we haven't taught the warring factions anything about dealing with their conflicts nonviolently — something they will need to live in peace. And at what cost has our control of the situation been bought?

What we have done reminds me of the infamous line uttered by one of our armed forces in Vietnam:

"To save the village, we had to destroy it."

- Jim Stoffels, chairman and editor
PeaceMeal, May/June 1999


Toys make war on Christmas peace

"The diabolically insane Wretch Armstrong is a see-through savage whose guts light up! And he's equipped with deadly weapons. Age 4 and up." (Toy flyer ad, November 3, 1996)

Does anyone besides me find it grotesque to give a "diabolically insane ... savage ... equipped with deadly weapons" as a toy to a little child? Especially for Christmas! Yet, such toys account for a large part of the market. By the late 1980s, war toy sales in the United States totaled more than one billion dollars annually, exceeding the sales of all educational toys.

Not that war toys are without their own "educational" value. War toys and the violent cartoons and video games that accompany many of them teach that violent behavior is not only acceptable but heroic. A whole succession of action figures, from GI Joe to He-Man to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Power Rangers to X-Men, teach children that all problems can be solved with violence. There are no steps needed to reach a solution, just "Pow!" and there's your answer.

These programs and toys make violence and killing exciting to children. They indisputably desensitize children to the real horrors of violence and war and to the danger of harm that can come to them from violent behavior. They also dehumanize opponents by stereotyping them as devoid of any good and, therefore, deserving of being killed.

The thirty-minute cartoon shows (essentially extended commercial ads for the toys) display an average of 48 acts of violence per program hour, according to the National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV). And children mimic the action they see on TV. We can see from the way (our?) children play that these programs stimulate hostile, brutal feelings even in very young children.

The director of NCTV, psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Radecki, says, "This repeated teaching of seeing your opponent as someone despicably evil, who can only be dealt with through combat, is very harmful. The research of cartoon violence and violent toys is quite clear. These programs and their violent war toys ... cause children to hit, kick, choke, push, and hold down other children. They have found increases in selfishness, anxiety, and the hurting of animals."

Children need to know that war is not exciting fun, but that it hurts real people. Children need us parents to be role models of respect for others, including those who are different from us and those we disagree with. Children need us to teach them nonviolent ways to solve conflicts. And children's play environment needs to encourage communication and cooperation with their peers to begin building a harmonious future.

In a world filled with violence and war, can we afford a new generation of children trained by their play to believe that violence and killing will make them heroes? Well, what's on your child's wish list?

-Jim Stoffels, chairman (and father of four children)
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 1996