May 15

One of my dad's first responses to our new website was asking why a website on Violence discusses art. For this week’s art post, I want to explain the images at the top of our website and why art is the perfect springboard to talk about Violence.

From the beginning of art to the present, from the first oral traditions to the modern Hollywood blockbuster, almost all art, especially great art, concerns Violence. Take our first image in the upper left hand corner. To find it, we googled “Cain and Abel.” This image was among the first that came up; an image both terrible and beautiful.

The terror is that Violence has been with us from the beginning. Cain and Abel and their iconic story of the first murder -- historically accurate or not -- is the symbolic beginning of Violence. One of the many meanings you can take from this story is the terrible thesis that murder has been a part of humanity since day one.

But what strikes me most about the above image, and the thing that gives it its particular beauty, is how Abel, even though he is soon to die, still lifts his hand up in the most beautiful way. A symbol of hope. A gesture of forgiveness.

If the left hand image is the alpha of Violence, then it’s omega is the photo to the right, taken during the Iraq-Iran war. It evokes both the global and foreign affairs issues that would ensnare the U.S. in Iraq and the tensions that threaten stability throughout the entire region today. Sunni versus Shia. Iran versus Iraq. One man carries an AK-47 and the other an RPG-7, the weapons of the modern insurgency battlefield.

As modern as this photo is -- the war only occurred less then thirty years ago -- this image presents is an anachronism of warfare: soldiers fighting trench warfare. We chose this image for our website because we believe America, in too many instances, fights the wrong style of warfare on the wrong battlefield. This picture hints at how military paradigms change, or refuse to change.

Cain and Abel photo are well known in symbols in our culture, but the soldiers in the second image are wholly anonymous. Lost in the fog of war, we see the anonymity of all warfare, and feel the terror, pain, and excitement of all soldiers. I am reminded of a line from Donne’s meditation “and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

The alpha and the omega of Violence. Where we were and where we are now. And we bring them together, with hopes to change the future.

May 13

In the aftermath of 9/11, the most important questions confronting America -- who was responsible and how do we bring them to justice -- were quickly answered. Al Queda and Osama Bin Laden were responsible and we would capture, kill or destroy them both.

Soon, partisanship replaced unity and one question replaced the others: who could we blame? Of all the candidates offered up by journalists, political pundits, and documentarians, two stood out: Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

How you answer the question of blame usually depends on your political leanings. For Republicans, Clinton did not combat the terrorist threat during his administration. They point to the multiple attacks launched against America in the 1990s including the first World Trade Center bombing, the attacks on US embassies and the bombing of the USS Cole, and decry his failure to respond to these attacks. They point to Clinton’s failure to kill Bin Laden or cripple Al Queda when he had the chance.

For Democrats, they say it didn’t occur on their watch and that Bush was not focused on protecting the country. The smoking gun is the infamous memo titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” from August 2001. They also blame Bush’s pre-9/11 focus on a missile defense shield and a national security cabinet filled with Cold Warriors.

The debate becomes a back and forth of blame. Republicans can claim Clinton did not go far enough in combating terrorism but then neither did the Republican controlled Congress. The nation did not care about terrorism until 9/11; the date of the first World Trade Center bombing is a footnote in history. Democrats can fault Bush, but he took the reigns of power only nine months prior to 9/11. Can he be blamed for not predicting the attacks no one else predicted?

I bring up this old topic because we again have a new president. As the Bush administration left office, they pointed to one accomplishment more then any other: since 9/11, no foreign groups conducted a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Trying to place blame for a tragedy is tricky business, as is trying to take credit for avoiding one. A close look at Bush’s success puts his assertion on shaky ground. Foreign groups attacked our Allies’ in Madrid and London and still unknown American(s) conducted deadly terrorist attacks on US soil by mailing anthrax shortly after 9/11.

And Clinton can make the same claim as Bush. After the first World Trade Center bombing, there were no foreign led terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. The caveat is, of course, that the bombing of the USS Cole occurred on Clinton’s watch, but do Republicans want to include Middle East bombings of military targets for President Bush?

These points all beg the question: when does the next terrorist attack become President Obama’s fault? Will conservatives give Obama nine months and then after that say he is responsible for the security situation? Will liberals give him longer? Will conservatives blame the next attack, as Cheney has, on Obama’s decision to end Guantanamo?

The best answer is to move past the 9/11 Blame Game. As a country, let’s focus on solving our problems, and less on assigning blame.

May 11

I spent a long time thinking about what to write for our first true On Violence post. Whether to write something clever on a topic obliquely related to my overall search, or write about the core of my beliefs about violence.

We’ll start at the beginning, with definitions. Search a textbook on philosophy or an anthology of philosophical writings and look for references to Violence. You will see concepts like force or the metaphysics of action, but rarely Violence. In most regards, Western Philosophy has all but ignored Violence since Plato. Violence exists as a variable in philosophical equations, but never as the equation itself.

Since Western Philosophy has not provided a definition of Violence, I proceed to the next logical step: Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. Webster’s Dictionary provides this gem:

vi-o-lence n. 1. swift and intense force: the violence of a storm. 2. rough or injurious physical force, action,    or treatment: to die by violence. 3. an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws: to take over a government by violence. 4. a violent act or proceeding.

Even armed with these definitions, I still barely know what violence is or, more importantly, what it means to our society. As I read, re-read and ponder this definition, I see that I am probably trying to write about something between definitions two and three, with definition four simply a restatement. The second definition provides the key word that gets to the heart of violence, “injurious.” Violence causes pain, suffering or injury.

Definition three provides a key detail, but one that makes you slap your head in frustration as another philosophical can of worms is opened. Using “power” in an “unjust” fashion defines all sorts of violence in society, from the most obviously unjust to the grey areas. The unjust examples are clear: a man beating a child; a group of Southerners in the fifties lynching an African-American; the holocaust. But when does Violence become just? The U.S. invading Iraq or Al Qaeda bombing the World Trade Center both have proponents claiming the justice of their actions, depending on their definitions of justice and their differing points of view.

I will define Violence as both the second and third definitions. Violence at its rawest is the second definition; some action/treatment/behavior that causes pain/suffering/injury. This is violence as action. The third definition strikes at the philosophical definition we need though—the reason Violence strikes an emotional chord in humanity. It gives violence larger meaning; as a concept, it has philosophical weight. Because it is unjust, and unfair, violence is detestable.

May 08

Welcome to the end of the first week of our new website, On Violence. We don’t know how you found us, but we thank you for making it. We have a lot of ideas, a few answers, and even more questions. To end our first week we wanted to explain why a blog primarily about military and foreign affairs has a weekly article on art. The answer is simple: Violence is pervasive.

Violence seeps into almost every nook and cranny of every society, and has since the dawn of time. But Violence is also wrong. Even Violence that responds to Violence can still be morally, ethically wrong; it frequently backfires, is rarely selfless, it begets more Violence and those who live by the sword... so on and so on.

Every society explains itself through its art, through its tales and stories; stories that explain the world, stories that teach the young and old, stories that change minds. They always have, they always will. And since the beginning, these stories -- and art -- have dealt with Violence.

Violence. It is one of the great themes. Understanding Violence in art is another way of understanding the violence in the past and the violence of today. Perhaps, even, a way to change the face of it for the days of tomorrow.

May 06


Man abhors it.

Society condones it

Humanity perpetuates it.
As if by not looking, somehow it will go away.

An odd looking word if you stare at it for too long, as we have been creating this website.

By violence, we mean killing and injury. War and crime. Injustice and injury. We will define it later but for now we mean all violence, in all of its horrific forms.

Violence, our subject.

...and an anecdote

My freshman year at UCLA, to fulfill a GRE requirement, I took the General Education Cluster: Life and the Cosmos. One guest lecturer, a physicist cum philosopher, questioned our class about causality, asking whether or not causation existed in our everyday lives. It boggled my mind that someone could even ask that question. Eric related an anecdote to me about a fellow student in one of his discussion sections in college. The student announced to the class that he had proven philosophically that he didn’t exist. Eric remarked how much easier non-existence would make paying rent.

We bring these examples up for one reason. While On Violence will discuss the metaphysics of Violence, we will not discuss the metaphysics of reality and of existence. We feel no need, at this time, to contribute to the debate over metaphysics but feel compelled to analyze violence, and its impact on our world.

The above anecdotes feature characters (truly, there isn’t a better word for them) who would discount the entire basis for this site. We will ignore metaphysics, and even deeper ethical questions -- at least in the beginning. We choose to ignore them and we presuppose reality’s existence. We feel silly for even having to add this caveat to the first post on our website.

Violence exists, and so does this site.