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‘Violence is as American as cherry pie,” H.R. Schiffman, author.

Who are we as a society? According to the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, our murder rate is four to five times greater than most other industrialized countries; a report by the Constitution Project released last week concludes that the U.S. had engaged in torture after the 9/11 attacks. The agonizing memories of Sandy Hook, Columbine, Aurora and now Boston, and others, increasingly darken our dreams.

And now, even though in his seemingly sincere Prague speech in 2009 the president promised not to deploy new nuclear weapons, the Obama administration is planning new tail fins that will turn 200 B61 gravity bombs in Europe into guided nuclear bombs that could be delivered by stealth F35 fighter-bombers, according to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists.

Kristensen points out that these bombs plus the stealth characteristics of the F35, expand the number of targets possible because by placing the explosion closer to the target, there can be a lower explosive yield and less radiation, and therefore more “usable” nuclear weapons. Talk about violence!

You saw what happened in the U.S. Senate last week when consideration of minimal restrictions on the sale and distribution of guns was dropped cold. As political philosopher Todd May, professor of Humanities at Clemson University, puts it, “We are steeped in violence.” And it is at every level of our society, from rap music that denigrates women to nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert.

What’s the deal? Why are we as a society like this?

Dr. May posits three reasons: our deep, competitive individualism, both a virtue and a curse. We are wary of others and reject the social solidarity characteristic of countries like Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand, for example. He cites the decline in our ability to control world events, and takes the “debacle” of Iraq as a dark example, and an accompanying feeling that we should have really committed to victory in Vietnam or “bombed one or another country back to the Stone Age.” The third reason is economic — “we no longer feel obligations to those with whom we share the country.”

What is the way out of this darkness? May advises us to always recognize the humanity of all others and gradually “take on the mantle of nonviolence.”