February 8, 1962
cling the to Sydney Harris Unrivaled in Violence The most violent people on earth are not the "savage" tribes in the African Congo, or the "primitive" inhabitants of the Australian bush. For no other nation on earth has a worse record than the United States for murder, manslaughter, rape, armed robbery, slug- gings, muggings, carnage on the highways, and assorted forms of violence. In no city of Europe -- at least those I have visited -- is an adult afraid to walk home alone after dark. Here, we are afraid--not merely in the "worst" neighborhoods, but in the "best" as well. There are more killings annually In the city of Houston, Tex., than in all of England. And large cities like New York and Chicago have a higher homicide total than most European countries. What odd combination of elements has created in us this throbbing need for violence? We speak about human life being "cheap in such countries as China--but no nation which slaughters 40.000 of its own men, women and children annually on int.- nighv.'ays can Ire saici to hold human life dear. Nor can we put the blame upon our "youthfulness" as a nation. Fifty years ago, Oscar Wilde remarked that "America's youthfulness is its oldest tradition --it has been going on for 300 years." We are not all that young, although we may still be emotionally infantile. In many ways, we are a generous, peaceable people: our virtues are many and profound. Yet. at the same time, we have somehow bred a national character--or a lack of national character--in which violence seems to play the dominant motif. It is not the poverty of our masses; the rest of the world has much more poverty, much more glaring conlrast between rich and poor. It is not our slums, for slums are prevalent throughout tiie world, and ours are by no moans the worst. Our lack of respect for human life, our raw violence, is to me more sinister aspect of our nation's development than any of political or economic changes that are so deplored by professional plorers. We cannot see it in ourselves, of course; but nations, like individuals, can never see themselves as they appear to others. Is there some tremendous hidden rage in us. some vast unconscious rebellion against the social organism, some mounting tension t h a t could easily turn blood-hibt? Our cities are becoming jungles, and our highways are charnel houses. Our crimes of violence have doubled since the end of World War II. Perhaps it is time we slopped looking at ourselves as a "peace- loving" people. Our statistics of suriden death suggest we are involved in a civil war. in the towns, in (he wuods. on the roads.