Let us be absolutely clear on one thing: We all root for killers. We are a culture that respects, even adores killers. We are a nation for whom killers are heroes. It is wrong to claim otherwise. Just one thing separates killers we love from killers we don’t: Context. A lot of the media coverage surrounding the Chris Dorner story, both the professional media and personal blogs, seems to center around the “morally questionable position of rooting for a killer“, to quote Dave Schilling of Vice.com. Schilling is right; I’m not challenging that statement: Rooting for a killer is morally questionable. It is also extremely common, far much more so than we would like to admit. We all root for killers.
We root for killers in our entertainment. James Bond, Jason Bourne, Rambo, Jack Bauer, Paul Kersey, Dirty Harry, Michael Corleone, Vito Corleone, The Man with No Name, Vic Mackey, these are all popular characters from entertainment, both television and film. They are also all killers. To the viewers who root for them, their killing is good. Among the top grossing video games of all time are various entries in the Call of Duty series–a game about killing–and the Grand Theft Auto series–also about killing, among other things. The Battlefield, Halo and Gears of War series are also among the top sellers. That these are just movies, TV shows and games is immaterial; the point is, they are exceedingly popular and they are all centered around killing. Given the popularity of games that involve killing other people or other beings, it is difficult to argue that we are a people who philosophically reject the notion of killing to resolve our problems; we don’t merely root for killers, we like to pretend that we are killers.
But let’s examine real life, outside the world of entertainment. One of the most popular memes in our modern culture is “Support the troops”. You hear it in newscasts, political speeches, and everyday conversations; it’s festooned on magnetic ribbons and plastered on automobiles from coats to coast. And it is rooting for killers. We do not send soldiers to foreign countries to run bake sales or expand their Amway distribution networks. We do not send them to visit sick children in hospice or plant memorial trees in commemorative arboretums. We send them to kill. We train them to kill, it is what they are expected to do, and it is utterly impossible to argue that “Support[ing] the troops” is anything other than blatant, undeniable, brazen rooting for killers. We all root for killers.
This call for support of the troops is usually accompanied by paeans to the soldiers in this country defending the freedom people like me have to criticize the government–or the military–in the first place. While it’s great in theory, the reality is this simply isn’t true. American troops have not actively defended American freedom since the 1940’s. Korea wasn’t a threat to our freedom. Nor were Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Libya, Lebanon, Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq, or Afghanistan. We didn’t invade those countries to protect American freedom, or defend ourselves from any threats. American troops in those countries were there to project American dominance and power, not to defend America. I mean no disrespect to anybody who enlisted, but let’s be honest: None of those countries posed any threat to any Americans except the ones we sent there with guns. You and I are as free today as we would have been if no American soldier had ever landed, fought, lived or died in any one of those countries. They didn’t go there for our freedom, and they didn’t go there to defend us. They were, however, sent there to kill, and we do revere them as heroes. Because we all root for killers.
Within our legal system, we applaud and embrace the death penalty, despite the deeply flawed nature of our justice system and the number of people on death row who have been exonerated before they were put to death. Maintaining a death penalty in a legal system that has such a high rate of false conviction is rooting for killers. One cannot claim a belief in the sanctity of life and still support a system that kills people who may or may not be actually guilty of the crimes they were accused of. That’s killing for killing, not some sort of deterrence or retribution.
When I hear the moralizing against people who support Christopher Dorner, the statements that annoy me the most are those that profess to condemn him because he is a killer, because these are all, each and every one of them, inevitably spoken by people who absolutely condone and support killers in a different context. The Navy SEAL who killed Osama Bin Laden is described as a hero. He shot a man in the head three times at close range with a high powered rifle, who was unarmed and in his bedroom. We call this killer a hero. We all lamented the 20 children gunned down in one of our schools, but still overwhelmingly support drone strikes without any apparent concern for the 178 children we’ve blown up with them.
This isn’t to draw up a moral equivalence between soldiers at war, police officers responding to a shooting, disturbed gunmen shooting up public venues and angry vigilantes hunting people they consider criminal; it’s just to point out that we make a big deal about the killings we disagree with, while ignoring the fact that there is a broad array of killing that we’re perfectly fine with–even happy about. We surround ourselves with killing, but react with shock and outrage when a killing takes place that we can’t or won’t get behind and root for. There has been endless speculation lately about what motivates someone to open fire in a schoolyard, a movie theater or a political rally or to go on a rampage. Some blame the prevalence of guns, some blame movies, some blame video games, some even say it’s because not enough people believe an invisible being with magical powers who grants wishes created the whole universe just for us; but what if there is no single cause? What if the occasional (or even frequent) mass shooting or killing spree is what happens when you mix easy access to guns with a culture where rooting for killers is a national pastime? It’s certainly something worth pondering deeply, before we rush into a superficial weapons ban or decide that easy access to guns isn’t involved at all.
This, I can say with certainty: We all root for killers.