From Within

An excerpt from the book by the same title
2000 by Joseph A. Kinney

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Domestic violence


   Kinney.jpg (15178 bytes)          Each day about 50 men, women, and children are murdered in their homes, on America’s streets, in workplaces, or various other locations across our beloved nation.  During that same 24-hour period, hundreds of women --some who have yet to see their 10th birthday -- will be raped or suffer brutal beatings at the hands of often larger and more physically stronger males.  Domestic violence, we are told, results in more treatment in hospital emergency rooms than any other single cause, including car crashes.  It is not only physical violence that diminishes the Human Condition.  There is also the emotional toll that arises from threats, fear, intimidation, and verbal abuse -- behaviors that injure the psyche of victims, ravishing their ability to trust and love other people well beyond the more immediate anguish, turmoil and grief associated with such incidents.  Violence and aggression impose substantial costs, seen and unseen, long after the initial injury or incident.



We are a violent society


            Sadly, we are a violent society comprised of perpetrators and victims as well as those who periodically find themselves fearful or at least anxious about the possibility of aggression and its consequences.  No one is really immune from the cancer of violence that squeezes the life and spirit from our society, represses our souls, and too often causes many of us to live in anguish.    


            The full measure of the twin problems of aggression and fear of violence boggles the mind and goes well beyond the capacity of statistical measurements.  Our reaction has been substantial, if not often confused or misdirected.   Spending for both public law enforcement and private security is growing at a startling pace.  The City of Chicago employs 17,000 police officers –– more than the number of school superintendents in our beloved nation.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation, America’s premier law enforcement agency, recently requisitioned the Congress for a thousand new Federal agents to “police” terrorists who strike fear in this country.  


            We spend billions protecting our homes from violence with special locking devices, security cameras, silent alarms, infrared sensors, special fencing, and even for special ‘safe’ rooms where we can hide if intrusion detectors are compromised or known threats persist.  Self-defense classes in many cities often have waiting lists and local television stations now have gurus telling us how to be safe in our cars, while shopping or vacationing, or even behind the locked doors of our residences.  Indeed, violence is now become something of a national pastime.


Violence exacts a heavy price

            Everywhere we look violence is exacting a heavy price on our people.    Recently, a Massachusetts man watching his son at an ice hockey game fatally viciously assaulted the father of another player.   A Black man in Texas is dragged by a pickup truck over rural roads until his death, then cast aside by his killers like road kill.   In Wyoming, a young boy is brutally murdered because of his sexual orientation.  At Fort Campbell, Kentucky, soldiers beat a comrade to deaths calling him a “queer” and “faggot”.  In Michigan, we read of a beautiful six-year old girl, Kayla, fatally shot in her elementary school by an equally young classmate.


            The drumbeat of these horrible murders fill the nation’s airwaves and newspapers, giving us a sense brutality spinning out of control.  Our reaction has been more than proportionate but often unfocused and ineffective.  


            The growth of private “police” is especially startling.    There are hundreds of thousands of security guards, armed and unarmed, as well as thousands of security consultants who exist to help us in the battle against violence and related evils in our places of work, shopping malls, hotels, and residential neighborhoods.  Private citizens now spend more than $40 billion annually on ‘internal’ security.  As a nation, we feel that we are no longer safe from within irrespective of total homicide statistics or what the experts tell us about our safety.


            As the prospect of nuclear war decreases from abroad, the effort and resources that once was made on foreign threats is being re-focused on concerns within the boundaries of our nation. In fact, the President recently announced that the annual U.S. counter-terrorism budget now exceeds $9 billion even though, paradoxically, undercover congressional investigators recently were able to easily penetrate our most secure agencies using false identification cards and were often carrying dangerous weapons concealed in cases.


Information is Wanted


            Self-defense and personal protection are growth industries, particularly in the cities and suburbs of America.  Women demand to know about the stopping power of pepper spray and .25 caliber pistols. People often pre-program their cellular phones to the local police department.  New homes costing $100,000 or more are often equipped with elaborate home alarm systems, motion sensors, and instant telecommunications to police and security agencies.  Women, desperate to protect themselves, swamp the enrollment of many concealed weapons glasses.  And, of course, Charleston Heston is constantly on television, reminding us of our Constitutional right to bear arms.


The Danger


            The last decade has witnessed events that reflect our feeling of increased vulnerability to the evil of violence.  The blowing up of Oklahoma City’s Alfred Murrah Federal Office Building, an event that took 167 lives, touched each of us in indelible ways.  Shortly after the devastating bombing we became acquainted with the villain.  I remember the video clip as if it were yesterday.  There was Timothy McVeigh, an unthreatening man of slight build and boyish complexion, shackled for his dastardly crime, his body shielded by law enforcement as he made his way to a vehicle for the trip to the courthouse.  The cries for justice overwhelmed the valiant and even remarkable history of this young and flawed man.  


Timothy McVeigh, no matter how much we may hate him, looks like one of us, someone who could have grown up next door or just down the street.  Young, innocent, fresh, maybe even hopeful.  He didn’t come from the streets of Harlem, Cabrini Green, or Watts.  Tim McVeigh was from suburban Buffalo, New York and was decorated with a Bronze Star for Valor for his service in Desert Storm.  We ponder a haunting question: How could such a young and promising life become so twisted with evil?


The Other Side of the Coin


            Of course there was the flip side to the evil inflicted by McVeigh.  Among the victims was tiny Gabreon Bruce, just 4 months and 12 days old.  There were 11 victims less than two years old, babies that had been left in the trust of the building’s daycare.  The photo of the bleeding infant being carried by a frenzied fireman to a waiting ambulance is permanently etched into our memory banks.  The terror of Oklahoma City, shortly after the bombing of the World Trade Center, reminded us how fragile life can be just when we seemed to have everything going for us.


A Nation on the Edge


            Psychologists tell us it is normal for us to periodically think about how we might die.  To the extent that we ponder such things, most of us would prefer to die of a ripe old age, hopefully in the sanctity and comfort of our own beds with our loved ones at our sides.  The prospect for random violence introduces a terrible feeling of uncertainty into this equation, increasing our fear and anxiety.  Our politicians cannot give us enough ‘security’ as we saw during the recent Democratic Convention where Al Gore promised another 50,000 police to make us feel ever safer.  The same politicians who willfully cut budgets for schools and day care will increase spending on the police without a second’s thought.


Signs Of The Times


            The signs of our individual and collective fear are everywhere.  I see it in the faces of pedestrians making their way down the streets of our urban centers or in the frequent TV advertisements of security companies promising to protect our families.   We are no longer a bold and confident nation but one of a people who increasingly live in the menacing shadow of aggression.  As a nation of individuals, we can fathom, perhaps even accept, a portion of the violence in our lives.  


            We can understand those who use violence for the purpose of extracting money from banks, convenience stores, or even pizza delivery drivers barely making minimum wage.  We can even comprehend the jilted lover who returns with a shotgun to kill his former lover and her new friend.  The same minds that propel us to greatness, drives our entrepreneurial and creative genius somehow, in some perverted way, can rationalize this kind of evil no matter how unacceptable it may be.     It is this ability to covertly rationalize the unacceptable that may encourage violence to continue and freeze us from taking effective preventive measures.


            What we can’t contemplate is the random violence in our lives.  We just can’t tolerate the notion of unintended or ‘innocent’ victims being savaged. We steadfastly and justifiably refuse to accept why a four-month old Gabreon Bruce, along with seven other babies less than two years old, must die in the bombed-out bowels of the Murrah Building.  In reading about young Gabreon and his parents, we can easily hate Mr. McVeigh for his dastardly deeds.  




            Our outrage is fueled as we refuse to accept young boys gunning down equally young school children and their teachers in Colorado, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Oregon among other places.  This is not supposed to happen to us, not in our beloved America.  It is supposed to be Black boys killing other Black boys in the ghetto, not White children laying in ambush of their classmates.  Random aggression is not the kind of violence that we can easily figure out.    It is this violence and evil that tortures our minds and keeps us awake at night wondering about the fate of our nation.


            Violence is a fascinating topic that intrigues all but the most hardened of us.  It is a part of us because so many institutions have sanctioned aggression in certain forms.  Violence is very much central in our national heritage, however reluctant we may be to acknowledge this reality.  The United States is a nation that has flourished and languished as a result of collective violence for political gain.  We gratefully salute the deserving and courageous men and women who go off to war to honor this nation while we resist a vibrant debate over the application of the death penalty to those who killed as teenagers. 

The Crowds Roar for More


            Football crowds roar when a player executes an especially aggressive tackle, even when the ball carrier is apparently injured.  Crowds roar when there is a vicious brawl at an ice hockey game.  Certain forms of aggression fascinate us even when they invite other forms of violence.  Just think of the pitcher who throws a bean ball then is ready to fight as soon as one of his errant pitches finally hits an angry batter.  While an adult may see all of this as entertaining, young eyes are glued to the violence that then becomes an example.  We have yet to fully fathom violence and how it invidiously shapes our lives.


            My views on this subject are dynamic and constantly evolving as I learn from engaging in science, reading the literature, speaking with victims and perpetrators and participating as an expert witness in civil actions.  While psychology, public health, economics, and statistics provide me valued insights, I recognize the inherent limitations of each discipline in understanding violent behaviors and how they can be prevented.  In trying to understand violence, I weave the contributions of each discipline together in a coherent fashion to help me understand this perplexing condition.


            Solutions, I am convinced, cannot come from the province of any single discipline or mode of thought.   We must begin by acknowledging that violence is a plague that can be successfully diagnosed and managed if we have the collective will and determination that are essential for this undertaking.    We must think in new ways, as Einstein admonished us, or suffer the consequences of neglect.  We must ask the tough questions and demand creative but realistic answers.    We must resist the tendency to accept the simple in this world of seven-second sound bites.


Violent States


            There are many mental states associated with the perpetrators of violence, and we must understand these states of mind in crafting effective and enduring solutions.  The single most significant state of mind arises from rational individuals making what society deems poor choices in choosing violent courses of action.  


            In fact, six out of seven perpetrators would fall into this category according to research coordinated by Dr. John Monahan of the University of Virginia.  This implies that most violent people understand their behavior. Still others, probably slightly more than ten percent, are impaired by drugs or alcohol.  Finally, a smaller percentage, around two- percent, can be deemed considered mentally disordered in a clinical sense (e.g., paranoid schizophrenic).   What this suggests to me is that we can intervene by changing the way people think about violence and the consequences of such behavior.


New Theories


            There is now still another emerging theory associated with violence -- one that suggests that violence may be predisposed by our genetic code.  It is likely that there will be debate over such theories in the coming years.  Until we learn much more about how genes impact on the moral decision-making of human beings, we must focus remedies on the head and heart and other factors within our capacity to influence.


            Males are conditioned by the culture to use violence in various forms.  Young boys learn violence on the football field, in fights with classmates, or as young men on the field of battle.  It is this conditioning process that must also be carefully considered.  My first experience with violence was as a boy growing up in Wichita, Kansas.    I saw and participated in the usual donnybrooks that kids experience.  


            I recall being suspended from high school for a single day for fighting.    I was dismissed because I stuffed a student into a wall locker where he forcibly rested for an hour.  This act was more humane than it may seem, because I went to a very old school where the lockers were rather large, perhaps even comfortable for small-sized people.  My victim, of course, was offensive to me, and I decided to borrow a co-ed’s locker to make my point.    Within an hour of my infraction, I was on my way home for a day.

Violence Learned


            As young boys mature into young men, they learn how to control anger and their aggressive impulses.  But some fail to make this transition and it is this failure that we must understand and correct.


            Perhaps it is the conditioning that young boys receive through their experiences and home life, perhaps reinforced by a genetic predisposition, that results in the vast majority (more than three-quarters) of violent acts being performed by males.    Once a person engages in violence, they often find themselves on a slippery slope favoring ever greater levels of violence in response to life’s many and sometimes nefarious challenges, conditions, and circumstances.


Peeking through the Fog of Life


            Violence has a way of robbing us of our innocence, stealing our virtue even when sanctioned by government.  As a Marine in Vietnam, I saw boys transformed into men through the tragedy of violence.    Here is one account, taken from my book, told in the first person:


In the Fog…


            The fog steam up from the moistened ground, rising in vertical piles that filled the landscape in front of me.  My heart pounded heavily, reaching far up into my throat as I prepared for what lay ahead.  Each panicky step had a trauma of its own.  The mist provided a slight contrast to the dark, rich background cloaking the countless plants and trees just off the footpath.  The night’s darkness engulfed everything in shades of deep black, the likes of which I had never seen growing up at home in Kansas.  I steeled my unsettled nerves and took still another step down the trail.  I peered as far as I could see, really no more than 20 yards or so, hoping to find nothing that would jeopardize my security. 


            The quarter-moon high overhead served to dimly highlight broad shapes on the horizon where the earth met the sky, casting a frightening quality to the most harmless object.  But that was not all.  There also was the wind that whistled defiantly through the foliage, adding still further to my trepidation.  All of this served to heighten an uneasiness that had become foremost in my imperiled life.


            Suddenly, I saw him directly ahead of me.  Were my eyes betraying me?  God, could this be true?  I felt a bead of sweat pour into my left eye, stinging it slightly.  I glanced still further ahead, trying to be sure of what I saw.  The faint light from the moon accented the subtle boundaries of a slender body.  He seemed so terribly frail against the midnight sky.  At best he weighed 100, maybe 110 pounds.  I could now make out the outlines of the AK-47 rifle that he held perpendicular across his chest.  His eyes were glued downward to the path ahead as he carefully but unwittingly stepped toward me.  Thankfully, he didn’t notice me as I slipped off the trail to my right.  As he advanced in my direction, I could hardly believe that it would happen this way.


            The index finger of my right hand slid across the stock to take my weapon off safety.  I carefully stepped to the right, just off the pathway, hoping that the unsuspecting soldier wouldn’t see me.  In just another fraction of a second I eased my M-16A1 rifle to my right chin, just as I had learned in Marine Corps infantry training.  As I glared down the barrel of the rifle, it all seemed so unreal.  As my eyes once again confirmed what I saw.  I really had no choice.  I carefully squeezed the trigger.  The bullet barreled straight ahead, tearing into the man’s right shoulder.  I shot again.  This time the round tore through his left side, throwing him violently to the ground.  The man violently grasped for air, suffering what surely was a fatal blow.  I fired again and again.  In a panic of my own, I dropped to one knee, alarmed at what I had done.  Seconds later, a second North Vietnamese soldier ran toward his stricken comrade, firing wildly in my direction.  As soon as he entered my field of fire, I pulled the trigger once again.  My weapon was now on automatic, the bullets violently ripped his body with each strike.  He fell over the corpse of his fallen companion.


            By now, Johnstone had reached my side.


            “How many did ya get?”




            “Think there are more?”


            “Hell if I know.”


            Johnstone and I took cover off the trail, pointing our rifles nervously toward the fallen enemy.  Johnston was my friend and I was glad he was there.  Always knowing what to do, he was a Marine’s Marine.  I pumped a new magazine into my rifle, sticking the used one in my pocket.  The wet ground somehow refreshed my stressed body as Johnstone and I looked off into the distance, fearing still more NVA.   Soon, two more Marines were at our sides and we began to form a line across the footpath setting clear fields of fire.  Seconds turned into minutes as more Marines joined our enlarged and growing position.  Somehow, the extra men provided little solace for me.  My heart continued to pound and sweat rolled off my forehead into my eyes, nose, and mouth.    My mind raced as if I were on drugs, nothing could calm me.  A few minutes later, I heard our platoon commander squawking over the radio.


            “Echo Charley Oscar, this is Echo One, over,” the lieutenant declared.  This was Marine talk, a code language that few bothered to decipher.  For a change, I listened intently.  Then, after a few exchanges, I heard the crucial words: 


            “Echo One confirms two NVA killed-in-action, over.”


            As I lay on the wet ground, I felt myself urinate uncontrollably.  My world was spinning out of control as I glanced ahead.    I wanted to have my mother hold and comfort me.  But I was a Marine.    A United States Marine!  My suffering would remain inside of me, far from the eyes and ears of others.  In time, I would pay a price for what I had done.  How could I not?   


            The radio bantering finally stopped and now it was time.  Johnstone and I moved up the trail, toward the two dead or dying Vietnamese.  We carefully searched for papers, anything that could aid us in our efforts to defeat a constantly elusive enemy.  As I rummaged through tattered pockets, I was struck by the youthfulness of my first victim.  Could he be 19?  Maybe 20?  He was a damn kid just like me!  His pocket betrayed information I wish that I didn’t find.  I took out my flashlight for a closer look.  It was a black and white photo frayed at the edges.  The images were barely in focus, suggesting a primitive camera.  The photo was of a woman and two children.  My realization of the photo’s contents stirred my innermost soul.  I had killed not only a warrior who would kill me, but also a father and husband.  Could this be so? I quietly asked myself.  I was overcome by a sadness that I had never felt before, not even at the funeral of a close friend.  I struggled to contain myself as I continued my search.  My life, I knew, would never be the same. 


            "It is stories like these from my book that help the reader understand and comprehend the impact of violence and how it shapes our lives,"  Joseph A. Kinney



Lethal Violence


            Some individuals will consciously embrace violence, even a lethal level as a carefully thought through act.   For these individuals, homicide is a cold and calculated act.  Still others are desperately trying to respond to inner demons and thought patterns that leave them feeling hopeless.  Violence that achieves a lethal result can indeed be logical and, in a perverted way, effective.   


            Deadly violence has a finality to it that can become imperative.  All violence is indefensible but deadly violence has a logic of its own that must be considered.  The distinction is that non-lethal violence invites other behaviors and actions, plaguing the perpetrator and the victim alike, sometimes in a spiral that often leads to still ever-greater levels of aggression.


            While lethal violence may provide finality for some, it actually may, in fact, be inappropriate for one part of society.  That group is the military.  As a combat marine in Vietnam, I learned of a Leatherneck who claimed to shoot to wound rather than kill.    This not a taught behavior but something he chose to adopt on his own.  If you stop and analyze this conduct, it makes perfect sense.  The objective was quite simple –– by wounding one’s enemy that individual would require medical attention and deflect the enemy’s resources from combat missions.  

            A dead soldier requires no care.  This tactic is consistent with research that demonstrates that most soldiers are reluctant to kill, even in the heat of combat.


Homicide Numbering


            In America, homicide is on the decline but still far too commonplace.    There are about 17,000 homicides each year in our nation, a number that has declined in recent years but may be on the way up again.   Yes, the White House will tell us that murder is down from historic highs.  


            It is true that this number has dropped from the early 1990’s but we are still way ahead, by any measure, of where we were in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  And there are reasons to question official statistics and how they are gathered.  The total number of homicides involves only those numbers that we know about and there are reasons to believe official reports are incomplete.  For example, there were reports about a Russian Mafioso who claims to have killed 68 people in and around Brighton Beach, New York.  So far, only one body has been accounted for.  There are people murdered and their bodies are never discovered nor are they officially declared missing.  Still other murders are classified as suicides or ‘accidental.’  Government possibly counts the victims of murder about like it counts the unemployed – perhaps more poorly that we would like.


Unsolved Mysteries


            Then there is the matter of crime resolution.  Only two-thirds of homicides are eventually solved by law enforcement in the U.S.  A perpetrator’s chance of avoiding detection and apprehension for the commission of a homicide are relatively good compared with other crimes.  


            The vast majority of those eventually apprehended are typically uneducated, often minority group members, and, frequently, young of age.  The majority of educated murderers will escape apprehension and a good percentage of those tried in court will not be convicted.


            In truth, our nation has only a faint commitment to really search for the underlying causes of violence.  Maybe this is because those slain are killed in relatively small numbers and in ways that we simply do not choose to question.  This surely isn’t the case in other areas of mortality.


The Dollars and Sense of Violence


            In about three days, 150 homicides will roughly equal the total number of deaths from an average airliner crash.  


            When an airliner goes down, we pour huge resources into investigating what happened so that a reoccurrence can be prevented.


            In terms of spending per death, there is no comparison that we spend many times more dollars on airliner crashes versus homicide.  Just the other day, the National Transportation Safety Board held its last public hearing on the TWA 800 crash off the coast of Long Island. even though the probable cause, a fuel line rupture, was identified more than two years ago.


            There could be other reasons why violence research may get little attention.  Perhaps we are disinterested because so many homicide victims are young, poor, or minority group members or, alternatively, many individuals are murdered during the commission of other crimes, including rape, drug use, and robbery.  


            Could it be that our policy of neglect makes these individuals expendable in the grand scheme of things?  When famous people are involved the situation is far different.  Witness the homicide allegedly involving O.J. Simpson or the murder of Bill Cosby’s son.


What do we know?


            There are many revealing facts about homicide and violence that we may wish to briefly examine.  Each of these receives considerable attention in my book:



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