A terrible set of killings in Northridge has renewed the hunt for the roots of social violence by the young.
In the early hours of Feb. 22, 17-year old Christopher Golly turned up to full volume a Jim Morrison song called "The End," in which the singer fantasizes about killing his father.
Just as Christopher had planned it, his 49-year old father, Steven Golly, got out of bed to tell him to cut the noise. Son killed father with one shot from a military-style AR-15-type assault rifle.
Then, just as he'd outlined his plans to a close pal a day earlier, Christopher Golly opened fire on the police cruisers drawing up in front of the house. One in a fusillade of at least 14 shots killed Christy Lynne Hamilton, who had graduated from the Los Angeles Police Department academy only four days earlier.
Then Christopher Golly went back indoors, picked up a .22-caliber handgun and finished his own life.
There has been no shortage of efforts to figure out what pushed young Golly into this destruction.
His was a broken home. His mother, Pamela, had left some years earlier, and died of a cocaine overdose in 1990.
Christopher's father was a Vietnam veteran. By some accounts he was a hard man whose main point of amicable contact with his son was through guns, of which he had a fair number in the house. Father would take son for target practice, often using the AR-15-type rifle. But he was tough on Christopher. More than once, the son confided to school friends that one of these days he'd kill his dad.
Christopher did speed--crystal methamphetamine was his current preference--and also listened to speed metal, a variant of heavy-metal music influenced by late 1970s punk.
For many, this adds up to an Identikit profile of anomic '90s youth, hyped on paranoia-inducing drugs and mayhem-inducing music. The only thing missing is someone blaming TV violence for setting Christopher off.
But the recent furor about the role of TV and Hollywood in provoking violence does, indirectly, offer some possible insight into the forces that spawned the murders and the suicide. Back when the recent blame-TV-and-Hollywood uproar was at its peak, a friend of mine, Doug Lummis, sent me a letter from Japan. He has been a schoolteacher in Tokyo for 20 years.
Japan, Lummis pointed out, poses certain problems for the media-causes-violence school. The place is flooded with violent media--TV, comic books and so on--including violent porn, rape and sadism fantasies, guns and swords. But this doesn't spill into violence in the society.
Some point to Japan's relative homogeneity. And the police keep everyone under very careful watch. Japan has gun control, so when people do resort to violence, they rely more on kitchen knives and baseball bats. But there's another factor. Japan hasn't fought a war for 50 years and has a comparatively minuscule standing military. Nobody under the age of 65 or so has ever shot a gun at anybody under the right of belligerency of the state. The society isn't rife with people who have tasted first blood in some foreign land, in uniform.
Bring this back to the United States, argued Lummis. "The cause of real violence in society is not fantasies of violence, but other real violence. How many people convicted of crimes using weapons first learned to use those weapons in the military? Any relation between violence in the black community and the huge number of black men who go through the military training mill? OK, not true of the kids, but the indirect effects can be there."
Indeed, the U.S. murder rate surged 42% over the five years after the Vietnam War. Such homicide increases are invariable after wars large and small, in defeated countries as well as victorious ones, among veterans and non-veterans, among men and women. By a process of legitimation, wartime homicide, sanctioned by the state, becomes a model for subsequent homicides by individuals. This model has been kept alive in the Reagan-Bush-Clinton years by mini-wars and interventions.
It's 20 years since the Vietnam War ended, but it seems likely--though there can be no certainty here--that the rubble that was Golly family life and its terminal cataclysm had its source in that war, still exercising its malign and fatal contagion on youths like Christopher, unborn when the last, state-sanctioned bullet in that conflict was fired.
The war is not over and the prime model in violence is not TV or heavy metal but the U.S. military, and the attendant militarist culture. Diminish state-sanctioned violence and, in the end, you diminish the generalized social violence that derives from it.