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Over the last few weeks stories about parents murdering their children have received prominent attention in the media. In the United States and Canada these family tragedies have contended for front-page and lead items in competition with on-going global crises. In their sanctimonious rush-to-judgment, mainstream media have severed any connection between family and state violence, […]

Child-Murderers and Madness

by Fran Shor

Over the last few weeks stories about parents murdering their children have received prominent attention in the media. In the United States and Canada these family tragedies have contended for front-page and lead items in competition with on-going global crises. In their sanctimonious rush-to-judgment, mainstream media have severed any connection between family and state violence, individual and collective madness. However, for the children of the world who suffer daily from intentionally aggressive policies or benign neglect, such collective madness pursued by the ruling cliques of various states is a more devastating victimizer.

While the Andrea Yates matter has garnered the most attention of the recent incidents, it is still the case that men and fathers wreck more lethal havoc on family life than women and mothers. However, beyond whatever contributing factor her husband’s neglect played, Andrea Yates was tormented and goaded by another man, a so-called religious adviser. Representing the worst side of punitive and patriarchal religion, this man condemned Yates’s children to hell-fire and damnation. Reinforcing the paranoia and isolation Andrea Yates already felt in the madness of her nuclear family, this rabid preacher administered an even stronger drug than those Yates was taking for her diagnosed psychological condition.

On the other hand, when those who exercise such critical influence abuse their power and promulgate mad policies whether on a personal or political level, we need to re-consider how to judge them. Moreover, we need to shake off the stupefication induced by sensationalized media in their recent obsession with family violence and turn our attention to the continuing madness practiced by those in power, specifically the militaristically-minded policy-makers who have shaped US foreign and nuclear policy over the last half century. What underscores the madness of their policies beyond any paranoid aggression is the self-conscious effort to assert power, irrespective of the deaths of innocent children.

Of course, US nuclear policy during the Cold War was notorious for developing what was known as Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). Developed by the technological whiz-kid, Robert McNamara, during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, such policy was predicated on spending billions to build-up nuclear stockpiles that would provide a supposed deterrence to any attempt by the Soviets to achieve even parity. As a boondoggle to the military-industrial complex, that nuclear policy perpetuated a crazed arms build-up that squandered resources and wasted lives.

Now the Bush Administration is proposing an even greater arms race without any real competition, promising to spend more than the next 9 or 10 nations combined on a military budget. In addition, with the recent leak of a government document dealing with nuclear policy, it is abundantly clear that Bush and the Pentagon want to expand an already crazy first-strike nuclear policy to a variety of potential clashes. While the world has recoiled in horror to these paranoid threats and cowboy madness, US citizens have yet to rise up with the same degree as outrage as voiced during the Andrea Yates trial. Texas justice at home and abroad seems committed to neglecting compassion and carrying out its punitive agenda.

If nuclear madness continues at a potentially more lethal rate under the Bush Administration, one needs only to remember how previous Administrations have relied on other self-conscious irrational and aggressive positions. Nixon often boasted about his madman conduct of the war in Southeast Asia. He confided to his aide, Bob Haldeman, concerning the "Madman Theory." "I want the North Vietnamese," Nixon asserted, "to believe I’ve reached a point where I might do anything to stop the war." Of course, what Nixon did was to expand the war. Claiming that "you couldn’t be completely predictable…you had to strike out savagely from time to time," Nixon and his henchman prosecutED the war for five additional years of massive bombing and murder of children throughout Southeast Asia, a murder that continues through the residual effects of bombs and toxic waste in the region.

Even though Nixon is gone, a version of his "Madman Theory" was endorsed in a 1995 study by the US Strategic Command. In this study, entitled "Post-Cold War Deterrence," it was noted that it "hurts to portray ourselves as too fully irrational and cool-headed." Hence, the US could "become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked." And irrational and vindictive was exactly the response of Secretary of State Madeline Albright to being challenged about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children dying and suffering under the US perpetuation of sanctions. Claiming the sanctions policy was "well worth it," Albright demonstrated tens of thousands of times over how much more lethal she could be than Andrea Yates was.

Those who have occupied and continue to occupy seats of power in Washington covet their authority with a belief in their own rationality and carry-out policies that, at best, represent the sort of "crackpot realism" that C.Wright Mills lampooned during the Cold War years. Disregarding the harm they perpetrate on innocents here and abroad, their madness, now carried to new heights of looniness by the Bush Administration, leaves a terrible toll of death and destruction. Perhaps it’s time to take preventative measures to forestall those child-murderers who daily take the lives of thousands of children around the world. Just as removing Andrea Yates or those mad fathers from their families might have saved the lives of their children, we need to remove those who exercise their mad authority before more children die.

Fran Shor teaches at Wayne State University. He is a member of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights and an anti-war activist. He is also the proud father of three daughters. He can be reached at: f.shor@wayne.edu