Healing America’s Narratives: The Inevitability of the Current Mood of the United States

[Part of a series, this essay explores the inevitability that surfaced amid the research for and writing of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now available.]

Photo © by tom coe on Unsplash

If we begin with Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 and work our way forward through each day since then, especially those days not included in some of the more (in)famous years like 1619, 1776, 1787, 1830, 1865, 1868, 1920, 1945, 1964, 2001, 2003 (et cetera)¹ and into our current state of affairs in the third decade of the twenty-first century, where we are as a country is inevitable. Said differently, our ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, excess, bullying, and untrustworthiness are not surprising.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning A Bright Shining LieNeil Sheehan wrote this about the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam:

“What Calley and others who participated in the massacre did that was different was to kill hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese in two hamlets in a single morning and to kill point-blank with rifles, pistols, and machine guns. Had they killed just as many over a larger area in a longer period of time and killed impersonally with bombs, shells, rockets, white phosphorous, and napalm, they would have been following the normal pattern of American military conduct. The soldier and the junior officer observed the lack of regard his superiors had for the Vietnamese. The value of Vietnamese life was systematically cheapened in his mind…. The military leaders of the United States, and the civilian leaders who permitted the generals to wage war as they did, had made the massacre inevitable.”²

Sheehan’s words indict the worst of leadership that arise through unhealthy masculine energy. Be it military or civilian, local, state, or national, such leadership renders inevitable, or at least highly likely, horrors such as My Lai in 1968; the mutilation and slaughter of Cheyenne men, women, and children at Sand Creek in 1864; the massacre of Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee in 1890; the more than 6,000 lynchings of blacks between 1865 and 1950; the incineration of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood district in 1921; the degradations of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo in the post-9/11 war on terror; and the incessant gun violence in the U.S. Among other examples.

In response to a school shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives³ created Christmas photo cards, posing their families holding assault rifles in front of Christmas trees in 2021 in support of the weapons commonly used in U.S. Congress-enabled mass shootings. Evidently, these folks were channeling the intersection of what Jesus meant when he said “Love one another,”⁴ and what the framers had in mind when they penned the Second Amendment.

That’s a small sample of evidence regarding the inevitability of our current culture of violence. What about greed and excess, you ask? A country built on slave and peasant labor, sweatshops, migrant workers, and now cheap international labor renders inevitable a 2022 second quarter report that the wealthiest 1% of Americans own 31.1% of the nation’s wealth; the top 10% own 68%; and the bottom 50% own 3.2% (the 40% of Americans who fall between the bottom 50% and the top 10% own 28.9%). Said differently, the top 10% of Americans own more than twice (68%) of what the bottom 90% own (32%). This is like saying that the folks in Texas and Montana (together about 10% of the nation’s population) own more than twice as much wealth as the rest of the country. In a nation where owning and having things is important, this is a big deal.

Here’s one more juxtaposition: the defense industry — those companies that build and maintain the weapons and infrastructure of war and everyday violence, and the insurance-pharmaceutical-medical-government-finance-lobbying industry (euphemistically referred to as healthcare in the U.S.) are both for-profit endeavors. Need more deterrence, want to go to war, or choose to keep assault weapons available to our huddled masses? Cha-ching. Need to attend to the physical and psychological effects of war, everyday violence, and active shooter drills for school children? Cha-ching. Need to make sure none of this changes? Have more lobbyists in D.C. (more than 700) than there are members of Congress (currently 535 when all seats are filled).

The above are selected, limited examples, painted with broad brush strokes. For more specific information, see Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow.


  1. Briefly: 1619 (initial delivery of enslaved Africans to what is now Virginia by the British); 1776 (U.S. Declaration of Independence); 1787 (U.S. Constitution); 1830 (Congress passes “Indian Removal” Act); 1865 (Civil War ends; 13th Amendment passed); 1868 (14th Amendment passed; Second Fort Laramie Treaty); 1920 (19th Amendment passed); 1945 (U.S. drops two atomic bombs on Japan; World War II ends); 1964 (Civil Rights Act passed); 2001 (September 11 terrorist attacks on U.S.); 2003 (U.S. preemptively attacks Iraq).
  2. Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, (New York: Random House, 1988), 689–90.
  3. Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado) and Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky): https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/christmas-card-guns-lauren-boebert-thomas-massie-start-new-culture-ncna1285709
  4. For younger readers: Christmas began as a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and had nothing to do with retail sales, garishly decorated real and fake trees, and assault weapons.

American Status Quo

The following is excerpted and adapted from Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow by Reggie Marra—forthcoming in October 2022.

On September 23, 2001 Rabbi Marc Gellman was one of the religious leaders who gathered at Yankee Stadium for a memorial service for the victims of the September 11 attacks. At the time the estimated number of deaths still hovered around 6,000, and Rabbi Gellman spoke of how stating the number of deaths—like 6,000 or six million—explains very little other than “how much death came in how short a time.” He went on to say that “the real horror of that day lies not in its bigness, but in its smallness. In the small searing death of one person 6,000 times, and that person was not a number. That person was our father or our mother or our son or our daughter…”1

            America’s ongoing domestic body count requires that we honor this observation. As a nation we have become numb to the 103 gunshot deaths a day because this everyday violence only earns headline status if it qualifies as a mass shooting—with four or more victims at the same time and in the same place.2 Three doesn’t cut it. Recently, ten shooting victims in a grocery store and twenty-one in an elementary school were required to remind us of our American status quo. And even with the headlines and talking heads that such tragedies elicit, even with the photos and brief bios of the deceased, the “small searing death” of each individual carries with it agonizingly intimate memories and moments in the hearts and minds of surviving family and friends that the rest of us simply cannot imagine, try though we might.

            The United States struggles and has struggled since its inception with the denial of the worse demons of its nature. Ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, excess, bullying, and untrustworthiness cross breed and manifest in what Robert Bly called the long invisible bag we drag behind us—filled with all we deny and repress about ourselves—our collective national Shadow.

            As a nation, America remains an experiment. We were conceived through an often remarkable fertilization of ideas that gave voice to some and subjugated others. We were born through a bloodbath that separated us from the British. We were raised on the enslavement of Africans and African Americans, on land theft from and the massacre and betrayal of Native Peoples, on the subjugation of women, and on peasant labor. We were reborn in an attempt to maintain the experiment through an anything-but-civil bloodbath with ourselves, from which we have yet to fully recover. And we were reborn yet again as a financial and military superpower as the result of a global bloodbath.

            We regularly perpetrate and perpetuate violence against others while refusing to acknowledge and address in any effective way the everyday violence we commit against each other. Not yet 250 years old, we embody unhealthy iterations of adolescent beliefs in invincibility and immortality, despite clear evidence that we are neither. Not only have we not recovered from our bloodbaths of birth and rebirth in any whole, integrated sense, we continue to choose to bathe ourselves and others in blood, literally and metaphorically, because that is the normal we know.

            Ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, excess, bullying, and untrustworthiness: we can recognize them, own them, and integrate them, or they will continue to own us. Which do you choose?


1 Rabbi Marc Gellman, remarks at the September 23, 2001 Prayer Service at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. The video is available online: https://www.c-span.org/video/?166250-1/york-city-prayer-service.

2 2014-2019: 14,515 gun deaths/year avg. (not suicide) = 40/day avg; 23,094 suicides by gun = 63/day; 37,609 total annual gun deaths = 103/day: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/