By Erin Hallissy
Part of the Human Condition?
Last year Robert Hass ’63, who recently won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for his new volume of poetry, Time and Materials, examined "Violence and the Literary imagination" in a lecture at Saint Mary’s. In it, he remarked, “This is the only world we’ve had and it is an exceedingly violent one, made more violent in the last hundred years by the enormous inventiveness of human technology and the greater ability of nation-states to mobilize vast populations for the purposes of war.”
Violence is everywhere, from movies to video games, from schoolyard bullies to mass murderers, from suicide bombers to long-range missiles fired by people who never see the destruction they cause. Throughout the millennia, humans have glorified violence, deplored it and tried to understand its causes. From their first Seminar class, Saint Mary’s students read and discussed dozens of Great Books that explore the nature of violence and war and try to find their own answers to such timeless questions as can mankind overcome its violent urges or whether paradise once lost can ever be regained.
Most of us are fortunate to lead relatively violence-free lives, but even a haven of calm such as Saint Mary’s college cannot be spared completely from the sometimes brutal world. On Feb. 9, Dr. John Dennis, an SMC professor since 1979 and former director of the high Potential Program, was slain in his Oakland home. A few days later, we learned that alumnus Sgt. Timothy Martin ’04 was killed with three other soldiers in Iraq when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device on Feb. 8.
This magazine looks at how we can all be touched by violence, whether we are striving for peace, fighting in wars or playing rugby, which one retired lieutenant colonel described as “great at developing individual, combat and team skills, which makes it a superb sport for West Point.” We profile some alumni who have served in post-9/11 wars, examine the theory of “just war” and look at the Christian Brothers’ College in Bethlehem, where students and teachers alike try to better their lives in a strife-torn region. This is a sobering issue, but along with grief there is also cause to celebrate. We pay tribute to Dennis and Martin and the lives they led, show just how far the 2007–08 men’s rugby team coached by Tim O’Brien went and recap the outstanding success of the men’s basketball team.