ONE OF THE signature songs of the anti-war movement of the 1960s was Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" The verses speak hauntingly of the death of young soldiers, the sorrow of those who grieve their loss, and ask when - or if - we will ever learn an alternative to violence.
We are a country that is violence-saturated, and in grave danger of accepting personal aggression as a normal way of expressing and resolving conflict.
We are bombarded with soldier-death counts in Iraq, and witness brutal local crimes on the 11 o'clock news. Events like the massacre at Virginia Tech remind us of other blood senselessly shed - at Columbine, Oklahoma City and on Sept. 11.
Verbal violence spews from shock-jocks on radio and TV, and this value is firmly integrated into many video games, CDs and movies available for our kids.
And, as long as we tune in to such radio and TV programs, this negative energy will dominate our mind and body.
A recently released Federal Communications Commission report affirms the connection between media violence and aggression in children, noting that the average U.S. household has the television on eight-plus hours daily, with children watching, on average, two to four hours every day.
It is no wonder that symptoms of post-traumatic stress, usually associated with those returning from the battlefield, are appearing in the general population. We are seeing an increase of reported anxiety, depression and difficulty sleeping for all age groups, with a corresponding increase in medications addressing these symptoms for young and old.
We are also learning to self-medicate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Whether we escape by watching reality TV or the shopping networks, or engage in online gambling, overeating, drugs or other activities that entertain or distract, we do so to eventually numb a gnawing uncertainty about whether the world is a safe place to live.
The paradox of living in a violent society is that viewing tragic or brutal events can become addictive. We somehow believe that the unfortunate event won't happen to us as long as we keep an eye on it. The psychologists call this "hyper-vigilance," and it is consistent with the sentry function necessary in war zones.
It is thus perfectly normal to be both repulsed by what we see and unable to look away. Unfortunately, each time we revisit a tragedy we are retraumatized by it. With each new trauma, our level of stress grows.
The only solution is to separate from the source of stress and opt for inner peace. This means withdrawing from the pleasure/pain of addiction to crisis, coping with potential withdrawal symptoms and pledging abstinence from obsessing on other traumatizing events.
HOW DO we begin? In the words of the 12-step folks, when we become sick and tired of being sick and tired. Then we can surrender, find a quiet place and let the healing begin.
For some, simply meditating for 20 minutes a day serves to disconnect from the intensity of the noise. For others, it means unplugging the TV, refusing to work overtime, finding a sitter for the kids and going out for the evening, or heading for a weekend away.
But withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur as you work to find the quiet. Initially, you may feel uncomfortable that you're not aware of whatever latest atrocity has occurred, but this feeling is only temporary. Soon, a calmness and new appreciation of the people, places and things in your life will replace the old anxiety.
The craving to watch external violence will be replaced by an appreciation of the inner landscape. From that point, a new path will unfold. You will naturally want to share your discovery with others, and you'll find that there are many who have declared that the war is over.
Perhaps one day, Pete Seeger, or his successor, can write a sequel to his song in which all the flowers have gone to bloom in gardens, young men no longer go off to war, and we have no need for military graveyards. *