I read the other day that Gunsmoke was the longest running show ever on TV, with 655 episodes appearing between 1955 and 1975. I grew up watching Gunsmole, with Matt Dillon, the larger than life marshal of Dodge City, Kansas, the cantankerous Doc Stone, and Marshal Dillon’s feisty hillbilly sidekick, Festus. And of course their was Marshal Dillon’s girl, Miss Kitty, who owned and operated the Long Branch Saloon with her girls, all of whom just seemed to be nice girls who were hostesses for all the men who came to the bar. Ah, the innocence of the time. I liked Festus the most, with his “dadgum” language and his faithful mule. Marshal Dillon was the law in those days and he kept everyone on the straight and narrow.
But here is something I didn’t know. In the course of the twenty year run of the show, he shot and killed over 200 people. Of course all these were justified killings but I wonder what it would do to a person who actually killed that many people in their lifetime. And he was shot himself some 40 times. Of course he wasn’t going to die. After all you can’t kill off the main character.
Gunsmoke was like a lot of western TV shows where everyone was wearing and using guns. They were very popular and, as small kids, we grew up imitating these characters with our toy guns and cowboy hats. It was all “make believe.” Of course we knew the difference between TV and real life.
Today there are no shoot em up westerns. They have been replaced by X Box games of greater and greater realism where people can and do spend hours and hours transfixed by these video games scoring points by killing and destroying the enemy. Things like Call of Duty, Gears of War, and Sniper. Of course, if you talk to the people that are playing these games they will tell you it is only make believe, it’s not real life.
This week, on November 11, we celebrate Veterans Day, a day that commemorates the end of World War I, November 11, 1918. At the time, WW I was touted as “the war to end all wars.” Now, almost one hundred years later, we can trace the ensuing years by listing all the wars that have happened since then. These wars were real—real people shooting at one another, killing and being killed. Today, there are armed conflicts in over thirty countries—places where people are still killing and being killed.
I know it would be hard to make the case that that there is some kind of direct correlation between the shootings in Gunsmoke and the “killing” in X box games to all the wars and violence that make up human history and are such a part of our world today. But I wonder if all the depictions of violence that we have seen don’t have a subtle effect on us. It is around us all the time and perhaps we just get used to it, like background music that plays without us paying much attention to it.
What would Jesus have us do about this? I guess one way to think about this is to ask ourselves each day “What actions am I doing that will lead to peace? What words am I using that create peace? Is the energy of my life directed toward peace or violence? Some good reflections for us as we celebrate Veterans Day. Perhaps, each in our own way can do what we can to create an energy of peace that will counterbalance the energy of violence and revenge that is all too apparent in our world.