In the past few weeks, two young men's lives have been propelled into the whirlwind of the international media. Dylann Roof, the accused shooter in the Charleston massacre of nine members at the historically prominent Emanuel AME Church, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted Boston Marathon bomber, now sentenced to death.
The nation is still mourning the lives these men have taken. Each of us is relentlessly reminded by the daily media coverage. So many of us are struggling for meaning in these acts and their aftermaths. Many still wondering how two young men, with their entire lives ahead of them, could carry out these terrible acts of violence.
Dylann Roof and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev each share common threads. Each of the men influenced too early in life by an ideology of hate. Each carried out their ideology to an ultimate extreme. But they both share something else; they are both in their twenties.
The twenties is a time for many of life's firsts. It is an age many get a first car, have a first significant romantic relationship, work a first McJob while attending school for a first long-term career. It is the age where some of the first tough life lessons are learned, all the while, honing our redeemable qualities that carry us through adulthood.
What could have possibly gone wrong with Dylann Roof and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? Some might be quick to point out poor parenting or just two young men that found themselves among the wrong circle of influence like so many of their generation. A generation coined the "Lost Generation" and "Generation Jobless." Although some of that thinking might be valid, one wonders if there could be larger influences at work.
For the span of these two young men's lives, the United States has been in a continuous state of war. It is a nation where violence can lurk even in the best neighborhoods. It is a nation where young workers still struggle to get a foothold into economic life.
From Desert Storm to the present drone strikes on people on the CIA kill list, the public discourse has been awash with talk of killing and torturing for the length of a generation. While Dylann Roof and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were still in high school, the U.S. began a drone strike policy that has resulted in 2,400 casualties. In Pakistan, it is estimated that between 416 and 951 civilians, including 168 to 200 children, were killed by drones. ("The Toll Of 5 Years Of Drone Strikes: 2,400 Dead", Huffington Post, January 23, 2014.)
Moreover, the U.S. remains one the most violent societies in modern history. In 2013, over 1 million violent crimes were committed; 14,000 murders were reported, averaging one murder every 37 minutes (FBI Uniform Crime Report, 2013). For most of the 2000s, the U.S. has averaged about six homicides per 100,000. In contrast, Canada averaged less than two homicides per 100,000 ("How was life? Global Well-Being Since 1820". Published October 2nd, 2014 by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.)