One common gripe today's society is that there is too much violence. We see on TV and the internet and read in the paper about the latest gang shootings, school shootings, car jackings, and home invasions, and we shake our heads and say "This didn't happen forty or fifty years ago. Boy, what a terrible time we live in." However, I propose that this "time" we live in is wonderful, and compared to the past, is getting better all the time.
The Middle Ages
The medieval period was an extremely violent and bloody time. It was common for everybody to carry around a weapon, as in a dagger or sword. If you looked at somebody the wrong way you could get your head lopped off right then and there and rarely would justice come to the murderer. Games and sports where opponents fought to the death were not only legal, but sanctioned. They were also entertainment in its finest form. Customs of the time encouraged men to beat their wives regularly. A code of law in France dictated that men should be excused for physically abusing their wives as long as they did not kill or maim them.
That sounds like a much safer time, doesn't it?
The "Old West"
Another time period where violence was rampant was the period in American history most think of as the Old West. Of course, most of us have seen Westerns, a genre of motion pictures that usually are set in this time period that often depict gun-slinging heroes, battles with Indians, and shootouts at High Noon. But we often don't realize how accurate this depiction life was, with the differences being that the blood was real and Hollywood, of course, romanticized most of it. Just like in the Middle Ages, if you were in a saloon and pissed somebody off, you were likely to get yourself killed, only in that age you were more likely to be shot rather than stabbed. Some justice would be done, however; every little town did have a sheriff and some deputies, but murders would go largely unsolved. Detective work wasn't anything like what you see on the Discovery Channel today.
So, most of us know that these were times with high violence, and that even though I've only showcased two specific time periods, horrible violence has always been prevalent, even back to Biblical days. Just look at the days of Al Capone and gang violence during Prohibition. So, what time period are we comparing today to when we think that things were never this bad? It was probably the 1950's and 60's in America. We see old reruns of shows on TV Land like Leave it to Beaver and My Three Sons, where life was quiet, virtually violence and crime-free, and children could ride their bikes down the street, all over town, and come back home in time for dinner. But, you see, that was television. It wasn’t real. Of course there was lots of violence in society back then, people just didn't hear about it as often. In the age of television, and now the internet, information and news is distributed more widely and more quickly. People were always murdered and children have always been abducted, but thirty, forty, and fifty years ago there wasn't an internet site for CNN where stories like that on the front page as soon as they're reported.
My main point is that violence has always been in society, and it has always been brutal and vicious. We don't want to admit it, but we are violent creatures and we always will be. The difference between today and the past is only that the tools of violence are different. Muskets replaced swords, and the rifles and handguns of today have replaced muskets. And people are still often killed with knives, shovels, or even rakes. But it is getting better. In the early 20th century disputes between politicians were still often settled by duels, fights to the death: to the victors go the spoil. In St. Louis a lot of politicians held duels on an island in the Mississippi River known as "Blood Island." And this was legal! Would that happen today? No! Because even though there is still a lot of violence, it is not tolerated as much. Even though it is still plagued with problems, the justice system we have today is more efficient and effective. And there are a lot more officers of the law patrolling the streets than there ever were, making sure that you're safe and secure.
So, the next time you see a news report about a gang shootout or car jacking or terrorist bombing, remember that, even with all that stuff going on, the world today is generally safer than it was for your ancestors, no matter how much your grandparents insist it isn't.