Notable and Quotable

America’s status as one of the least homicidal places on earth did not last. In the middle of the 19th century the murder rate started going up, and by the end of the century the modern pattern was set. From 1918 to the present America’s homicide rate has fluctuated between six and nine murders per 100,000 adults per year.

The contrast betwen the U.S. and the rest of the world’s affluent democracies is startling. Nearby Canada has had only one-quarter of America’s per capita killings since World War II; next in line is Australia, then Italy, then ten more nations, and then England, the Netherlands and Ireland, which have had approximately one-tenth America’s murder rate in the past 65 years. Even if one believes, as the media apparently do, that the only murders worth noting are those of Americans of European descent””who are actually “the least likely victims of homicide”””the U.S. remains “two and a half to eight times more homicidal than any other affluent democracy.”

Roth is not simply seeking to describe. He also wants to explain. In the book’s introduction he makes a convincing case that while standard (and wildly different) liberal and conservative explanations of America’s homicidal nature””endemic poverty, weak policing, alcohol and drug abuse, easy access to guns, a persistent frontier mentality, a highly patriarchal culture, an obsession with honor, the failure of “civilization” to take hold in America, the legacy of slavery””tell us something about the patterns of murder, they fail to do what historians must do: explain change over time. How did it come about that, America’s colonial and early Republic history notwithstanding, “two-thirds of the world’s people [now] live in nations that are less homicidal than the United States”?

–William Trollinger Jr., in a review of Randolph Roth’s new book “American Homicide”, Christian Century, December 28, 2010, page 26

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., History, Violence

4 comments on “Notable and Quotable

  1. Ratramnus says:

    The Civil War and the rapid expansion of the frontier from the middle of the 19th century were both direct and indirect factors. along with the rise of organized crime in the early 20th century, they contributed to a national mythology of Americans as a people who settled scores, protected rights and honor, and took what they wanted with guns and homicide.
    This started in popular literature and became ubiquitous through films and television. Now it is also a major theme in popular music. This has affected us more than it has other countries that have consumed the same cultural output because it is our culture and our sense of masculinity that is mythologized, not theirs.

  2. bettcee says:

    It seems to me that the study of history brings the realization that Christianity has, over time, had a civilizing influence wherever it has spread.
    Unfortunately, Americans no longer educate themselves or their children with regard to the Christian Religion, in fact, many people of this generation are probably quite ignorant of the religious beliefs that enabled Americans to live together in harmony and respect in the past.

  3. TomRightmyer says:

    How many murders are illegal drug related? Some effort to reduce illegal drug use might lower the murder rate.

  4. Ratramnus says:

    I agree that Christianity has been a civilizing influence and that the illegal drug trade is the proximate cause of a number of homicides, but illegal drugs are popular in other Western countries and many of them are notably less Christian than the U.S.