Malvo – Should We Ever Forget?

We’re all selfish. That seems a given. The question becomes, will we foster and train selfishness that leads to violence, or instead put all of our energy in developing selflessness that extends to forgiveness and ultimately peace?

As our discernment of people grows with advances in neuroscience, psychology, and greater understanding of cultural issues, including the influence of faith, we still cannot determine all the reasons why people cause violence. Yet, it is clear that violence can fueled by and fertilized within systems and structures that allow it to grow. It is also clear that we can and must do more to water down and weed out patterns of violence before they grow and ignite.

lee-boyd-malvoThe extended harm caused by human violence is given a face in the Washington Post’s Lee Boyd Malvo ‘I was a monster’. Malvo, just 27 years of age now, was only 17 when he and John Allen Muhammad enacted the killing spree in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area. Muhammad had been training Malvo for years to execute their plan as his “adopted” son.

Many people do to not want to read interviews like this, where we gain perspective from the murderer. My sense is that most people want murders like this to be locked up and forgotten. Many persons wish Malvo, like Muhammad, would have been executed.

Lee Boyd Malvo interview as reported on CNN

Intriguingly, Malvo makes nearly this exact claim. Having come to discern the grief, hurt and harm he caused with his violence, he states:

“Once I began to list the victims for every single possible crime that I could think of, the number, quickly, it was like multiplying by seven. It just exponentially grew—the enormity of it.”
- Washington Post, Sept. 29, 2012

Malvo notes that his apology can never be enough to placate the harm he has caused. When questioned directly about his apology, Malvo said:

“We can never change what happened. There’s nothing that I can say except don’t allow me and my actions to continue to victimize you for the rest of your life. . . . Don’t allow myself or Muhammad to continue to make you a victim for the rest of your life, it isn’t worth it.”
- Washington Post, September 29, 2012

I wish I could agree with Malvo because I want to forget his story and his violence but I can’t forget as an individual, and we can’t forget as a society. His violence has caused hurt that has reshaped the families of his victims and it has given an ominous shape to the future we all share.

john allen muhammad and lee malvoSince we can’t forget Malvo, what can we do? I suggest we use stories like these to help us create a new vision for the future. Malvo’s young life was shaped by unrelenting training at the hands of John Allen Muhammad in how to act violently. Malvo was taken to a gun range nearly every day, shooting up to 12 hours per day and being told to shoot and kill “the old Lee Malvo, the weak Lee Malvo, the wayward Lee Malvo.”

Malvo was conditioned, educated, and trained for violence. While Malvo is an extreme case of targeted training to produce someone motivated solely by murderous violence, the origin of his violence emerged from the emotions and grief associated with family loss and divorce, and the vulnerability of the young to please their primary caretaker. Tragically, Lee Boyd Malvo mistook the murderous control of John Allen Mohammad for a father’s care and protection, an emotional need so strong in humans that it can trump any grasp on, however tenuous, our ability to empathize with others and turn us away from violent interaction.

Malvo could have been trained differently. Someone could have explained to Malvo the complexities of relationships and the importance of forgiveness. Family members, school teachers, the curriculum in school, neighborhood and religious community organizations could have offered an alternate vision for Malvo.

Malvo wants to be forgotten, but to forget him is to forget the cycle of selfishness that leads to rage that leads to violence. We can’t forget the cycle lest we allow it to be repeated with some other child who is trained for violence.

There are children in our schools, in our neighborhoods, in our cities right now who are being educated to view their future and the world in deliberate ways. How can we insure more of their training is for reconciliation instead of revenge?

How can we foster selflessness that extends to forgiveness and reach our goal of global peace?

 

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About Marty Michelson

Marty Alan Michelson, Ph.D., University of Manchester, is a parent, pastor, professor & peacemaker. As the Founder & Director of the Eupan Global Initiative, Marty partners with others in shared advocacy toward peacemaking. More at www.martymichelson.com.
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