The Politics of Violence in America
Although I am no fan of either Sarah Palin or the Tea Party crowd, blaming them for the tragic shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson is patently absurd. Equally problematic is the idea that the Tucson massacre was caused by the uncivil nature of public discourse in the United States. The attack on Congresswoman Giffords was grounded not in political rhetoric but in an all consuming culture of violence – the same culture which brought down John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s. Americans are obsessed with violence and have been since the inception of our nation. We have always turned to violence when provoked by either domestic or foreign enemies. Our penchant for intergroup violence – geopolitical, ethnic, racial, agrarian, frontier, religious, and industrial – is without equal.
From the very outset, early European settlers who came to America brought with them a regimen for relating to Native Americans that was based on demonization, dominance, destruction, and death – a regimen which still provides the rationale underlying American foreign policy five hundred years later. Even though we are a predominantly Christian nation, our love affair with the death penalty and our entire criminal justice system are driven by revenge, not forgiveness.
Although our nation was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the story of how Native Americans were relentlessly forced to abandon their homes and lands and move into Indian territories to make room for American states is one of arrogance, greed, and raw military power. Our barbaric conquest of the Native Americans continued for several hundred years and involved many of our most cherished national heroes, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and Andrew Jackson, to mention only a few. To add insult to injury, we have violated three hundred treaties which we signed to protect the rights of American Indians.
In over two hundred years, the North American continent has never been attacked – nor even seriously threatened with invasion by Japan, Germany, the Soviet Union, or anyone else. Despite this fact, over a million Americans have been killed in wars and trillions of dollars have been spent by the military — $13 trillion on the Cold War alone.
Far from defending our population, our government has drafted Americans and sent them to die in the battle fields of Europe (twice), on tropical Pacific islands, and in the jungles of Southeast Asia. On dozens of occasions our political leaders have used minor incidents as provocation to justify sending troops to such far-flung places as China, Russia, Egypt, Greenland, Uruguay, the Samoa Islands, Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada, Lebanon, and Iraq. Today the United States has over 1,000 military bases in 153 countries.
While accusing the Soviet Union of excessive military aggression, the Reagan administration was participating in nine known wars – in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Chad, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Morocco, and Nicaragua – not to mention our bombing of Libya, invasion of Grenada, and repeated attempts to bring down Panamanian dictator Manual Antonio Noriega. President Bush I deployed over a half million American troops, fifty warships, and over one thousand warplanes to the Persian Gulf in 1991 at the “invitation of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to teach Saddam Hussein a lesson.” Most Americans were beside themselves over this little war. President Clinton’s repeated bombing of Iraq invoked a similar response, even though the Iraqi people had never inflicted any harm on the United States. It matters not whether we send troops to Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, or Kosovo or bomb Afghanistan or Sudan; few Americans raise any objections whatsoever. Indeed, they seem to like it.
Why does it come as no surprise to learn that bullying is on the rise in public schools in America? America is the world’s global bully. Our foreign policy of full spectrum dominance is based entirely on the premise that might makes right. Either get out of our way, or be prepared to die!
Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech was nothing short of a call to arms. His hypocrisy in lecturing Chinese President Hu Jintao on human rights is almost beyond belief. Does Obama think that the annihilation of innocent Afghan and Iraqi civilians by the Pentagon constitutes a laudatory human rights posture on the part of the United States? What about the way the Israelis, with our full support, treat the Palestinians? Human rights, surely the White House has to be kidding!
To illustrate how absurd the politics of violence is consider the case of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who now refers to himself as “the most progressive member of the United States Senate.” So progressive is Sanders that he currently supports: (1) all funding for the illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, (2) the deployment of Vermont National Guard troops abroad, (3) military aid for the apartheid state of Israel, (4) the replacement of the Vermont Air National Guard’s F-16 fighter jets with F-35s, and (5) the highly racist war on terror. He is also promoting a Vermont-based satellite station to be designed and built by the U.S. government-owned Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia designs, builds, and tests weapons of mass destruction.
Unfortunately, Sanders, who claims to be a socialist, does not stand alone in the hypocrisy which he brings to the culture of violence. Like many of his other left-wing Democratic colleagues in the Congress, Sanders is an unconditional apologist for the Pentagon and the right-wing Likud government of Israel.
Whenever there is a mass shooting such as the one which took place recently in Tucson, liberals call for tougher gun control laws and conservatives demand revenge – the death penalty. Yet Vermont, which is arguably the least violent state in the Union, has no death penalty and virtually no state imposed restrictions on the use of guns.
So long as violence remains official U.S. Government policy at home and abroad, neither tougher gun control laws nor the increased use of the death penalty will prevent another Tucson, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, or Columbine mass murder.
Since violence is inextricably linked to the Empire, there may be no escape from violence in America – no escape from the Temple of Doom.
THOMAS H. NAYLOR is Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University. His books include: Downsizing the U.S.A., Affluenza, The Search for Meaning and The Abandoned Generation: Rethinking Higher Education