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Gun violence has taken up much of the national conversation since the Newtown, Connecticut massacre. It was a new low point. The complicated question is what can be done to deter or prevent future occurrences.
There is an unsaid assumption in this that such gruesome acts are intolerable to the national psyche – that they run so counter to the grain of good conscience that something must and will be done.
But there is another possibility. That we will become inured to such things. To dismiss this possibility is to deny the present state of this national psyche and its culture.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that his country was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. It was true when he said it, and it is true today. He was speaking in the milieu of the Vietnam War but he also placed its manifestations on the streets of America.
Taking the US death toll in Vietnam of 58,000 against the estimated 2-3 million Indochinese deaths gives a kill ratio of roughly 35-50 to 1. This holds as well for the Iraq War, taking US deaths at 4,800 against estimated Iraqi deaths ranging from over 100,000 to over 1 million, kill ratios ranging up to over 200 to 1. Afghanistan tells a similar story. These kill ratios are less suggestive of battles than of massacres.
There is an interesting comparison to be made between the position of Dr. King today, and the position of today’s people on the question of national violence. Dr. King, once he rose to national prominence, was treated as an enemy of the state. He was hounded by the FBI and its director, J. Edgar Hoover, whose visible lowbrow contempt for King should have embarrassed the agency out of existence.
Today, the state has appropriated for itself, in the form of the national holiday honoring Dr. King, the goodwill created by its former enemy as if this earned goodwill had nothing to do with his opposition to state policies. It could be argued that his memory would be better served if those closest to him, family and friends, had rejected as token the honorific because the role of enemy better suited him, and he would be no less of an enemy today.
So on one hand we have the USG celebrating King’s “dreams”, while holding itself exempt from what made the dreaming necessary. On the other hand today’s society is taking a deeper interest in violent outbreaks, dreamily avoiding the larger context. From the point of view of the state, it is good to keep the people dreaming.
King’s dreams can be exploited into a national dream, and today’s dreaming society is the result of a carefully prepared program of indoctrination, the purpose of which is to convince the masses that their side is ever the “good” side and that our violence is always necessary to promote the greater good and, therefore, can be excused. Or, better yet, not seen. Invisible.
If we awoke from our dream, we might discover a government and its institutions increasingly given over to lawlessness, a society that values individual over collective gain, a hyper militarism that permeates the entire culture and the use of this military to further the ruling elites agenda of complete world domination that has us all dripping in blood.
If we awoke from our dream, we might discover a runaway brand of capitalism, predatory and avaricious, that sucks life from the nation’s cities while building even higher the cathedrals of Wall St., important people taking care of important people, a socio-economic drift to the bottom for the unimportant.
This is the American system of today. Those living off its crumbs and pinning their hopes for something better on elected officials ought to recognize that it is our elected officials that are responsible for many, many thousands of Newtown massacres – yes, speaking of children – that we have become inured to.
You and I are not responsible for Newtown. It is too complex to figure the relationship between living in a violent, militaristic society and any individual, psychopathic act such as Newtown. One does not necessarily follow the other.
There is, however, something that we are collectively responsible for. We take better to massacres that “we” have done to “them” than those that are done to “us”. A primitive response, but a persistent one. Together we bear responsibility for the actions of our own government.
If our elected leaders are murderers, we murder. You see, it’s that simple. They represent us. And the answer to why some people seem to criticize America first? Simple again. Because I am an American.
James Rothenberg can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org