School Shootings and US Militarism


In the 18 months since twenty first-graders were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, there have been 74 shootings at U.S. schools.  That averages out to nearly one school shooting per week since the Newtown massacre.

In response the 74th incident, which occurred at a high school in Oregon, president Obama said, “We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens,” and that lawmakers should be “ashamed” of not passing stricter gun control laws.

Good for Obama for acknowledging something bad about the country he leads — maybe this will make him rethink his “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being” statement last month.

But bad for Obama for turning this into a gun control issue.

It’s hard to take seriously a person who decries violence as a means of conflict resolution when that same person orders the assassination of his own citizens and drops bombs on innocent people in other countries.  A few hours after he lamented gun violence in the US he ordered drone strikes in Pakistan, which killed 13 human beings.

So, it’s okay for the US to kill people in another country, but it’s not okay for Americans to kill people in their own country?

Obviously, Obama is trying to capitalize on the school shootings as a way to gain political favor for his Democratic party, and to prevent people from talking about the real causes of violence in America.

But Obama and Democrats aren’t the only ones trying to distract people from addressing the root causes of schoolyard massacres.  Republican lawmakers attempt to explain away the violence by saying the perpetrators are mentally ill and that more security is needed to stop these atrocities from happening.

US militarism leads to domestic violence?

You could see it coming.  Both parties are looking for a way to excite their voter base by turning this into a “Democrats want to take away your guns” and “gun control is a way to prevent domestic massacres” false debate.

The oversimplification by both parties is a made for TV, politically based distraction from talking about the root causes of American domestic killings, and as a way to keep the American people fighting each other instead of fighting the government.

Sure, debating the proliferation of guns in America is important, but what’s even more important is to have a discussion about the brutally violent culture that has been ingrained into the people of the United States by its government, television, video games, movies and machismo.

And most importantly, isn’t it time our society discusses the glorification of the military and how that translates into an everyday means of conflict resolution?

People are taught to behave like those who are most respected by society. And the military is at the top of the pecking order of American society. The days of spitting on soldiers as they return from war have been replaced by a pro-military fervor that is so strong that if one dares say they don’t “support the troops” they run the risk of being ostracized or labeled a traitor.

Politicians put the military on a pedestal. The music industry sings their praises. The sports world worships them. Video games portray them as Superman-like heroes. The media downplays their atrocities. They have national holidays in their honor. Hollywood allows them to shape movies. And you’ll even hear “I support the warrior but not the war” at antiwar protests.

Given this deification of the military, American citizens, especially children are going to think that the way to resolve a conflict is by force and not by the use of dialog or compromise. After all, even third grade students know that those in the military use guns and bombs, not words and reason to ‘stop the bad guy’ or to get payback for some wrong done to them.  Our nation’s response to Sept. 11 provided the blueprint.

Using Switzerland and Norway as examples

While the US currently ranks number one in worldwide per-capita gun own ownership, Switzerland has the third highest gun ownership rate in the world, yet they’ve only had 16 random killing incidents since 1990, and their gun homicide rate is seven times less than the U.S.  Though this is just one example, it suggests that gun ownership alone is not the primary issue in which to focus.  And it may just be a coincidence, but could part of the reason Switzerland has a relatively low rate of domestic gun violence be due to its overall belief in not resolving international disputes with the use of the military?

Norway provided a lesson in how to respond to horrific violence following the 2011 attack by Anders Breivik, which left 77 dead, most of which were teenagers.  It was the deadliest attack in Norway since World War II, and a survey found that 1 in 4 Norwegians knew “someone affected by the attacks”.

But instead of acting “tough” and implementing new laws that sacrificed liberty for “security,” Norway decided that they would pursue the path of dialog and understanding.

Jens Stoltenberg, then Norway’s prime minister, called on the nation to fight against extreme ideologies. “We should counter blind hate with argument and education.”  “The bomb and bullets (from Breivik) were aimed at changing Norway, … and the Norwegian people responded by embracing our values. The killer failed, the people won.”

Wow, can you imagine if George W. Bush would have said that after the attacks of Sept. 11?

Values vs. laws

There’s no doubt that people in the US want senseless mass killings to stop.  But are we strong enough as a society to get to the root causes of these killings, to really take a look at who we are and be willing to make some changes to our values, not just our laws?

People like myself who want to live in a country free of guns have to face the fact that the 2nd Amendment says that the government shall not infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms.  I don’t like it, but I invoke my 1st Amendment rights every time a cop harasses people at a protest I’m attending, so unless I want to be intellectually dishonest, I must accept both Amendments.  This still leaves room for a discussion on background checks, assault rifles and concealed weapons.

But what may be more effective in helping stem domestic killings would be a redirection of the debate from the overly-simplistic, partisan gun control conversation to one that asks what kind of society produces this many alienated and deeply troubled people

Let’s debate the pressures that our consumer/glamour society puts on young people. And, let’s talk about our culture of glorifying violence and using aggression to resolve problems.  Obama rightly stated that the US is the only developed country experiencing this level of mass killings.  But we’re also the world’s number one arms dealer, and the world leader in waging war.

It’s difficult to preach about peace at home when you’re practicing violence all around the world.

Chris Ernesto is cofounder of St. Pete for Peace, an antiwar organization in St. Petersburg, FL that has been active since 2003. Mr. Ernesto also created and manages OccupyArrests.com and USinAfrica.com.

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