Systemic violence and mass shootings

While we mourn the victims of the heinous shootings in Newtown, Conn., it is important to pause for a moment to reflect on what this violence means. Instantly, social media exploded and media “talking heads” were bickering over how the violence occurred and in what way it could have been prevented. Of course, the issues of the Second Amendment, gun control and the NRA were on newsfeeds, tweets and in the political discourse once again. However, there is something the discussion is missing.

While we condemn the attacker for the monstrous crimes perpetrated here, I call attention to the fact that we are still engaged in multiple conflicts overseas. You might wonder how this is connected? The fact is that our society, the United States, is a society based upon justified violence. Our nation was born from the violence of conquest, colonialism and revolution. The British, followed by the colonists and Founding Fathers committed crimes against humanity in their conquest of the indigenous peoples of this continent. In what was seen as “Manifest Destiny,” the U.S. government justified the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Native Americans, in the name of freedom, democracy and the Bible. No one can forget the barbarous treatment endured by the African slaves brought here illegally and forced to work the land. It was under the whips and chains that America was able to become an economic superpower.

By the end of the 19th century, America was on the imperialist warpath, involved in conflicts from Puerto Rico and Cuba to the south all the way to the Philippines to the west. Since then, America has marched to the incessant war drum beat, involving itself in conflicts, wars and assassinations in over 60 (known) countries around the globe. So what does this mean? It means that our society, the liberal democratic society that we so cherish, both is founded upon and exists because of violence. As you read this, tens of thousands of troops occupy bases throughout the world, warplanes patrol the skies and drones rain down hellfire missiles upon supposed “enemies.” The issue here is that our existence and freedoms are maintained by “justified” violence. The existential necessity of violence makes it an institutionalized systemic reality in the United States.

Noam Chomsky made this very clear in a 1995 article in the Harvard Educational Review entitled “On Violence and Youth.” In it, Chomsky argues that the capitalist system, aside from destroying the interaction of family members due to increased demands of the labor force, leads to what he calls “violence against children and violence by children.” In essence, the social policy under the capitalist regime, aside from furthering its totalistic aims and control over our lives, breeds violence. It lives by violence and therefore promulgates violence within. The system is violence.

Logically, we can deduce that the United States justifies violence abroad in its campaigns for “freedom” by legally killing tens of thousands of civilians on foreign soil. The War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the illegal assassinations by drones and U.S. exports of military arms to nations like Israel, show that violence is considered a necessary component for U.S. survival and hegemony. Additionally, on the domestic front, violence is extremely profitable for the military-industrial complex and the movie industry. The Pentagon assists Hollywood with making films depicting the “glory” of war and conflicts abroad, like the recent movie Act of Valor, as well as providing aid to video game companies which produce first person shooters. 

Angela Davis has argued that the prison-industrial complex in America, the nation with the highest incarceration rate in the world, perpetuates violence due to its draconian penitentiary system and inability to focus on social reforms and rehabilitation. Our inability to talk about mental health, racism, economic inequality, domestic violence and violence against women and the LGBT community further inhibits our ability to combat violence.

All of these examples, and they are in no way exhaustive, show us that the United States, the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” exists due to violence. Therefore, we can easily understand that with so much justified and glorified violence surrounding us, an event like Sandy Hook, Aurora, or Virginia Tech is bound to occur.

The real issue here is our “culture of violence.” If we are to make lasting changes and seek to stem the tide of violence in our communities, we must confront the realities of the system in which we live. We must stop wars, assassinations and the glorification of violence both at home and abroad. The Second Amendment issue persists and continues to be controversial because just as this nation exists because of justified violence abroad, people find the need to protect themselves at home as well. The moment we confront our social realities and get serious about working for peace, demilitarization and issues of inequality will be the moment we will begin to stem the ever increasing violent outbursts at home.

Photo: Troops training for and fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fired more than 1 billion bullets a year. Morry Gash/AP