Friday, July 15, 2016
In the endless discussion about the murder of five Dallas law enforcement officers, the most basic issue is being ignored. The shooting was not just a symptom of racism. While obviously a factor in events that day, racism and racial violence have always been present. However, expressing it by mass murder has not. This phenomenon may be related to the fact that mass shootings in general are becoming more common. It is a measure of the extent to which violence has been normalized that few are seriously questioning why.
While many people think they have easy explanations for mass shootings, behavioral scientists have not been able to find evidence for a specific cause. Though some form of mental disturbance can be assumed, that does not explain the fact that these acts are increasing. The rising rate suggests sociological factors are involved. There is reason to think that a major one may be the militarization of US society in general. These acts of mass violence, like combat and unlike most acts of individual violence, are impersonal in the sense that they are not typically directed toward specific identified individuals. This difference may help explain why mass killings are increasing while the rate of violent crime in general is falling. In other words, it isn’t violence in general that is rising but indiscriminate, mass violence. Just like war.
It’s hard to deny that we are a militarized society. Police departments around the country have been given DOD weapons under a program justified by the “War on Terror.” At the same time, use and misuse of heavily armed SWAT teams has exploded, despite the drop in violent crime. Neither of these trends has been seriously challenged by government or the citizens it is supposed to represent. Black Lives Matter is dramatizing the racist police violence that has always been part of the African-American experience, even if new videos of police murders were not going viral every other week until now. Peaceful protests of these murders and other outrages are often treated as terrorist events, with paramilitary police conducting using intimidation, mass arrests and martial law in a preemptive fashion. It is hardly any wonder that citizens are perceived as the enemy by many officers. It is predictable that unstable individuals will see all law enforcement officers in the same way.
Think about it. Americans under the age of 18 cannot remember a time when the US was not at war. While the ostensible goal is to eliminate terror, it is obvious that terror has only increased. The millions of Americans who haven’t yet realized that the “War on Terror” is self-defeating seem to accept that endless war is inevitable. That should not be surprising, since most of us who are old enough to know better seem to have forgotten there was a time when it was assumed that wars would eventually end. Instead of growing anger at America’s increasingly belligerent foreign policy and all the misery it is creating, we passively accept the glorification of the US military. Professional sports and the corporate media constantly praise the military its members. Our children are being aggressively recruited before they are old enough to understand the risks of what they are agreeing to. How can they know what they are volunteering for, when the media covers almost nothing about the reality of how the US military operates around the world, to say nothing about what the real aims of US foreign policy are?
The US has led or supported disastrous interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria while supporting a fascist government at war with its own people in Ukraine, backing a right wing Israeli government staging a brutal and illegal occupation opposed by a significant number of its citizens, and constantly agitating against Russia and Iran. No thinking person can believe that there is a logical end game planned except in the delusional minds of those Wall Street interests bent on global corporate domination, and they are not saying what that is.
Despite the chaos, destruction and cost in lives and treasure of US foreign policy, and even in the face of attempts at “political revolution” by both liberals and conservatives, there is little organized protest against the war industry and all it represents. Myopically focused on their personal circumstances, most Americans do not stop to think about what their government is doing to others around the world in their name. How can we demand justice for Americans when we are so willing to deny it to people in other nations with no say in the decisions that are destroying their lives? Even if that were possible, we could have justice in the US when the national resources are so heavily invested in the destruction business.
War is considered normal in the US. There is little objection to a proposed war by members of whichever party occupies the White House at the time. When a Democrat is in office, almost no party regulars find reason to object to any war. Although only defensive wars are legal, Americans largely got behind a “preemptive” war in Iraq. Even after that proved a disaster, they failed to protest the next wars, because American troops were not involved in large numbers. Once the majority of the American public accepted that war was normal, the alarm over the escalating War of Terror and associated increasing abridgement of civil rights by Presidents of both parties was muted and soon, largely forgotten. What politicians and the corporate media ignore are non-issues.
This blasé acceptance of violence on a global scale cannot help but have consequences for the individual American psyche. How much more true is that for veterans who have seen the reality of war? Most, motivated by economic desperation or misguided patriotism, have no idea what they have signed up for until they are “in the shit.” Killing, or seeing a close comrade killed in front of you, does horrific damage to the soul of normal humans. They cannot heal if they return to a society that has no real appreciation for their sacrifices, doesn’t care to ask if what they gave up their freedoms and risked their lives for was worth sacrificing for, and is largely ignorant of what they went through to “defend their freedoms.”
Reports of Micah Johnson’s military record focus only on his alleged sexual misconduct. Nothing is said about what he experienced in Afghanistan. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. He was clearly unstable, though he might be forgiven for seeing the violence against fellow African-Americans an issue of Black vs White or cop vs civilian in his mind. He was trained to think that way his whole life. If we really want to do something about the epidemic of random violence, we have to start thinking about our own willingness to divide humanity into “us” vs “them.” Once we realize it is only “us,” our duty is clear.