(Photo Caption: Participants in the Stop Banking the Bomb campaign converse with passers outside the PNC bank branch on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill. The action took place on February 9. Photo Credit: Neil Cosgrove)
By Jo Tavener
In a two year period (2016-2017) more Americans died from gun violence than were killed during the entire Vietnam War.* Does that shock you? If so, it may be because you didn’t realize that daily life at home is more dangerous than war waged to protect American interests abroad.
(*from the Defense Casualty Analysis System (DCAS))
It could hardly be otherwise. There are national memorials celebrating those who died in foreign wars. There are none for those children and their teachers killed by tormented youth using military automatic rifles like the AR15. There are books, movies, music and lyrics about war and heroism. There aren’t many, if any, about the courage of teachers and other school personnel. And once the cameras leave, little is said about the aftermath of the terror experienced by communities in which school killings occur — all of which signifies the glorification of war and its twin cousin, the willful ignorance of its victims.
Here’s one significant stat that recurs over and over — in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen — about the number of civilians killed during wars justified as humanitarian efforts, including our self-congratulatory wish to spread democracy along with our “national interests.” In Vietnam, the estimate of North Vietnamese/Viet Cong military and civilian deaths range from 533,000 to 1,489,000.
At the time, the Vietnam War was justified as necessary to stopping the advance of Communism, as if a communist Vietnam would undermine freedoms at home. An entire generation of Vietnamese was devastated to protect ordinary Americans. How then are we to understand the lack of Congressional action to regulate gun sales that would protect us and our children? The irony is bitter. We are protected from what is improbable and dismissed when violence is probable. In neither case was the interest of ordinary folks a priority.
The entire situation only makes sense to me when I look at both instances as indicative of the larger problem. Are we a democracy where social justice prevails and the general welfare is more important than the interests of the monied classes? Rather, it appears as if our democracy is little more than a mediated simulacra, masking the identities of those who run the country and own the nation by controlling its wealth and resources.
One of the basic tenets of neoliberalism is to reduce the power of government so that the financial and corporate interests have free reign to shape the nation according to their priorities. Another is to privatize the Commons and bring all interactions under the sway of a market logic. What the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling did was enable the richest among us to control the government even further by buying our representatives through huge campaign contributions and the fear of being primaried. The brothers Koch created ALEC to help their newly minted congressional employees write legislation in support of their interests. Other billionaires underwrite an entire right wing media to promote their policy objectives and provide a corporately controlled media that more often than not has similar priorities with a cadre of experts, lobbyists and spokespersons to sell their wares to the public at large.
We need to face the fact that our democracy is too weak at present to fend off even the slaughter of our children largely due to Congressional inaction. Its weakness is caused by a politics corrupted by the 1 percent, supported by a Supreme Court majority and actualized by a party duopoly bought on the open market.
Students across the U.S. walk out of class to protest gun violence. (Photo: AP News)
One can talk about the gun culture of the South or the West. It has worked wonderfully as a political wedge issue for a long time. The romantic resonance of such cultures, with their roots in the 19th Century American myth of the self-made man living free by his own ingenuity, is on the wane, though its evocative nostalgic power has recently been given a Trumpist bump. When men go hunting, they go to resort farms that grow the animals to be slaughtered. When men go out for target practice, it’s also embedded in the masculine fantasy — as cowboys, federal marshals, the frontier where men “free, white and 21,” subdued nature and the “savages” that lived off its bounty. Why else go out for target practice? You don’t really expect a showdown at the office.
The TV series “WestWorld” makes a further point. In 21st Century America, people are grown to be slaughtered as well. It’s more palpable if you can think of them as robots. At present, we haven’t yet found a way of displacing the stark reality of school shootouts.
Jo Tavener is a member of the NewPeople Collective. She writes about the relationship between culture and politics
Postscript: the post-Columbine generations’: their gun activism a ray of hope.