This is the fourth in a series of posts on the theme of War Or Peace
It’s one of those old sayings where everyone knows the meaning but it’s difficult to pinpoint the origin. Why chickens? Pretty harmless creatures, (if a bit quirky), aren’t they? They never struck me as fierce or nefarious. What does it matter if they happen to come home to roost?
The rallying cry of some on the left during the Vietnam War was Bring the War Home. Little did they know, I suspect, that it would happen, but probably not in quite the way they imagined or intended. But pick your proverb. The chickens came home and so did the war. If not the war, then at least the violence.
The ugly irony is that, with each new war America wages, fewer and fewer soldiers fight and fewer get killed. (More come home and kill themselves than die in combat.) But the home front, largely unscathed by foreign war for most of its history, grows more and more violent with each passing year.
I suspect that’s the nature of violence: it is a malignant virus that affects the perpetrator as well as the victim. The violence of warfare doesn’t lead to peace, just to an escalation of violence; and on the home front it permeates the body politic and infects it like a cancer.
“More and more, the United States resembles a giant laboratory researching death–its seduction and profitability,” wrote priest and peace activist Philip Berrigan at the start of the first Gulf war in early 1991. But who are the lab rats in this laboratory of death? The poor people of Iraq and Afghanistan, for sure, and Palestinians and Syrians, and last but not least, the citizens of the United States, who pay the bills to run the lab. They pay the bills and they are also the rats: the victims, intended or not, of the heinous research and experimentation that is transforming the whole country into a monstrosity that makes Frankenstein’s creature look mild-mannered.
Does this sound like hyperbole? I’m afraid it isn’t.
Recently, my life in transition, I spent a lot of time sorting through old magazines, newspaper articles and assorted files and papers. Here’s an article from the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal asserting that the United States is “the most violent and self-destructive nation on Earth,” according to a report from the Senate Judiciary Committee. The year? 1991. Based on FBI data, the report said Americans were killing, raping and robbing one another at a furious rate, surpassing every other country that keeps crime statistics.
“When viewed from the national perspective, these crime rates are sobering” the report stated. “When viewed from the international perspective, they are truly embarrassing.” The report noted that the US murder rate was twice that of Northern Ireland, then torn by civil war, and eleven times that of Japan.
An article a few months earlier, published in a Catholic weekly in Milwaukee, quoted a priest that I had known from community organizing on the west side of the city. Milwaukee had just surpassed its old homicide record and the priest described the neighborhood as in a state of “paralysis. It’s not just the poor inner city community that says life is cheap,” he said. “The larger community cheapens life” by not taking action to curb the violence.
In the same dog-eared file folder was an essay from the National Catholic Reporter by the late Jesuit priest Robert Drinan lamenting the fact that 36 percent of American households owned a gun. This was 2003 and the death rate by guns for young black men was 25 times the rate for white males, he said, decrying the “compelling power over members of Congress” exercised by the NRA. Drinan had been elected to Congress as an opponent of the Vietnam War and was the first member of Congress to call for the impeachment of Richard Nixon, not because of the Watergate scandal but for Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia.
Rummaging further in the file folder, I found an article about “a new video game in which the player stalks and shoots fellow students and teachers in school settings.” School Shooter: North American Tour 2012 is “a first-person game that allows the player to move around a school and collect points by killing defenseless students and teachers,” the news story states. Sandy Hook happened in late 2012 but the article is from April of 2011.
[I drafted this post you are reading in February, right after Parkland. On May 29th, I came across an online petition announcing that the Valve Corporation of Bellevue, Washington was planning to launch a new video game on June 6th that allows players to simulate a school shooting. “Valve is considered to be one of the most important and influential companies in the gaming industry,” according to Wikipedia. Most, if not all of its games, are violent. I hope the school shooter game was never released. I hope the company goes bankrupt. I hope the video entrepreneurs die peacefully in their sleep and then go to hell, if there is such a place.]
The next newspaper article, faded yellow now, is from the Madison Isthmus, a 1993 opinion piece by Milwaukee-based conservative commentator Charles Sykes. The average American child sees 15,000 television murders by age 18, Sykes pointed out, and homicide was then the second leading cause of childhood death.
“Recent Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearings on television violence documented the mounting evidence linking televised violence with an increasingly violent society,” Sykes wrote. “The nonstop diet of beatings, assaults, rape, sadism and murder … sends very direct messages to children. On television, violence is the ultimate problem-solver; it provides the instant gratification of instant resolution. Faced with problems of their own, youngsters increasingly turn to violence as the first, rather than last, resort.”
Does that last sentence sound to you, as it does to me, like US foreign policy for the last 25 years or so?
Down near the bottom of this same file folder lurks the most fascinating article of all. It’s from the June, 1999, issue of U.S. Catholic magazine and written by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who had recently retired from the US Army. Grossman was an expert on the psychology of killing, what he termed “killology,” and he had already penned a book titled On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.
Grossman argued that kids aren’t just turning to violence on their own; American culture is training and teaching them to kill. He should know. He spent nearly 25 years as an army infantry officer and psychologist, “learning and studying how to enable people to kill.” According to Grossman, and this may be the best news in my essay, killing doesn’t come naturally. It is a learned skill. Even soldiers, he says, have a “God-given resistance” to killing their own kind.
In the Civil War, he points out, the average firing rate was incredibly low. In World War II, Army researchers discovered that only 15 to 20 percent of riflemen could bring themselves to fire at exposed enemy soldiers. “Men are willing to die, they are willing to sacrifice themselves for their nation, but they are not willing to kill,” he wrote.
This surprising insight into human nature was obviously a “problem” for the Army, so it systematically set about “fixing” it. By the Korean War, according to Grossman, 55 percent of soldiers were willing to fire to kill, and this increased to more than 90 percent by Vietnam.
Grossman then listed some of the methods the military uses to improve the killing rate of soldiers in combat. His premise is that our culture uses similar techniques to teach kids to kill.
Brutalization and desensitization is one of the training methods used in boot camp on 18-year-olds, he says. But the violence our children are exposed to in the media begins to affect them at the age of 18 months, as they begin to discern and become desensitized to the brutality depicted on the screen. He notes that the Journal of the American Medical Association published the definitive epidemiological study on the impact of TV violence. “In every nation, region or city with television, there was an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate. Why 15 years? That is how long it takes for the brutalization of a three to five-year-old to reach the “prime crime age.” That’s how long it takes for you to reap what you have sown when you brutalize and desensitize a 3-year-old.”
What I’ve failed to mention is that Grossman’s hometown is Jonesboro, Arkansas. About a year before his article was published, a school massacre occurred there, when four girls and a teacher were killed and ten others injured. The two boys who shot them were ages 11 and 13. It was the deadliest school shooting in the country until, a month before his article appeared, the massacre at Columbine happened. And that was the deadliest high school shooting until the recent school massacre in Florida.
After the Jonesboro shooting, Grossman said that a teacher at the high school told him how her students reacted when informed about the shooting at the middle school. “They laughed,” she told him. Grossman calls this classical conditioning. Children watch images of human suffering and death and learn to associate it with whatever enticing products are being sold on the commercials. “A similar reaction happens all the time in movie theaters when there is bloody violence. The young people laugh and cheer and keep right on eating popcorn and drinking pop. We have raised a generation of barbarians who have learned to associate violence with pleasure, like the Romans cheering and snacking as the Christians were slaughtered in the Colosseum,” Grossman wrote.
Operant conditioning, says Grossman, is the method the military and law enforcement uses to make killing a conditional response. “Whereas target training in World War II used bull’s-eye targets, now soldiers learn to fire at realistic, man-shaped silhouettes that pop up in their field of view–that’s the stimulus. The trainees only have a split second to engage the target, and then it drops. Stimulus-response–soldiers or police officers experience hundreds of repetitions of this. Later, when they’re out on the battlefield, or a police officer is walking a beat, and somebody pops up with a gun, they will shoot reflexively–and shoot to kill. Seventy-five to 80 percent of the shooting on the modern battlefield is the result of this kind of stimulus-response training.”
“Every time a child plays an interactive point-and-shoot video game, he is learning the exact same conditional reflex and motor skills,” Grossman noted.” This process is extraordinarily powerful and frightening. The result is ever more homemade pseudo sociopaths who kill reflexively and show no remorse. Our children are learning to kill and learning to like it.”
Role modeling is another method used to teach people to kill. In the military, Grossman says, it is the drill sergeant who “personifies violence and aggression.” I suspect that Grossman and many of my readers will not agree with me but who are the role models most likely to influence impressionable young minds? Just turn on your TV if you’ve missed these serial killers, but I’ll name just a few: George Bush I and II, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Madeleine Albright, Barack Obama, Donald Trump. Not to mention most of the members of Congress. But they didn’t fire the guns, you say? Oh, of course not. Too messy, all that blood.
In my estimation, kids lose either way. If they embrace these role models, it means they aspire to follow in the footsteps of the Bushes and Obamas. Why not use a few of their school mates for target practice while they prepare for the real challenge of life in the greatest country on Earth: to dominate, oppress and slaughter as many innocent people as possible, while also devastating their homelands and holding the whole world hostage with the threat of a nuclear nightmare? If, on the other hand, they choose to reject these role models and the hypocrisy, hollowness and horror that their supposedly “civilized” culture has to offer, then they are opting to live a life of profound alienation and exile. Paul Goodman wrote about this existential dilemma in the 50s and 60s. He called it Growing Up Absurd, but who reads him anymore?
Teach Your Children Well, and that we do. But not in the way Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young probably had in mind. Kids are not stupid. They are perceptive and can see right through the dishonesty and hypocrisy and double standards of the adult world, the do as I say, not as I do. Like when Bill and Hillary, the darlings of American liberals, preached “it takes a village to raise a child” while simultaneously bombing several countries and killing a half million innocent children in Iraq. With lots of help from Madeleine (“it was worth it”) Albright.
Like many people who were children during the height of the Cold War, I remember the air raid drills, how we crouched under our puny wooden desks and prepared for the bombs to fall. They never did. But today children do similar drills in their schools to prepare for the more likely eventuality that one of their own classmates or some other youngster will go on a shooting rampage.
I can’t help thinking that, at some level, these two dreadful rituals, a half century apart, are intrinsically related.
When Nikolas Cruz, 19, walked into his former high school in Parkland, Florida to commit his wanton act of depravity, it was Valentine’s Day, the day of love. It was also Ash Wednesday, the Christian holy day for peace. He had an AR-15 in his hands and wore a maroon shirt with the logo from the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program as he proceeded to murder 17 students and school staff. It was the 18th school shooting in the country this year, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. That’s 18 school shootings in a month and a half; fortunately, no one was injured in almost half the shootings.
NPR journalist and commentator Scott Simon had this to say a few days later: “We can and should add up the number of students and teachers who are killed in school shootings and not forget their names, or forget the gift of their lives. But the casualties of school shootings don’t just include those killed or wounded. Each child who has to run for their life from their own school, each parent who has felt a stab in their heart to hear a child is in danger and even children and parents who may be thousands of miles away from the crime but terrified by it, have been inflicted with fear.
“I have covered enough gang shootings, civil wars and mob murders, and interviewed too many survivors of school shootings to believe some magic new law could make gangs, criminals, psychopaths, the mentally ill and anyone else who shouldn’t have guns line up to surrender them. But the Congressional Research Service says there are already more than 300 million guns in the United States. Should those who blame many mass shootings on poor access to mental health counseling be comfortable that Americans have mass access to so many guns?”
Exactly two weeks before the school shooting in Florida, I attended a presentation by the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE) on the outskirts of Milwaukee. The anti-gun group provided a power point with a daunting parade of statistics on gun ownership in America and the futility of trying to achieve domestic safety or security with more guns.
Recent data from the Small Arms Survey and Congressional Research Service shows that there are now 112.6 guns for every 100 people in the United States, a gun ownership rate that has roughly doubled since 1968 and the highest in the world. Has the rise in gun ownership made our citizens safer? Statistics show that 82 percent of firearm deaths (in 23 higher-income countries) occur in the US. And 91 percent of all children (ages 0-14) killed by guns live in the US, as well as 90 percent of all women. There were 300 mass shootings in the United States in 2017, but most gun deaths occur “in the privacy of one’s own home.” The WAVE people pointed out that the number of American soldiers killed in battle since the Revolution, roughly 664,560, is about the same as the number of men, women and children killed in their homes in the last 20 years.
The chickens have surely come home to roost. Or maybe you reap what you sow is a more apt axiom?
Just now, I turn on the internet and learn that a Missouri youth baseball team is holding an AR-15 raffle. The coach says the fundraiser will go on, despite heavy criticism. Teach Your Children Well. But the children are pushing back, in a good way. Rising up and speaking out against the hypocrisy. They are organizing protests and there is a die-in in front of the White House.
Two days after the Florida shooting, the Associated Press revealed that the NRA has been providing grants and other support to schools across the country for their ROTC programs. There are over 1,700 high school ROTC programs in the country. They receive support from the US military, as well as $2.2 million across 30 states from the NRA Foundation, according to the AP. More than $400,000 of that was in cash grants. A total of 18 schools in Florida received NRA donations in 2016, the highest of any state.
Nikolas Cruz was a cadet with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School ROTC team. He reportedly excelled in the air-rifle marksmanship program that was supported by a grant from the NRA.
The same day as the shooting, Bess Kalb, a writer for the Jimmy Kimmel Live TV show, started publicly responding to the parade of politicians and lawmakers who were tweeting condolences over the Florida murders, taking them to task for taking money from the NRA. As Kalb pointed out, the Congressmen were busy praying and weeping elephant tears over the latest school tragedy while lining their pockets with the NRA’s blood money. Here’s a few from her list:
- Senator Marco Rubio, praying, $3,303,064 from NRA
- Senator Cory Gardner, heartbroken, $3,879,064 from NRA
- Senator Rob Portman, also heartbroken, $3,061,941 from NRA
- Senator Bill Cassidy, praying, $2,861,047 from NRA
- Senator Thom Tillis, praying, $4,418,012 from NRA
- Congressman Ken Burk, devastated and praying, $800,544
- Senator Joni Ernst, praying, $3,124,213 from NRA
- Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, heartbroken and praying. GOP candidates took $17,385,437 from NRA in 2015-16 election cycle, not counting $21 million to Donald Trump.
“Sorry to be crass, but we have the motherfucking receipts,” Kalb tweeted at 4 pm on February 14th.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut , who had been elected just prior to the Sandy Hook massacre, slammed his colleagues on the Senate floor just after the Florida shooting: “This happens nowhere else other than the United States of America,” he said. “This epidemic of mass slaughter … It only happens here, not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction.”
Fr. Robert Drinan, a principled congressman of the type so rare today, had said in 2003 that the NRA held a compelling power over the members of Congress. Perhaps it would be more precise to say that it is a compelling power of money over morality.
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Another kind of home front violence that has reached near epidemic proportions in recent years is the killing of citizens by law enforcement officers.
In 2017, police in the US killed 1,147 people, according to a report, Mapping Police Violence. The Washington Post, which maintains a running tally, put the number killed last year at a little below one thousand. In any case, killing by cops does not appear to be lessening, despite all the public attention. The Post reported that there were 24 more fatal shootings last year than the year before and that mental illness played a role in a quarter of the incidents.
Just a few months ago, nine police officers in Vermont surrounded a 32-year-old white man near the high school he had once attended. The man was holding a realistic-looking BB gun, was a drug addict, and may have been suicidal. After a long standoff, the nine officers pumped him full of bullets as he stood passively on a football field. There was video of the execution and students inside the school took photos. A crisis negotiation team was present, but supposedly there was no indication of any negotiations or meaningful communication with the suspect. Two of the officers had been involved in another killing of a 32-year-old man just last summer by five officers. A crisis intervention team was also present at that incident.
This past September, Magdiel Sanchez, a 35-year-old deaf man was shot and killed by police outside his home in Oklahoma City. Sanchez was on his porch, carrying a metal walking stick, when officers arrived and one cop fired multiple shots at him. Neighbors shouted at the police that Sanchez was unable to hear, but to no avail.
A neighbor said that Sanchez had developmental disabilities and was non-verbal. “He didn’t speak, he didn’t hear, mainly it is hand movements. That’s how he communicates. I believe he was frustrated trying to tell them what was going on,” the neighbor said. Maybe it was his “hand movements” that got Sanchez killed.
Just recently, a police officer won a $175,000 settlement with a West Virginia municipality. The officer, Stephen Mader, had been fired by the city. His crime? Opting to talk to rather than shoot a citizen.
Mader, a Marine vet who had served in Afghanistan, had responded to a domestic disturbance call and found the suspect, Ronald Williams Jr., holding an unloaded handgun. Williams was “visibly choked up” and told Mader to shoot him. The officer determined that Williams was not a threat and tried to de-escalate the situation. Then two other police officers arrived at the scene and one of them shot and killed Williams. The police department terminated Mader for “apparent difficulties in critical incident reasoning.”
This spring, police in Sacramento, California shot Stephon Clark seven times from behind as he was running into his grandmother’s backyard. Police officers opened fire on Clark, a 22-year-old black man, after shouting “gun, gun, gun.” Clark staggered sideways and fell on his stomach while officers continued to fire. After twenty shots, the officers called to him, apparently thinking he might still be alive and armed. When they finally approached him, they found no gun, just a cellphone. A physician determined it took three to ten minutes for Clark to die; police waited about five minutes before rendering medical aid.
And just a couple weeks ago, police in East Pittsburgh shot 17-year-old Antwon Rose, Jr. three times in the back and killed him. He too was unarmed. After the shooting, a poem that Rose wrote for a high school English class circulated on social media. The poem read, in part:
I am confused and afraid. I wonder what path I will take. I hear that there’s only two ways out. I see mothers bury their sons. I want my mom to never feel that pain. I am confused and afraid.
With the year only half over, the Washington Post’s running tally indicated that nearly 500 people had already been killed by police. The Post documented more than 980 deaths at the hands of police in 2017, while the Guardian put the number at more than 1,090.
But just in case you think black lives are cheap in this country, think again. Juries are willing to pay a handsome price as recompense when police kill a black man. Like the case in Florida where white deputies shot and killed a black man in his garage. The jury recently found the officers not at fault but generously awarded the dead man’s family $4.00. One dollar was for funeral costs and one dollar for each of the man’s three young children.
In 2015, the Washington Post did a massive study, working with researchers from Bowling Green State University, examining data since 2005 on all police officers who faced charges after a fatal shooting. Officers who actually faced charges accounted for only a small fraction of fatal police shootings, and few officers suffered any consequences. In an overwhelming majority of cases where an officer was charged, the victim was unarmed.
Among the officers charged for fatal shootings in the decade the Post examined, more than three-quarters were white and two-thirds of their victims were minorities, all but two of them black. Nearly all other cases involved black officers who killed black victims.
The Post found that, even in the most blatant situations, the majority of officers whose cases are resolved have been acquitted. Even when they are convicted or plead guilty, their sentence is usually light. Prosecutors are reluctant to prosecute police officers and juries are reluctant to punish them.
Prosecutors usually insist on compelling evidence to pursue a case in court. In half the criminal cases identified by the Post, forensic and autopsy evidence indicated the unarmed suspects had been shot in the back. In a third of the cases where officers faced charges, video evidence showed the slain suspect had posed no threat when they were killed. In nearly a quarter of the cases, the officers’ colleagues gave statements testifying that the officer opened fire even though the suspect posed no danger.
In one of these cases, not yet resolved at the time of the study, a white police officer in Cleveland was indicted for killing a pair of black suspects after a grand jury reviewed a wide range of evidence, including nearly two dozen video recordings. The two suspects had driven by a police station when their car backfired. Officers mistook the sound for gunfire and 62 police vehicles raced in pursuit. The suspects, later found to be under the influence of drugs, were surrounded in a school parking lot by police. Eleven officers got out of their cars and formed a semicircle around the pairs’ auto. The officers opened fire, shooting 139 times. The officer who was indicted fired 34 shots at the car, then climbed onto its hood and fired 15 more times at close range through the windshield.
Anyone who is not aware by now that our police departments are becoming increasingly militarized and increasingly violent must be living in la-la land. Unfortunately, it appears that there are quite a number of people who claim citizenship in that euphoric country. For a number of years, I lived in a rural region south of Madison, Wisconsin. Sprinkled like dandelions all over the lawns in the small towns and on the farms the last few years were signs asserting I Back the Badge or I Stand with the Blue.
Signs like these are springing up all over the country, it seems, but these were produced by the Janesville Gazette (and its radio affiliates), the daily newspaper in Paul Ryan’s hometown. Do the people who post these signs really know what they signify, in the context of what is happening in our country today? I suspect that maybe they have an inkling. The ominous slogan I Back the Badge is a euphemism for Law and Order, which is a euphemism for Might Over Right, which is a euphemism for White Over Right, which is a euphemism for fascism is right around the corner. Thank you, Janesville Gazette.
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a war correspondent who reported from more than 50 countries, a Presbyterian minister and a Princeton University professor. Among his eleven books is one titled War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. I quote him often in this blog.
Four years ago, in one of his regular posts on the Truthdig website, Hedges wrote about The Rhetoric of Violence. He started with a litany of violent acts: nine people killed and 35 others wounded in shootings on one weekend in Chicago; a man arrested for firing on motorists on Kansas City-area highways; three people, including a child, murdered at two Jewish-affiliated facilities in Kansas, leading to the arrest of a white supremacist; and armed militias in Nevada forcing the federal government to retreat so rancher Cliven Bundy could continue to graze his cattle on public land. “All this happened over a span of only nine days in the life of a country where more than 250 people are shot every day,” he wrote. “In America, violence and the threat of lethal force are the ways we communicate.
“Violence–the preferred form of control by the state–is an expression of our hatred, self-loathing and lust for vengeance. And this bloodletting will increasingly mark a nation in terminal decline.
“Violence … has a long and coveted place in US history,” he continued. “Vigilante groups including slave patrols … gangs of strikebreakers … and the Ku Klux Klan, which boasted more than 3 million members between 1915 and 1944 … formed and shaped America. Heavily armed mercenary paramilitaries, armed militias such as the Oath Keepers and the anti-immigration extremist group, Ranch Rescue, along with omnipotent and militarized police forces, are parts of a seamless continuation of America’s gun culture and tradition of vigilantism.”
The reason given by vigilante groups for the need to bear arms is that these weapons protect us from tyranny and keep us safe and secure, “but history does not support this contention,” Hedges argued, citing cases such as the Communist Party during the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany and citizens of Iraq and Yugoslavia. “I watched in Iraq and Yugoslavia as heavily armed units encircled houses and those inside walked out with hands in the air, leaving their assault rifles inside. And neither will American families engage in shootouts should members of the US Army or SWAT teams surround their homes. When roughly 10,000 armed miners at Blair Mountain in West Virginia rose up in 1921 for the right to form unions and held gun thugs and company militias at bay, the government called in the Army. The miners were not suicidal. When the Army arrived, they disbanded.
“America’s vigilante violence, rather than a protection from tyranny, is an expression of the fear by white people, especially white men, of the black underclass. This underclass has been enslaved, lynched, imprisoned and impoverished for centuries. The white vigilantes do not acknowledge the reality of this oppression, but at the same time they are deeply worried about retribution directed against whites. Guns, for this reason, are easily available to white people while gun ownership is largely criminalized for blacks. The hatred expressed by vigilante groups for people of color, along with Jews and Muslims, is matched by their hatred for the college-educated elite, who did not decry the steady impoverishment of the working class. People of color, along with those who espouse the liberal social values of the college-educated elites, including gun control, are seen by the vigilantes as contaminants to society that must be removed to restore the nation to health …
“Our inability to formulate a coherent, militant , revolutionary ideology, meanwhile, leaves us powerless in the face of mounting violence. We wander around in a daze. We lack the toughness and asceticism of the radicals who went before us–the Wobblies, the anarchists, the socialist and the communists. We preach a mishmash of tolerance and Oprah-like hope and exude a fuzzy faith in the power of the people. And because of this we are run over like frogs blindly hopping up and down a road.
“Our most cherished civil liberties have been taken from us. Our incomes are in free fall while obscene wealth is in the hands of a few oligarchs. We are watched and monitored by the most pervasive security and surveillance system in human history. We are hemmed in by archipelagos of prisons. And the ecosystem on which we depend for life is being destroyed. And, through it all, we are bombarded with propaganda, manipulated and mocked by our elites as we dance in their choreographed political charades.
“We must begin to speak in the language of revolution, not accommodation. We must direct the rage that grips huge swaths of the population not against the oppressed but against the structures of corporate power that create oppression. We will have to begin from scratch, for America has no revolutionary intellectual tradition, with the exception of Thomas Paine. We have produced notable anarchists–Randolph Bourne, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman and Noam Chomsky.” (I would add Paul Goodman.) “We have an array of great black radicals, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, James Cone and Cornel West, as astute about the evils of empire as white supremacy. We once had some fine socialists, Eugene V. Debs among them. But we lack genuine revolutionists such as Alexander Herzen, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci and Frantz Fanon, and because of this we are losing the class war …
“A revolutionary language and consciousness must replace the current murderous nihilism. The government is banking on the fact that we are not hard-wired for revolution. The state, for this reason, permits the population to load itself up with weapons, including assault rifles, because it understands that they are almost never turned against centers of power. There are some 310 million firearms in the United States, including 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns. There is no reliable data on the number of military-style assault weapons in private hands, but one estimate is 1.5 million. The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world … We shoot each other or we shoot ourselves. Of the 282 people shot every day in the US, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 32 die in murders and 51 commit suicide.
“As we build a revolutionary consciousness, we must never place our faith in violence, [emphasis added] even as we understand that violence, especially by vigilantes, criminals and militarized police forces, will be used against us. Our strength is our truth. And this truth terrifies our power elites. Truth, not force, is the real power of revolutionaries … Revolutions do not succeed because of violence, although violence is often a component of revolutions. The glorification of violence as the principal agent of change is a lie. Revolutions succeed because of revolutionary thinking. Such consciousness takes years to build. It slowly, invisibly burrows into the organs of power. It leads those on the inside to defect to the revolution. And once that happens, state power crumbles.”
Next time: Afghanistan: Slaughtering Hearts & Minds in the Longest War