In America, Violence Doesn't Have to Be Inevitable
"America is, by far, the most violent country in the world when measured against comparable, industrialized nations." That's the conclusion of a report by conservative California Attorney General Dan Lungren.
Today, America is at war in Iraq -- a war that the Bush administration began of its own choice, against a country that had not attacked us (and in fact did not threaten us). More than 3,500 U.S. soldiers and literally hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives, with millions more displaced.
We are also at war in Afghanistan against the Taliban. We patrol Bosnia, have troops stationed on the border of North Korea. We have military forces in more than 700 bases located in 130 nations across the globe. Our fleets patrol the world's seas. We are the globocop.
War isn't foreign to the United States. The War of 1812, 40 wars against Native American tribes from 1622 to 1900, the war with Mexico in 1848 that brought much of the west from California to Arizona into the union, the Civil War from 1861-1865, the Spanish-American War in 1898 to 1902, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam from 1959 to 1975, the first Gulf War in 1991, Yugoslavia in 1999, Afghanistan and Iraq today. And these don't count over 200 presidentially ordered war actions, utilizing military force abroad, including the occupation of virtually every Caribbean and Central American country. And not to be forgotten are the covert operations, the covert armies that helped overthrow regimes in Iran, Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala and more.
The United States has witnessed more than 4,000 riots from the 1600s to 1992, according to Paul Gilje in his book "Rioting in America." Some 2 million people were killed or suffered serious injury, over 5,000 a year on average for nearly 400 years.
But the deaths and casualties in war are far outnumbered by the slaughter wrought by Americans killing Americans. Personal violence struck some 10 million American victims of violent crimes in the 20th century.
We suffered more Americans killed by Americans in violence in this country than the military losses in the Spanish American War, World War I and II, Korea and Vietnam combined.
Americans have more guns and suffer more gun crimes. We sell more guns and military equipment than any other country. Our military budget is nearly half of the entire world military budget.
Violence isn't simply part of our history; it is embedded in our culture. Television shows, video games, music. A culture of violence invades our lives, from our homes to our schools and work environments. Moreover, violence has itself become entertainment, glamorized in the behavior of both real and fantasy heroes.
The government, Justice Brandeis wrote, is the great teacher. Our government teaches us to believe in the efficacy of violence. We sell the most arms across the world. We manufacture the most advanced weaponry. We make the most guns.
Ironically, violence demonstrably doesn't work very well. Our military has never been more powerful than it is today; yet our country has seldom felt so threatened. Not one of the emerging security threats that we face -- al Qaeda and stateless terrorism, catastrophic climate change, nuclear proliferation, growing inequality and economic dislocation, mass epidemics -- has a military answer. Yet every one of the major candidates for president in both parties calls for increasing the amount of money spent on the military. Violence is the answer -- but what was the question?
There are those who call for sustaining a culture of life, but who clamber aboard for every war of choice. The gun lobby, the prison lobby, the military industrial complex are among the most powerful special interest lobbies in the nation's capital.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged this commitment to violence, proposing non-violence as a more effective measure of change. You cannot bring democracy at the point of a bayonet, he argued. A society that spends more on military adventure than on social provision is a society that has lost its way.
Now, non-violence is in retreat. We are at the end of a punitive era -- an era that railed against controlling guns, celebrated military adventure and ignored the rising toll at home and abroad. Now, in the wake of the Iraq debacle, with violence in this society once more on the rise, it is time to change course. We must challenge violence in America. We must build a culture of non-violence, a culture that challenges the assumption that violence is the American way. At the very least, we must ask: Has policing the world made us more secure? Has revoking gun control laws added to security in our neighborhoods? Isn't it time for America to look hard at the violence that is at the center of our history and our present?
Jesse Jackson is a longtime civil rights activist and president/founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.