By Alex N. Riccio
On August 7th, 2014; amidst the second of three failed ceasefires in Gaza (where U.S. weapons and diplomatic backing has been directly responsible for the loss of more than 2,000 lives) a U.S. drone strike killed at least five unidentified people in Pakistan. The following day a U.S. bombing campaign began in northern Iraq and has continued throughout the month. Two days later a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri fatally shot unarmed eighteen-year-old Michael Brown six times for “walking in the middle of the street.” If T.S. Eliot were alive he would find it necessary to revise his famous opening of the “Waste Land” to read: August is the cruelest month.
However it shouldn’t be imagined that current events are state violence at a peak. In 1947 the noted historian Charles A. Beard described the foreign policy of presidents Roosevelt and Truman as “perpetual war for perpetual peace.” A little over a decade later Beard’s sentiments were articulated, in couched political rhetoric, by former president Eisenhower when he warned that “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex…We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” One must wonder what Eisenhower’s assessment would be over the subsequent fifty years of unbroken U.S. military campaigns.
U.S. domestic society is an overlooked victim of such militarization, as events in Ferguson painfully expose. The militarization of U.S. police is stark evidence of what I will refer to as “trickle-down-violence”, and unfortunately only incidents like Ferguson seem capable of awakening our somnambulist public to such developments. Yet, this is on the visible surface and does not alert us to the suffering that has penetrated daily American experience in both psychological and material terms.
Esteemed sociologist Charles Derber has noted “highly militarized societies cannot compartmentalize foreign from domestic violence.” Derber has also proved insightful in connecting youth bullying with the routine nature of state level terrorization. So to what extent can we draw distinctions between domestic gun homicides from government drone strikes? Or capital punishment from vigilante justice?
Trickle-down-violence is a process where the violent behavior of the state informs and infects the domestic public’s collective personality. When we examine the U.S. we must identify its structural characteristic: predation capitalism. Aggressive policing is an outgrowth of such a structural characteristic. But beyond state agents of violence such as police we should consider the degree of transference from the state body to the individual body. The individual cannot be extracted from her cultivation within society, therefore we can maintain that our domestic way of life has been diseased through being nurtured by a violent military economy.
Considering this symbiotic relationship it becomes clear that in order to make improvements in our society we cannot limit ourselves to microbial forms of resistance, wherein our efforts zero in on gun regulation, police reform, decriminalization of certain drugs, and so on. If we understand that our culture exists within a system that’s structural composition guarantees violence on economic, political, social, and even educational levels (where competition and stratification of students becomes central by the age of ten) then it is evident that the system requires a comprehensive transformation.
For how can we expect anything less than violent police killing our teenagers in our streets when our soldiers are killing children in the streets in every hemisphere in the world?
Alex N. Riccio is a writer and activist based in Corvallis, Oregon.